Acanthus Mollis, or Bear’s Breeches (Special photo)
“Although you’re beautiful to look at; it breaks my heart to say. You’ve demolished all my flowers, and left weeds behind each day! We hoe, and plant, and water to grow blooms colorful and bright. Only to discover on a morning, you chomped them up last night! So farewell to you Deer; we’ll miss your nightly call. But hopefully in the future, our plants will soon grow tall!”
— Clydia Defreese, Deer John
Damage to ornamental plants caused by deer has increased significantly during the last few years. And this damage is both an urban and a rural problem due to increasing deer populations and suburban development strategies into natural woodlands. Deer are selective feeders that usually move slowly through the landscape and eat leaves and twigs from different trees, shrubs, and plants by jerking and tearing leaves, stems and twigs. Signs of deer damage include jagged edges on parts left intact, and annual and perennial plants which are partially or completely pulled out of the ground. Deer damage to larger trees is to the lower limbs (up to about five or six feet off the ground) which is about the limitation of their reach.
Deer may feed on certain plants is some landscapes and not others. Such feeding patterns may be due to the availability of natural food sources between landscapes and to the taste preferences of the individual deer. However, deer will eat almost any plant rather than face starvation. Deer favorites include narrow-leaf evergreens, daylilies, English ivy, hosta and about any plant that has been fertilized.
Deer typically avoid prickly, poisonous or strong-scented plants. While many plants are deer resistant, very few are deer-proof. Thus, careful plant selection should be a high priority where heavy deer populations thrive. Plants that offer good deer tolerance and distract deer with their aromatic (scented) foliage are listed as follows.
Acanthus Mollis (Bear’s Breeches): Reaching five feet tall and three feet wide, this magnificent plant offers spikes of white or pink blooms (late spring to late summer) with papery bracts and deep green, spiny-looking foliage. It prefers sun to part sun placements (containers, beds and borders) in well-drained soil and regular watering to become established (offers drought tolerance after establishment). Works well with balloon flower, pearly everlasting and spurge.
Asclepias Tuberosa (Butterfly Weed): Reaching a height of two to four feet and a spread of two to three feet, this tough perennial offers clusters of orange flowers in the summer. It prefers placements in full sun (beds and borders) in a well-drained soil and tolerates heat and drought. It attracts many kinds of butterflies and works well in dried arrangements. Monarch butterfly larvae feed on its leaves but seldom harm this native plant. It is slow to emerge in the spring and deadhead faded blooms after flowering before seed development to limit spread. Works well with catmint, coreopsis and fountaingrass.
Caryopteris spp. (Bluebeard): Reaching a height and width of four feet, this outstanding plant offers clusters of violet-blue flowers in late summer and fall and scented, silvery-green foliage. It prefers placement in full sun (containers, beds, borders, and slopes) in well-drained soil and tolerates drought while attracting butterflies. Prune the plants back in the spring when they begin to show new growth. Newer varieties offer variegated green and white leaves, gold leaves and pink flowers. Works well with Russian sage, asters and black-eyed Susans.
Chrysanthemum spp. (Mums): Reaching a height and width of three feet, this renowned fall-blooming perennial offers a wide range of colors from purples and pinks to the fall tones of red, rust, orange, and yellow and scented foliage. It prefers placement in full sun (containers, beds and borders) in well-drained soil. The mums are in a class by themselves when it comes to fall color and flower longevity. Specific varieties offer daisy blooms, rounded globes, or flat, fringed, quill-shaped or spoon-shaped globes. They also do well as cut flowers. Works well with sedum, asters and miscanthus.
Crocosmia spp. (Crocosmia): Reaching a height and spread of three feet, this clump-forming perennial offers clusters of bold flowers (red, orange and yellow) in midsummer and narrow, sword-shape leaves (like gladiola leaves). It prefers placement in full sun (containers, beds, borders and slopes) in well-drained soil and is drought tolerant. Its tubular blossoms attract hummingbirds and the seedpods attract other birds. Works great in a cut flower arrangement.
