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Wednesday - April 22, 2009

From: Prince William, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Deer Resistant
Title: Deer and rabbit resistant plants for Virginia
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I am trying to find deer and rabbit resistant plants/ornamental grasses and flowers to create a year round garden (garden with interest all year) in two large and one small flowerbed in the front of our home which faces west (full sun in the mid/late afternoon). I would like to plant flowers/vines/shrubs/trees in the backyard (medium size) which faces east (early morning-midday full sun/shady in late afternoon). I live in Prince William County in northern VA and would like plants that are native to this area or hardy (Iím a beginner gardener). I also need to know of a source to purchase the suggested plants/flowers. Much thanks for your assistance!


We love beginning gardeners, and to start you off on the right foot, please read our How-To Article A Guide to Native Plant Gardening. At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, we only recommend  plants  native not only to North America but to the area in which they are being grown. Plants already adapted to an area's climate, rainfall and soil will need less fertilizer, water and maintenance. Since your question is pretty complex, and we really can't do a landscape plan without seeing the space ourselves, we are going to show you how to use our Native Plant Database to find plants that will work for you, and make decisions on which ones you want.

First, however, we'll deal with the rabbit- and deer-proof garden. There is no such thing. Deer, in particular, will eat just about anything they can get their mouths around, especially if their natural forage has been damaged by drought or disturbed by urban development. According to the experts, deer dislike spiny, thorny plants and aromatic plants. If they are hungry enough, the deer will just hold their noses and chew right on. For your first exercise in using our Native Plant Database, go to our Special Collection Deer-Resistant Plants, and then on Narrow Your Search. Select Virginia on the drop-down menu and "herb" (herbaceous flowering plants) under Habit, then click on the Narrow Your Search box at the bottom of the page. When we did this, we got 53 results. We did not select on Light Requirements, which are "sun," 6 hours or more of sun daily, "part shade," 2 to 6 hours of sun, and "shade," less than 2 hours of sun, nor did we select on soil moisture or duration (annual, biennial or perennial) which are more ways to narrow down your choice. We looked at two of the suggested plants by clicking on the plant link. Aquilegia canadensis (red columbine) needs part shade to shade, and is moderately deer resistant. Capsicum annuum (cayenne pepper) can get along in sun, part shade or shade, and is highly deer resistant. You can go back and vary your search any way you want to, even looking for specific bloom colors and times. Sometimes you will get no results that fit your specifications, sometimes you will get several. 

Rabbits? We don't have a rabbit-resistant list for native plants. We looked at "rabbit resistant plants" on the Internet; most of the sites were area-specific, meaning we don't think a list of agaves and yuccas that deer and rabbits don't like (from Arizona) would do you much good in Virginia. We found one from Pennsylvania-Penn State Cooperative Extension Rabbit Resistant Plants by Laurie Bishow, Penn State Master Gardener. These lists are not all going to be native plants, but will help as a guide as you try to select plants.

Now that you've dipped your toe in our Native Plant Database, let us help you make a plan for selecting your own plants, according to the amount of sun the space gets and so forth. We'll use the front flower bed that gets sun in the afternoon for our example. You should watch and keep a record of how much sun each area gets, but we think that front bed would be considered part shade, 2 to 6 hours of sun a day. To begin with, it would probably be a good idea to pick some shrubs for a background in that bed, maybe something that blooms. Begin by going to Recommended Species, click on Virginia on the map, Narrow Your Search, and select shrubs under Habit, and part shade under Light Requirements.  This gave us 26 choices, and we picked out Rhododendron calendulaceum (flame azalea) as a possibility. You can follow the plant link to the web page on that individual plant and learn that it is deciduous, blooms red, orange or yellow in May and June, and needs acidic, well-drained soil. 

Okay, you're in charge. You can pick whatever you want, considering the light, the space and your ideas for appropriate plants. Everything you see using that method will be native to Virginia. You can go down to the bottom of the page and click on a link for that plant to Google, and get even more information. If you need help finding these plants, which are all commercially available, go to our Native Plant Suppliers section, type your town and state in the Enter Search Location box and you will get a list of native plant nurseries, seed suppliers and landscape and environment consultants in your general area. They have maps and contact information. Another resource for finding native plants for your area is the Virginia Native Plant Society.

Aquilegia canadensis

Capsicum annuum

Rhododendron calendulaceum



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