Year Two in My Gardening Efforts

I have written of last year’s attempts to grow plants in my zone 7b where drought, deer, jack rabbits, and wind test the capacity of plants to adapt to this semi-arid region of Northern California.  I heard from locals that once upon a time this area was forested with pines and firs such as Sequoia; then it was clear-cut.  The result is nutrient poor earth compacted by lack of moisture and tree undergrowth, dessicated by harsh afternoon winds, and populated with creatures looking for moisture and edibles.  This year I need to mention the ground squirrels.  Although I had seen them previously it wasn’t until this year that I observed one in the garden picking flowers from the smaller plants, holding them between his paws and nibbling them like a delicacy.  Now I know the cause of those smaller bites I find in plants that don’t appear to be deer or jack rabbit damage.

A quick summation is that perhaps only 20% of the plants I purchased and placed in the yard survived.  I spent many hundreds of dollars on so-called drought-resistant and deer-resistant plants to lose them to many factors, some related to the animals, but also to poor soil and harsh winds and full sun.

Two of the plants that did well last year didn’t make it through the winter: the Pennisetum “Fireworks” red grass and the Bulbaghia Violacea or “Society Garlic.”  This was disappointing since they both did well under the difficult circumstances until the freezing weather. However, I surrendered the yard to the elements in the winter and deciding that whatever survived I would continue to grow the following year. On the positive side, one of the plants I wrote that I later discovered was annual (rather than perrennia)l did survive and must therefore must be a perrennial in zone 7b.  That is Erysimum (Wallflower, “Bowles Mauve”).  Therefore I purchased another; this one is spindly and I will have to gradually prune it to look as compact as the previous one which the nursery must have trained over time.  Nearby and also doing well is “Dwarf Russian Sage”, a Perovskia hybrid, also called “Little Spires.” I’m waiting to see if the plant will flower with wispy, cloud-like spires.

As to grasses, late last year I planted Miscanthus oligostachyus, “Autumn Red” “Flame Grass,” and Dracaena indivisa, “Red Sensation.” The latter I purchased as a starter and that was a mistake.  It is struggling to reach three inches tall while it should reach several feet.  Small insects and animals have been nibbling the purple grasses.  This is an example where I would have done better to purchase a quart-sized specimen.

This year I’ve added a “Blue-Eyed Grass” perennial Sisyrinchium angustifolium. So far it has been left alone. It is a native wildflower in the United States with a blue flower with a yellow eye. It is self-seeding.  Another self-seeding plant which freely donates itself to the yard is the California yellow poppy, Eschscholzia  california, also known as “Cup of Gold.”  It’s a cheerful addition to the yard and I’m pleased appears freely.

The Cana Lillies are not doing as well this year; perhaps it is the early heat.  Only one has blossomed and the others are showing small growth and their leaf tips tend to scorch.  However I did add three new Day Lillies this year as another experiment: The Hemerocallis “Anzac” with deep orange blossoms,  the Hemerocallis “Fragrant Returns” which produces soft yellow flowers with a lovely fragrance, and Hemerocallis “Swirling Water,” which produces Purple flowers.

The Blue Fescue came back through the winter and were growing nicely through May; then the jack rabbits appeared and at this time have begun shearing them again.  I had hoped since the plants were tougher from last year’s rabbit shearing that they would be left alone.  But, we are entering the time of year when the spring wild plants are beginning to die off from the heat, and the rabbits are turning to tended, watered yards to find moisture and food.

Blue Salvia do very well.  This year I added a “BLack & Blue” variety but it doesn’t take the heat or wind.  It might work in a protected place. I’ve tried orange or reddish salvia and they were completely eaten.

The Gaillardia continues to thrive; I may add other colors next year.

The Scabiosa columbaria” or “Pincushion Flower” does fair.  The animals leave it alone except for a nibble here and there; but the plants don’t show much growth. The Shasta Daisy is hardy but also slow-growing in this yard.  No flowers are appearing yet this year; and last year the deer ate the blossoms. Some animal is eating the leaves, moving it to my list of unsuccessful plants. The Stachys (“Lambs Ears”) continue to survive; two thrive (only one blossoms) and the others sit with no growth or blossoms.

The Coneflowers came back and are blossoming; I don’t know yet if the deer will take the flowers as they did the  “chocolate” flowered Cosmos,   This is the last time I will plant Cosmos. It’s too sunny & hot for them. The jack rabbits ate the Coreopsis or “Tick Seed” to the ground and all the Sedum plant varieties. These last three are now on my failure list.  I must add Lenton Rose to the failure list.  It never flowered but came back from winter and looked healthy in the spring but the jack rabbits found it in June and finished it.

