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Saturday - September 24, 2011

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Deer Resistant, Groundcovers
Title: Deer-resistant groundcover for New Braunfels, TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Could you recommend some deer resistant ground cover plants for the New Braunfels area? We have tried Ajuga and Katie's Ruellia and they have been eaten.


We would like first to point out that both Ajuga reptans, common bugle, and Ruellia brittonia 'Katie' are non-native to North America, and both are capable of being invasive. Obviously, the deer don't care if ajuga is native to Africa, Europe and Asia or that Mexican petunia, ruellia is native to (surprise!) Mexico, and with the deer around, there is not much chance either of them will become invasive, just the deer.The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is committed to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which those plants grow natively.

We do have a Deer-Resistant Plants list, which can be sorted to list plants native to Texas on the list. Before you start celebrating the perfect solution to your problem, please note this paragraph which is at the beginning of that list:

"Few plants are completely deer resistant. Several factors influence deer browsing including the density of the deer population, environmental conditions such as drought, and plant palatability. Deer tend to avoid plants with aromatic foliage, tough leathery and/or hairy or prickly leaves or plants with milky latex or sap. Try using some of the plants listed here to minimize deer damage to your landscape."

This has been an unusually lean year for both plants and animals. We have been hearing tales at the Wildflower Center of deer eating prickly pear right down to the roots, of small shrubs being cleaned of leaves overnight, and even grasses, which deer tend to avoid, disappearing. The deer have multiplied in good years, as has the population of Central Texas. Now we are all sharing habitat which is short on water and therefore short on vegetation.

If you just want a groundcover, could we suggest a good quality shredded hardwood mulch? It is attractive, smells good, will shelter the roots of other plants beneath it from heat and cold, help hold moisture in the soil (when there is any) and, as it decomposes, will improve the texture of the soil and make it easier for roots to access nutrients in the soil. Actually, we have no hard information on whether or not deer will eat mulch, but at this point, whatever you plant is going to be eaten, so it's worth a try. It will have to be replaced from time to time, but you would also have to replace plants, apparently. We hate to see scarce resources, like water, money and your back muscles, expended on deer dinners, over and over.




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