I’ve written previously of the challenges growing plants in my yard due to heat, drought, wind, deer, and rabbits. I’ve been experimenting with plants since April of this year and now have a good idea of what may survive without fencing.
First of all, if you insist on growing most anything in my zone 7b, and in a location where temperatures can reach 108 degrees in the summer, and the deer and rabbits abound, you will need fencing and lots of watering and shade for vulnerable plants. My intention is to avoid fencing and experiment with as many native plants, or other plants suitable to the zone — that the deer and rabbits ignore.
Below I list what I will plant again next year; these are best purchased in quart-size to 1/2 gallon containers. The more mature the better since the animals will taste everything and it is best if the plant can survive these taste tests, especially by the young animals who are learning what is in your yard. Also, a plant deer have tasted and now ignore may be tasted again if you plant the same species in another location. Like children, everything is tasted and tried. If the plant is a seedling one taste may be enough to destroy it. Purchase as mature plants as you can afford; or grow your plants to a mature size before transplanting. Deer browse and walk on leaving things to recover for their next visit; rabbits on the other hand pull up a chair and sit down to dine, eating things to the soil and reducing the plant’s capacity to recover.
My list for next season includes plants that have survived everything: wind, 108 degrees, drought (though I water regularly the first year allow them to establish themselves), deer, and rabbits:
Pennisetum “Fireworks,” a lovely red grass that matures with tassels.
Dwarf Russian Sage, looks lovely and is not bothered by either deer or rabbits; I will definitely purchase more.
Society Garlic, Tulbaghia Violacea, a garlicky smell keeps the critters away although I did see a young deer taste it’s leaves. I plan to dig up to split the bulbs and plant around the yard. I love these plants, watching them dance in the breeze, with lovely little lavender flowers.
Beards’ Tongue, has been nibbled but basically left alone.
Creeping Rosemary, looks lovely and provides erosion control on the hillside; neither the deer nor rabbits bother it. I have a half dozen or more and they are doing nicely. I’ll see about taking cuttings and growing more. Size won’t matter as the animals completely ignore them.
Gaillardia are completely ignored as well. They are a wild looking plant about a foot tall from the sunflower family that produce colorful small flowers.
Erysimum (Wallflower, “Bowles Mauve”) is doing well and has not been bothered by deer or rabbits. I like the unusual looking spires that extend from the leafy base. I usually stick to perennials, but I learned after purchasing that it is an annual or biennial.
Marigolds, annuals that are worth adding because they are so colorful, hardy, and stinky enough the animals can’t be bothered… although during the most flora-meager time of the year, I’ve noticed the animals get a bit desperate. Sometimes I think they take a bite of anything to suck out the moisture and drop the flower or stems thereafter.
Cana Lillies do well and produce lovely flowers that brighten the yard even though the 100+ degree heat does damage/darken the leaves and flowers. I’ll plant more next year in any case because they are sturdy.
Peruvian Lilly (Alstroemeria, “Dandy Candy”) seems to be surviving though I started with a small plant. I’m hopeful that it is another of the lilly species that are sturdy and avoided by animals.
Stachys (Lamb’s Ears) are generally left alone, although the lacey ones I planted early in the spring were too young and eaten immediately by the rabbits. The rounded-lobed ones (Stachys “Von Stein”) of larger size have done well.
Penstamon, in colors Ruby, Blue, Grape, are tasted frequently and flowers eaten. I purchased too small and will try larger sizes next year.
I like Coneflowers, and related Rudbeckia (“Black-eyed Susans”) and others, Daisies (deer like the flowers), Lobelia, Cosmos, Salvia, Sedum, Ajuga grouncover, Blue Fescue, Borage, Campanula, Delphinium, Liatris Kobold (“Gayfeather”), Crocosmia Crocosmiiflora (Montbrieta “Orange Lucifer”), Helianthemum (“Wisley Pink” Sun Rose), Hollyhocks, Nasturtiums, Coreopsis, Whirling Butterflies & Rosy Jane (both species of Gaura Lindheimeri), Japanese Anemone, Blue Flax, “Baby Tut Grass” (Cyperus Involucratus), Potentilla, Lupin, Cosmos, Oenothera, Angelonia, Oriental Poppy, and Lavendar among many other so called deer-resistant and/or rabbit-resistant plants, but I have failed to keep one or the other or both from completely demolishing the plants. It is mostly rabbit damage when they are so completely eaten down to the soil. I may try the Whirling Butterflies next year in gallon-size containers. Next year I’ll also plant Foxglove (poisonous, and the animals avoid) next to the Hollyhocks. It may deter the deers from eating the Hollyhocks if they are surrounded by Foxglove.
I’ve also planted Japanese Barberry plants, very thorny and hard to handle because of the thorns; but the rabbits have nearly killed them. I finally gave in and surrounded each plant with flexible, but sturdy netting. The plants appear to be leafing out again. I’ll keep them netted until they reach about two feet high and wide.
I tried Peonies with woody stems (Paeonia suffruticosa) and I thought they would do well, but they appear damaged from either too much heat or from the animals stripping the leaves. Next year I will place them in a shaded area on the deck and see if they leaf and flower. I love peonies and roses. I do have one rose bush, the “Peace Rose”, which I keep on the deck as the deer eat the buds otherwise.
I have plans to place an 8′ x 12′ walk-in greenhouse on the property where I can experiment more readily and grow plants to a more mature state before transplanting them into the yard. I also want to experiment with straw bale gardening and avoid the labor of cultivating the soil, as well as saving my back by working at a more knee-high level.