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Connecticut Garden Journal: Keep deer away with unappetizing plants and shrubs

Mahonia aquifolium, Oregon grape or  holly-leaved barberry.
Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo
Moment RF / Getty Images
Deer tend to avoid plants with fuzzy leaves, plants with thorns, such as barberry (pictured), and plants with strong aromas, like mint.

One of the benefits of speaking at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show last month was having time to listen to other speakers. One, in particular, caught my attention.Adam Wheeler from Broken Arrow Nursery in Hamden spoke about deer proofing your garden.

Adam has been trying to thwart deer for years both at the nursery and home. He mentioned the usual deterrents, such as a 7 foot tall fence, electric fence and repellent sprays. He also has used fishing line strung at 1 and 3 foot heights in paths the deer use to enter the nursery. This seems to have confused the deer so they don't challenge the line and move on.

The most interesting part of his talk was the shrubs and trees deer seem to avoid. Of course, if deer are hungry enough they'll eat anything. But there are some plants they seem to avoid. Certainly, plants with fuzzy leaves, such as lambs ears, plants with thorns, such as barberry, and plants with an aroma such as mint, are less desirable. He mentioned shrubs, such as witch hazel, beauty berry, boxwood, lindera and butterfly bush as also relatively safe. One technique he's had success with is mixing highly desirable plants, such as hosta and yews, with plants deer don't like. This seems to confuse them and the don't munch on them. One deer proof plant I didn't know about is the Japanese plum yew. Generally, yew (Taxus) is like candy for deer. But the Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus) has avoided major damage. It looks like the other yews and grows 2- to 6-feet tall and wide.

Charlie Nardozzi is a regional Emmy® Award winning garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert information to home gardeners.
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