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Mr. Smarty Plants - Deer-resistant native plants for Idaho

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Saturday - March 22, 2008

From: Pocatello, ID
Region: Rocky Mountain
Topic: Deer Resistant
Title: Deer-resistant native plants for Idaho
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I live in Pocatello, Idaho. Everything we plant the deer eat. Are there trees, bushes, flowers that they won't eat? Is there any barriers or natural repugnant fragrances that will deter the deer from approaching the porch area or yard?

ANSWER:

We could probably answer your questions with no and no, and be done with it, but that's not how we ordinarily work. Deer are also a big problem in the Austin area where the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is located. We have 8-foot fencing at the Nursery area, but the does will bring the fawns in through the public areas of the Center to have a nice, tender snack on young seedlings. Area residents come to our sales begging for deer-proof plants, and there is no such thing. When conditions are good, and there are enough wild grazing plants in the area, there are plants that deer don't care for as much. When it has been dry and there isn't much natural deer food, they'll eat the fence posts. They do spit out the wire, though.

So, seriously, what can you do if you live in an area with deer access, and you'd like to have a garden? We found this Rutgers Agricultural Experiment Station website with a list of plants, rated by their resistance to deer browsing. Another excellent approach is by Integrated Pest Management (IPM); this article from the West Virginia University Extension Service on Resistance of Ornamentals to Deer Damage has another list of "Rarely Damaged" and "Frequently Damaged" plants, and some guidelines to management. These are both from universities on the East Coast, and may not include plants that will grow well in Idaho. Also, they contain many non-native plants.

At the Wildflower Center, we are dedicated to the use, preservation and propagation of plants native to North America. So, we are going to make a list of possibilities of native plants, plants that will do well in Idaho, to give you a starting place. In the final analysis, what you will probably have to do, as these websites recommend, is combine strategies. Around a cutting garden and/or vegetable garden, you're going to need an eight-foot deer fence. In the open, the best bet is the rarely damaged plant and even those will have a better chance if they are near the house and traffic areas. And, finally, if there is an ornamental that you want really badly, there are deer repellant sprays. We don't recommend for or against any pesticides, and we understand frequent respraying is necessary, but that's a decision you can make.

One problem that we had was that a lot of stickery plants that might not be tasty to deer don't seem to flourish as far north as Idaho. Carex, or sedge, is supposed to be deer resistant, but we could only find three that will live in Idaho. Be sure and read the webpage you reach when you click the link on each plant-some have toxic elements (maybe why the deer don't eat them). You can expand on this list, but remember: No plant is safe under all conditions. Deer-proof plants? Sorry.

Asclepias asperula (spider milkweed)

Achillea millefolium (common yarrow)

Aconitum columbianum (Columbian monkshood)

Carex hystericina (bottlebrush sedge)

Carex stipata (owlfruit sedge)

Carex vulpinoidea (fox sedge)

Salvia dorrii ssp. dorrii var. incana (purple sage)

Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot)

Rhus glabra (smooth sumac)

Verbena stricta (hoary verbena)

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (kinnikinnick)

Rudbeckia hirta (blackeyed Susan)


Asclepias asperula

Achillea millefolium

Aconitum columbianum

Carex hystericina

Carex stipata

Carex vulpinoidea

Salvia dorrii ssp. dorrii var. incana

Monarda fistulosa

Rhus glabra

Verbena stricta

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Rudbeckia hirta

 

 

 

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