Artemisia arborescens also known as “Wormwood” is doing well this year. A lacy, silvery small bush adds accent.  Last year the rabbits ate them to near loss, but they have recovered and the rabbits avoid them this year, perhaps because they may be somewhat toxic.

The Blue Star Juniper to my surprise also began to show growth this year; I thought they were a lost cause to heat. Since they are left alone by the animals I will continue to pamper them; they are slow growth.  Maybe in a few years I will see healthy bushes.  So far four or five of them need replacement. I purchased three different types of ground juniper bushes for experiments this year:  The Prince of Wales Juniper which is a low-growing ground cover, the Blue Chip Juniper which grows about a foot tall to eight inches wide, and the Broadmoor Juniper which can grow two feet high and about four to six feet wide.  Considering the difficulties plants encounter in this region I expect the results will be one-third to one-half the growth listed on the plant tags. If these survive I will replace the ailing Blue Star Junipers with  Blue Chip Junipers.  The other two juniper species are placed in other areas to help reduce soil erosion and add accents to the yard.

In addition to the Japanese Barberry bushes which I finally fenced last year after rabbit damage, I’ve added Nandina domestica “Gulf Stream,” a lovely variegated-color, lacy leaf bush which I’ve planted near the Barberries.

Fun small green grass tufts that did well last year are the Armeria Maritima “Common Thrift,”  that the animals avoid to my surprise.  They provide accents in the yard, small though they are. I like the miniature flowers that stick up from the little mounds of green grass.

I’m also experimenting with two plants I’ve noticed in local yards: Kniphofia “Fire Dance” also known as “Red-hot Poker,” and Yucca filamentos, “Ivory Tower.”   The animals ignore them and they seem to be adjusting to the soil.  Time will tell.

Three plants that I’ve tried again this year that I should have avoided are Yarrow, the Evening Primrose, and Helianthemum.  All three are being eaten the ground squirrels and the jack rabbits.  I was hoping that larger plants would survive this year, but they do not unless they are near the motion-detector irrigation spout, an animal-repelling device that begins to spray when it detects motion; it is also activated by wind.  It is good for cooling the yard during the hot, windy days.  While the Evening Primrose and Helianthemum are found the region and seem to survive the animals, the ones I plant get eaten. I also tried Verbena “Homestead Purple” (which look great next to the Blue Fescue),  Ice Plant, and Ivy Hedera, “Algerian” with moderate success. The animals have tasted them all, but some remnants remain. The Gaura plants of various species are favorites of the rabbits.  I do have two slightly larger ones this year: “Fountain Pink” and “Indian Feather” which have avoided destruction so far.

Last fall I had a nursery install thirty trees, including young specimens of Ponderosa Pine and Giant Sequoia.  Others are a Blue Colorado Spruce; two Calocedrus Cecurrens, “Incense Cedar;” Picea pungens “Fat Albert;” and several Zelkova serrata, a Japanese deciduous tree; and one bush Euonymus alatus compactus, or “Compact Burning Bush” which leaves turn orangey-red in the fall.   Fencing was required around all of these (except the Fat Albert and the Colorado Blue Spruce) due to the bucks damaging them in the fall, and the deer eating the leaves of the Burning Bush in the spring.

This year I added and fenced two small trees: Prunus incisa “CarltonLT” known as “Little Twist Flowering Cherry;” and Forsythia “Meadowlark” the hardiest of all forsythias according to the plant tag. Also under trial is Gardenia jasminoides (augusta, grandiflora) known as “Kleim’s Hardy.” It needed to be moved to partial shade.  It joins several Clematis and one Wisteria in a small shaded space running along the side of the carport.

A risk I decided to take was to purchase a red “Flower Carpet” Rose , in the ground rather than in a pot.  The deer have left it alone so far, but the rabbits have found it, and therefore I fenced it.  If it can achieve several feet tall, rabbit damage won’t keep the rose from surviving.

The winner of the yard is the Creeping Rosemary.  They are strong and healthy, attractive, and provide rosemary for cooking year around. The close second is Blue Salvia. Third would be Gaillardia. Of course I expect the various bush junipers to join the winners. Maybe next season I’ll include photos.


What Survives in the Yard?

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.

Uncertain Results:

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.

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).