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Mr. Smarty Plants - Deer and rabbit repelling plants at nature sanctuary in Waterford VA

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Tuesday - May 11, 2010

From: Waterford, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Deer Resistant
Title: Deer and rabbit repelling plants at nature sanctuary in Waterford VA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We have established a native pollinator garden at our nature sanctuary. Last summer deer and perhaps rabbits devastated it. Now people are proposing surrounding it with boxwood which deer don't like-I'm resisting as I feel native shrubs would be more in keeping with the garden environment we would like. What native shrubs contain an alkaine like boxwood that deer would avoid??

ANSWER:

From this  Poisonous Plants of North Carolina, we learned that Buxus sempervirens,  Boxwood,  has a steroidal alkaloid in its leaves. Boxwood, as you said, is not native to North America, but to Africa, Temperate Asia and Europe, so it falls out of our area of expertise at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. 

If we understand you, what you are looking for is a barrier to keep deer and rabbits from eating the plants in your pollinator garden, a laudable effort. You are probably correct that both deer and rabbits would avoid eating the leaves of the boxwood shrubs, although it probably would not kill them, just make them sick, so they would remember not to eat them the next time. The problem there is that deer can really jump high, so if there are goodies on the other side of a boxwood hedge, they are not going to have a problem with that. And rabbits are wonderful for getting under a hedge, perhaps even digging an entrance for all the other bunnies. 

Animals that we thought were wild are a real problem for gardeners everywhere, and we get frequent questions, especially about deer, in Texas.  We have a list of deer-resistant plants, and by using the search process for Virginia, produced this list. Unfortunately, about all the help that would be to you is that you could hopefully select some native pollinator plants from that list. Probably not what you were looking for. 

Since, as we said, we have had so many previous questions and answers about keeping animals out of the garden, we are going to provide you with links to some of those answers that we hope will give you some help in protecting your garden.  Most of these simply concern plants you might be able to use in your garden, not that will keep out the deer and rabbits. First, here is an excerpt from an answer dated November 7, 2008:

"To start with, there are no truly deer or rabbit proof plants. And sometimes rabbits, like people, will be choosy and make different choices in one yard than another right down the street. If they are hungry enough, they will eat any of these plants, and even when they're not terribly hungry, will nibble the fresh new growth on plants they would ordinarily avoid. Most browsing animals prefer not to eat plants that are aromatic or prickly but, again, in times of drought or bad weather, they'll eat what they can get.

Another thing we would like to point out about these lists is that the listed plants are not necessarily native to North America. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is all about choosing plants native to North America and to the area in which they are being grown, because they will already be adapted and will require less water, fertilizer and maintenance to do well. Many of the annuals, including the pansies and marigolds you mentioned, are not natives and we wouldn't recommend them anyway.

University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Deer and Rabbit Resistant Plants

Better Homes and Gardens Top Rabbit-Resistant Plants (this is a slide show of photographs, with information about each plant)

Lewis Gardens Deer and Rabbit Resistant Plants"

Other answers you might want to take a look at:

Nov. 10, 2009

Dec. 7, 2009

April 22, 2009 - this also is from  Virginia

May 7, 2010 - rabbits

Finally, if you have read all the links we provided, you probably already know that deer and rabbits are going to get into your pollinator garden. At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, we have high fences, especially around our Plant Nursery, and still they come, having salad or bringing the fawns to nibble the tender leaves on the bedding plants. People have reported to us using motion-sensor lights, or even motion-sensor water sprays. There are all sorts of repellants on the market, and fencing advertised as "rabbit fencing" and "deer fencing."  Those animals are doing what they are meant to do, which is survive. We hope you can say the same for your polllinator plants.

 

 

 

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