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(Mostly) Deer-proof Landscaping

It may be thrilling to catch sight of beautiful deer grazing in a field or in the woods, but to see them chomping off all the new buds of your roses is enough to bring out the hunter instinct in even the most ardent animal lover. While you may not be able to have roses or a vegetable garden without a tall fence, you can grow lots of other plants deer don't usually eat.

Generally speaking, deer tend to shun plants that are smelly, hairy, fuzzy, bitter tasting, have tough or coarse leaves or are prickly. "Except that roses are prickly," says Lynn Funk, owner of Lynn's Living Designs in Grants Pass, "and roses are just about their favorite meal." And she has seen deer happily munching away on blackberries. She has even heard deer in Colonial Valley eat juniper.

So, the first rule of thumb for deer-proof landscaping is that none of it is absolutely foolproof. "Different deer eat different things in different areas," says Funk, "and it can be different in Josephine County than it is in Jackson County." So what's a gardener to do? Just keep trying.

Funk uses lots of natives in her landscaping. In shady areas, she likes western sword ferns, western azalea (Rhododendron occidentale), Pacific rhododendron (R. macrophyllum), native dogwood, red vine maple, and evergreen huckleberry. Chokecherry is a beautiful little tree with masses of white flowers in spring followed by small cherries somewhat bitter to us, but loved by birds. Wild bleeding heart spreads by rhizomes and forms large patches of lacy leaves with hanging, pink, bell-shaped flowers.

In sunny spots she uses all kinds of conifers; firs, pines, and spruce, with Oregon grape and kinnikinnik (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) a prostrate manzanita shrub with small white to pink flowers and edible red berries. One of her favorites is Indian plum or "osoberry" (Oemleria (formerly Osmaronia) cerasiformis). This small tree or shrub has pendulous white flowers hanging down followed by small bluish fruits that were used by American Indians. Funk says it is just getting ready to bloom now. It is an understory tree often found streamside and it likes afternoon shade. Sun-loving wildflowers are poppy, lupine, bachelor button and gaillardia.

Gardeners who prefer ornamental plants can welcome spring with daffodils and "all kinds of pretty allium bulbs," according to Christie Mackison, owner of Shooting Star Nursery in Central Point. Alliums are smelly relatives of the edible onion and produce clumps or round clusters of pink, violet, red, blue or yellow flowers on long stems. The fragrant daphne odora shrub mixes nicely with ferns, columbine and hellebore in the shade.

Japanese maples are "sometimes" left alone, but Mackison says deer will try just about any new young tree. She suggests putting wire cages around them for the first several years because if the deer don't eat them, they may rub their new antlers on small trunks, causing damage or death to the young trees. "Safe" shrubs include ceanothus, rockrose (Cistus incanus) and the thorny Portugese laurel (Prunus lusitanica). Make sure to distinguish this plant from its cousin, English laurel, P. laurocerasus).

Flower and herb lovers in sunny areas can rely on Shasta daisies, helianthemum, purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, bee balm, goldenrod, yarrow, purple catmint, some salvias, rosemary, lavender, and thyme to be safe from deer. The spiky New Zealand flax and most ornamental grasses provide nice contrast in color and shape and are not usually eaten.

Deer-proof gardens include more than just cactus and desert sage. With a little planning, you can have a beautiful garden with lush greenery and lots of flowers in deer country. For more information, Funk recommends the on-line OSU Extension list of deer-proof plants as the best one for this area.