En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

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


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??


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.




More Deer Resistant Questions

Need a smallish evergreen shrub that deer do not like, native to Colorado.
August 12, 2010 - I live south of Denver Colorado. I am looking for an evergreen shrub that doesn't grow wider than 3 feet and not taller than 4 to 5 feet - something that is native to Colorado or grows well here. (...
view the full question and answer

Deer resistant, Shaded Privacy Hedge for Wakefield RI
September 12, 2013 - We recently removed the dead undergrowth of white pines that were used for privacy. We need advice as to what type of evergreen would be suitable for growth beneath the branches above. It is VERY shad...
view the full question and answer

Deer resistant plants for Pittsburgh PA
January 30, 2012 - What shrubs can I plant on a wet slope that gets partial sun that will help control erosion? They need to be something the deer won't eat! We have lots of deer.
view the full question and answer

Not deer eating the Eve's necklace in San Marcos TX
June 16, 2011 - Dear Mr SP, Re: the Eve's necklace being eaten. I'm so sorry that I didn't tell you in my original question which you were kind enough to answer with the speed of lightening, but I am on the East...
view the full question and answer

Deer-resistant groundcover for sunny hillside in California
November 17, 2009 - we are looking for a deer resistant, drought resistant ground cover that we can grow from seed. we have a large,partial sunny hillside, well drained,that is cover with oak leaves and pine needles..and...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center