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

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Thursday - August 23, 2012

From: North Oaks, MN
Region: Midwest
Topic: Deer Resistant, Erosion Control, Grasses or Grass-like, Herbs/Forbs, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Native plants both deer resistant and good for erosion from North Oaks MN
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We have several partially sunny areas on hills that are prone to both deer and erosion. Our goal is to reduce runoff in an effort to preserve the watershed that provides tap water to many citizens of St. Paul, MN. Since the hills are in the front of the house we would like a variety of colorful, attractive species to frame our midcentury rambler. Yet, we do not want deer to use the plants as their daily snack!

ANSWER:

You do realize that the double whammy of deer resistance and erosion control makes this a difficult question to answer. Let's start with the hardest one, deer resistance, and then see what plants native to Minnesota that are considered deer resistant will also work in erosion control. You should probably draw a rough map of your property indicating what areas are in full sun (6 hours or more of sun a day), part shade (2 to 6 hours of sun) or shade (2 hours or less of sun). You can then specify those selections when you do your own search.

We will begin by going to our Recommended Species page, which is composed of many lists to help gardeners find good native plants for their needs. On that page, we will click on Deer Resistant Species, native plants which deer tend to avoid. This gives us 344 results. Using the sidebar on the right hand side of the page, click on Minnesota in the State drop-down menu. This list has 71 plants that resulted from that search. Select a plant, perhaps Amorpha fruticosa (Indigo bush) . Scroll down the webpage to Benefits, under which it says "Deer Resistance: High". Not all of the plants on the Deer Resistant lists will have a "High" classification, so you need to work through the list, selecting plants you might use and check their resistance possibilities. We are going to make a sample list of plants we find in this way. You will note there are a lot of grasses on this list, which is good because grasses, with their long fibrous roots, are very good for erosion control and deer seem to avoid the grasses. Since you will have no septic lines to deal with, as many property owners do, we we can also suggest some woody plants, trees and shrubs, that could work. Using this resource, you can  design your own garden. Please note this paragraph at the top of the Deer Resistant Species List:

"Deer Resistant Species

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."

Translation: If they can eat it, they will come.

One last thing. This is just a sample list, but you will have difficulty finding them or any others you may select from our Native Plant Database in your large commercial nurseries or home improvement stores. Go to our National Suppliers Directory and enter your town and state or your zip code in the "Enter Search Location" box. You will get a list of native seed suppliers, nurseries and consultants for your general area. There is contact information for each, so you can call or e-mail  before you go for information.

Plants with high deer resistance for Minnesota:

Amorpha fruticosa (Indigo bush)

Andropogon gerardii (Big bluestem)

Aristida purpurea (Purple threeawn)

Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed)

Bouteloua dactyloides (Buffalograss)

Coreopsis tinctoria (Plains coreopsis)

Elymus canadensis (Canada wild rye)

Euphorbia marginata (Snow on the mountain)

Monarda fistulosa (Wild bergamot)

Physostegia virginiana (Fall obedient plant)

Ptelea trifoliata (Wafer ash)

Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem)

Follow each plant link to our webpage on that plant to learn its growing conditions, projected height and moisture needs.

 

From the Image Gallery


Indigo bush
Amorpha fruticosa

Big bluestem
Andropogon gerardii

Purple threeawn
Aristida purpurea

Butterflyweed
Asclepias tuberosa

Buffalograss
Bouteloua dactyloides

Plains coreopsis
Coreopsis tinctoria

Canada wild rye
Elymus canadensis

Snow on the mountain
Euphorbia marginata

Wild bergamot
Monarda fistulosa

Fall obedient plant
Physostegia virginiana

Wafer ash
Ptelea trifoliata

Splitbeard bluestem
Andropogon ternarius

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