Dianthus spp. (Dianthus or Pinks): Reaching a height of 30 inches and a width of 18 inches, this enchanting, drought-tolerant perennial offers spicily fragrant flowers of pink, red, white, rose and lavender in the spring, summer and fall and grass-like blue-green foliage. It prefers placement in full sun (containers, beds, borders and slopes) in well-drained soil. It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies, and looks great as a cut flower and in dried arrangements. Works well with perennial geranium, coralbells and iris.
Epimedium spp. (Barrenwort or Bishop’s Cap): Reaching a height of 18 inches and a spread of 24 inches, this rare, evergreen groundcover offers flowers in shades of pink, red, orange, white and yellow and colorful foliage on slender stalks. It prefers placement in the shade (containers, beds, borders and groundcovers) in well-drained soil and is drought-tolerant. Works well with hellebore, columbine and perennial geranium.
Eupatorium Purpureum (Joe Pye Weed): Reaching a height of six feet and a width of four feet, this perennial produces large, puffy, reddish-purple flowers in late summer and attractive foliage. It prefers placement in full sun (containers, beds and borders) in well-drained soil and is drought tolerant. It attracts butterflies and is related to the hardy ageratum and white snakeroot. Works well with miscanthus, Russian sage and feather reedgrass.
Kniphofia spp. (Red-hot Poker): Reaching a height of five feet and a spread of two feet, this drought-tolerant perennial offers brilliantly colored tubular flowers (yellow, orange or red) above clumps of grassy foliage. It prefers placement in full sun (containers, beds and borders) in a moist, well-drained soil. Its vivid red-hot pokers create architectural impact in sunny landscapes. It attracts birds, hummingbirds and butterflies. Works well with helenium, artemisia and salvia.
Perovskia Atriplicifolia (Russian sage): Reaching a height of 5 feet and a width of 3 feet, this drought-tolerant perennial offers colorful flowers (violet-purple and lavender to blue) in late summer and scented silvery foliage (oblong and deeply cut along margins). It prefers placement in full sun (containers, beds and borders) in a well-drained soil. Plant individual plants close to avoid staking and for support since the tall plants tend to lean over. It attracts butterflies and works well with phlox, daylily, black-eyed Susan and butterfly weed.
Phormium spp. (New Zealand flax): Reaching a height and width of 10 feet, this drought-tolerant perennial offers tubular flowers (red, yellow or green) in the summer and bold green to variegated foliage. It prefers placement in full sun (containers, beds, borders and slopes) in a moist, well-drained soil. It attracts birds, hummingbirds and butterflies. Works well with phlox, perennial sunflower, dahlia and anemone.
Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary): Reaching a height of five feet and a width of three feet, this drought-tolerant, evergreen, herbal shrub offers flowers with shades of pink or blue and leathery leaves with a scent of the Mediterranean. Leaves also add fresh herbal flavor in the kitchen preparations. It prefers placement in full sun (containers, beds, borders and slopes) in well-drained soil with a gravel mulch. It is known as a symbol of remembrance and friendship, and fills the landscape with aroma, flavor and activity (pollinating bees are attracted to the blooms). It attracts birds and butterflies.
Solidago spp. (Goldenrod): Reaching a height of six feet and a width of three feet, this perennial plant offers golden flowers (late summer and early fall) with attractive foliage and drought tolerance. It prefers placement in full sun (containers, beds, borders and slopes) in a well-drained soil. Also, an excellent vase plant and ideal filler plant for fall arrangements. Goldenrod does not aggravate allergies. Its pollen is too heavy to move in the wind and instead sticks to the legs of the insects and butterflies that feed on its nectar. Works well with aster, Russian sage and helenium.
As you continue your sustainable plantscaping this month and commit to this cost and effort, please also commit to providing the necessary care to keep your plants healthy and attractive. And, as always, remember to feed and water the birds.
“And he said to them,’Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’ ” — Mark 16:15.
Seagle is a Sustainability Associate, Golf Environment Organization (Scotland), Agronomist and Horticulturalist, CSI: Seagle (Consulting Services International), Professor Emeritus and Honorary Alumnus, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, and Associate Editor of The Golf Course, International Journal of Golf Science. Direct inquiries to email@example.com.