Let’s not get into an argument here about the differences between a shrub and a tree. Let’s just define shrub as a multi-stemmed woody landscape plant under 20-feet tall. Of course, deer find short shrubs perfectly convenient for eating or rubbing, as I described in “Deer Country 6.”
When I surveyed Howard County Master Gardeners about “deer- resistant” shrubs, they listed four: boxwood, heather, lilac, and butterfly bush.
Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) is a slow-growing evergreen that has been part of landscape plantings for generations, often as foundation plants or hedges that grow to about six feet. The one I’ve planted in an island bed to hide the vent of our septic system grows only a couple of inches a year, but I celebrate every time I look out my study window because our bambits continue to pass it by. I’ve seen deer sniff it, but they’ve never taken a bite.
Heather (Erica spp.), sometimes called heath, is another slow-growing evergreen that blooms over winter, from about Thanksgiving through May here in Maryland. I suspect deer don’t relish its fine, needle-like leaves. My eight-year-old specimen is an attractive mound about five feet across and 18-inches high. It grows well with limited water and, like its relatives blueberry, azalea, and rhododendron, thrives in acid soil.
Lilac (Syringa spp.) is a traditional backyard shrub favorite that deer don’t nibble or rub. If you still have dim memories of American Literature, you probably recall the most famous lilac poem of all, Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d,” the poet’s “Memories of President Lincoln.”
Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) grows to about five feet tall and, yes, attracts butterflies by the scores if not hundreds. We have three ‘Pink Delight’ butterfly bushes that seem almost to flutter at times because of all the butterflies sipping nectar. This shrub blooms on new growth so should be cut back to one foot or so in winter. Yes, deer don’t eat it, but occasionally a buck cannot resist rubbing it to remove dead velvet from his antlers in the fall. Note that some states consider some varieties invasive.
Since this is a blog and not a book, I’ve made no attempt to identify the scores or hundreds of varieties or cultivars of the four shrubs nor to detail their growing habits and requirements. If you want to do in-depth research, I recommend any of Michael A. Dirr’s excellent books on trees and shrubs, which are available at some libraries and, of course, at book sellers. If you don’t want a Master’s degree in the shrub of your choice, you can research shrub sellers online or visit a plant nursery this spring and discuss you needs with experts there.
The books and brochure I mentioned in “Deer Country 3” list many other shrubs you may want to consider. The Soderstrom book, for example, has four pages with more than 100 recommendations.
I must give you the most famous gardening warning of all: Just because a shrub is listed as “deer resistant” doesn’t mean the deer in your neighborhood have read the list and agreed not to eat it.
If this is the first “Deer Country” posting that you’ve read, I invite you to click on the blue “Deer” label at the end of this posting and read earlier “Deer Country” segments.
Next week in “Deer Country” I’ll write about deer-resistant trees.
To see my heather blooming in January snow, CLICK HERE.