My Yard Was Feeding the Deer & Rabbits

I live in northern California not far from the Oregon border. The USDA hardiness zone is 7b.

Living in a rural area means either fencing out the wildlife or experimenting with plantings to discover what they ignore. Of course there are lists online of deer-resistant and rabbit-resistant plants, but it varies by region and by animal and time of year. During the lean times one cannot be certain any plant will be avoided. Sometimes the animals simply seek moisture in this dry climate and I will find flowers, leaves, and plants that have been sampled then left on the ground. I’m assuming either the plant was new and the animal taste-tested the item, or it chewed the leaf or stem or flower to draw out the moisture, then discarded it.

Another tendency that the animals have is to investigate anything newly added, whether it is entirely a new species, or another of something you already have in the yard. They seem to have a spacial awareness of what is new in a location of the yard that previously was bare or had something else no longer present. Like a child the animals inspect the new plant and take a taste. This is why young plants don’t do well; some are so small that one or two tastes ends the life of the plant. Although, I have dug up angelonia and a blue flower i thought was delphinium that the bunnies ate to the ground, transplanted the roots into containers and put them on my porch. They grew abundantly when left alone and the ones I thought were delphiniums have already produced new blue blossoms.  [edited Sept 24 as I’m still uncertain of the blue plant… I’ll research my notes and update.]

The most useful hints I can give to someone is to consider the following:
Make lists of deer-resistant and rabbit-resistant plants found on the Internet;
and if needed, make a lists of drought-resistant plants. If you have strong winds you should take that into consideration as well; for the dry and high wind areas you need sturdy plants with woody stems and hardy leaves, avoiding the delicate and lacy plants.

Make another list of native plants of your area as an idea what you may find locally and transplant to your yard, or seek at your nursery.

When you are ready to purchase your plants after cross-checking those that meet the categories you desire, look for well-established plants in the quart-sized containers. Often the animals will avoid the more mature plant, while finding the same plant as a young seedling or sprouts attractive delicacies. Your yard becomes an enticing spot for finding variety in their diets.

I look for deer-resistant, rabbit-resistant, drought-resistant, and wind-resistant plants. This means most of my selections must be mature plants, with woody stems, wirey or thorny branches, or rough or fuzzy or prickly leaves. Strong-smelling plants such as society garlic and marigolds are examples of plants that are sturdy for my climate, yet smelly enough to the animals that they don’t bother them. Although, I must admit I have seen some of the marigolds eaten, such as the “lemon” color marigold.

If you don’t want to use fencing or netting there are other options that I have found useful: I have purchased a “Scare Crow” motion-detector watering system for approximately $70+ and a solar-operated Owl figure which head turns due to wind action as well as the solar power. Now that the animals have these new deterrents to confront they are avoiding the yard more often, though not completely. It makes enough difference however that the plants that were regularly “pruned” by the browsing deer are doing better.

Rabbits (jack rabbits, where I live) are persistent and not as choosey as deer. Jack rabbits will sit and top tough grasses such as blue fescue or Pennisetum “Fireworks.” They also like Baby Tut grass. Oddly, the rabbits may completely ravish several plants and then leave the others like it alone. For example the rabbits gave “crew cuts” to four out of sixteen of the blue fescue (pint size containers) planted early in the season. Then they left the other twelve alone. I thought I would have better luck by purchasing adult blue fescue in quart size containers. I experimented with three. The jack rabbits chewed one down to a fist size, and sampled a second one. But now the plants are ignored.

The jack rabbits also ate one-third of a wormwood plant before giving up on it; since then I have added three more and these are being avoided. I was surprised that the dusty miller plants which are known to be both deer and rabbit resistant were completely demolished by the jack rabbits, an entire row of them. Meanwhile, the stachys (lamb’s ear) plant I put in as a test was, like the wormwood, eaten about one-third by the jack rabbits. Since then it has been left alone; therefore I recently purchased another four stachys and they have been sampled but not in danger of losing growth.

In a follow-up post I will list the plants that are doing best in my area (USDA hardiness zone 7b).