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Wednesday - September 09, 2015

From: Ridgefield, CT
Region: Northeast
Topic: Deer Resistant, Drought Tolerant, Erosion Control, Shade Tolerant, Shrubs
Title: Connecticut Plants for a Steep Slope
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

I am looking for the best plants to retain a steep, dry, fully shaded slope in zone 5, Connecticut. It must be deer resistant. Plant height is not a factor.

ANSWER:

Let’s start with a list of deer resistant and native plants for your area. Take a look at the Native Plant Database on the www.wildflower.org website and click on the Deer Resistant Species in “Special Collections.” Then put in the following search criteria on the left side: State = Connecticut, habit = all habits, duration = perennial, light requirement = shade, soil moisture = dry.  This search will reveal 9 native and deer resistant plants to consider.

They are:

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine) This is an erect, branching perennial up to 2 ft. tall, well-known for its showy flowers. A nodding, red and yellow flower with upward spurred petals.

This beautiful woodland wildflower has showy, drooping, bell-like flowers equipped with distinctly backward-pointing tubes, similar to the garden Columbines. These tubes, or spurs, contain nectar that attracts long-tongued insects and hummingbirds especially adapted for reaching the sweet secretion. It is reported that Native Americans rubbed the crushed seeds on the hands of men as a love charm. European Columbine (A. vulgaris), with blue, violet, pink, or white short-spurred flowers, was introduced from Europe and has now become well established in many parts of the East. Aquilegia canadensis readily hybridizes with the popular Southwestern yellow columbines (A. chrysantha, etc.), yielding some striking yellow-and-red color combinations in the flowers. This genus has been referred to as the flower for the masses. Once started, Columbine propagates for years and, although perennial, increases rapidly by self seeding.

Carex blanda (Eastern woodland sedge) This sedge is similar to a grass with broad linear foliage. It can be used as an evergreen groundcover or as a specimen plant.

Juniperus virginiana (Eastern red cedar) Evergreen, aromatic tree with trunk often angled and buttressed at base and narrow, compact, columnar crown; sometimes becoming broad and irregular. Pyramidal when young, Eastern red-cedar mature form is quite variable. This evergreen usually grows 30-40 ft. but can reach 90 ft. Fragrant, scale-like foliage can be coarse or fine-cut, and varies in color from gray-green to blue-green to light- or dark-green. All colors tend to brown in winter. Pale blue fruits occur on female plants. Soft, silvery bark covers the single trunk.

The most widely distributed eastern conifer, native in 37 states, Eastern Red Cedar is resistant to extremes of drought, heat, and cold.

Ptelea trifoliata (Wafer ash) Aromatic shrub or small tree with a rounded crown. The trunk is slender and crooked, bearing interwoven, ascending branches. Bark, crushed foliage, and twigs have a slightly lemonlike, unpleasant musky odor. Trifoliate, deciduous leaves with leaflets on a petiole up to 2 inches long, the terminal leaflet up to 2 1/2 inches long, obovate, tapering more gradually to the base than to the tip, midrib of lateral leaflets off center. Leaves are dark-green in summer, turning yellow in fall. Flowers small, greenish white, in clusters among the leaves, appearing in April. Fruit distinctive, waferlike samara with broad wings, approximately 7/8 inch long by 3/4 inch wide.

Rhus aromatic (Fragrant sumac) Fragrant sumac is an irregular, spreading, deciduous shrub, 6-12 ft. tall, with velvety twigs and lower branches turned up at the tips. Glossy, somewhat blue-green, coarsely toothed, trifoliate leaves turn orange, red, purple and yellow in the fall. Yellowish catkin-like flowers precede dark-red berries which persist into March. A sprawling, small to medium-size shrub with aromatic foliage.

Salvia lyrata (Lyreleaf sage) Lyreleaf sage is a strictly upright, hairy perennial, 1-2 ft. tall with a rosette of leaves at the base. The leaves are deeply 3-lobed, with a few simple leaves higher up on the stem. Large basal leaves are purple-tinged in the winter. This species has the typical square stem and 2-lipped blossom of the mints. Its pale-blue to violet, tubular flowers are arranged in whorls around the stem forming an interrupted, terminal spike. Each blossom is about 1 inch long.

Lyreleaf sage makes a great evergreen groundcover, with somewhat ajuga-like foliage and showy blue flowers in spring. It will reseed easily in loose, sandy soils and can form a solid cover with regular watering. It even takes mowing and can be walked on. The exposed lower lip of this and other salvias provides an excellent landing platform for bees. When a bee lands, the two stamens are tipped, and the insect is doused with pollen.

Solidago nemoralis (Gray goldenrod) Slender-stemmed plant, 1 1/2 to 2 ft. tall. Thin, coarsly-toothed leaves. Flowers occur on the upper side of hairy stalks which arch out and downward creating a vase-shaped flower cluster. Clumps of slender, gray-downy stems produce terminal, one-sided, yellow plumes that gives the perennial a vase-shaped appearance. A small goldenrod, this plant seldom reaches 2 ft. in height.

Prairie Goldenrod attracts butterflies. Individual plants bloom at various times, thus extending the flowering season.

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass) Yellow Indian grass is a tall, bunching sod-former, 3-8 ft. in height, with broad blue-green blades and a large, plume-like, soft, golden-brown seed head. This showy perennial’s fall color is deep orange to purple.

This is a beautiful grass with a somewhat metallic golden sheen to its flowering parts. It is an important associate in the tallgrass prairies and is relished by livestock. It appears to be favored by occasional flooding and repeated burning and sometimes forms nearly pure stands in the lowlands. Warm-season grass with rich gold-and-purple sprays of flowers and seeds in the fall.

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (Coralberry) This small, mound-shaped, deciduous shrub with shredding bark on older wood and brown to purplish branchlets covered with short hairs visible under a 10x hand lens, usually grows to 4 ft. but can reach 6 ft. Its smooth, dull green leaves are opposite and roughly oval, tapering about equally to tip and base, up to 2 inches long but often less than 1 inch, with smooth, turned down margins and a rounded or broadly pointed tip. The greenish-white flower clusters are not as showy as the clusters of coral-pink to purple berries up to 1/4 inch in diameter which remain on the plant through winter.

Particularly common in Post Oak (Quercus stellata) woods, Coralberry forms extensive colonies and spreads by rooting at the nodes where it touches the ground. A good choice for a woodland garden.

Also note that 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.

 

From the Image Gallery


Eastern red columbine
Aquilegia canadensis

Eastern woodland sedge
Carex blanda

Eastern red cedar
Juniperus virginiana

Wafer ash
Ptelea trifoliata

Fragrant sumac
Rhus aromatica

Lyreleaf sage
Salvia lyrata

Gray goldenrod
Solidago nemoralis

Indiangrass
Sorghastrum nutans

Coralberry
Symphoricarpos orbiculatus

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