Sunday, February 13, 2011

Deer Country 10: Annual Flowers

Browsed marigold

Nearly every gardener in Deer Country has a list—a short list—of annual flowers that local deer don’t eat. Over the years my short list included—note the past tense—marigolds, petunias, and vincas.

In “Deer Country 1,” I mentioned how the sunflowers and pansies I planted when we first moved to Meadow Glenn disappeared and how I then realized that deer were going to use our flower gardens as a salad bar.

My defense was to start planting annuals that I thought deer would pass by. Friends advised, “Try marigolds. They have a strong scent that the deer will avoid.” Others suggested, “Try petunias. They have furry leaves the deer don’t like.”

I planted marigolds, and, amazingly, the first year had beautiful blooms. But the second year, deer regularly browsed the marigolds—and we had no blooms to admire.

Browsed petunia
I planted petunias and they grew for several months and started to bloom. “Ah, ha,” I thought. “The deer really don’t like the furry leaves. I’ve outwitted them.” Then one morning I was greeted with petunia plants consisting of just stems. The deer had eaten all the blooms and leaves. The plants struggled to releaf, but they never bloomed again.

I had better luck with vincas, a tropical import. I planted a line of them in the narrow bed between our front sidewalk and our front porch. In fact, I planted them successfully for about five years, and we enjoyed their pink and white blooms in mid-summer until cold weather set in. And then in year six the deer decided to browse the vincas. They ate the leaves and as they browsed pulled up many of the plants, which don’t have much of a root system.

Browsed & uprooted vinca
I don’t plant annuals in our deer-accessible landscape. I do usually grow a row of zinnias and marigolds in our fenced backyard, but I’ve surrendered to the deer elsewhere. I now spend my effort and time on perennial flowers with which I’ve had much better luck, which means I planted them, they grow and bloom, and the deer generally ignore them. In the next several Deer Country postings, I’ll be talking about those perennials.

Are there annual flowers that I could grow without deer browsing here at Meadow Glenn? Probably. Are there annual flowers you can grow without deer browsing in your landscape? Probably. The only way to find out is to experiment. Grow some good candidates and see what your deer think of your additions.

There are lists of good candidates in the publications I mentioned in “Deer Country 3.” The Soderstrom book lists a page and a half of “Annuals and Biennials.” Hart lists seven candidates, including zinnias, which our deer browse. Adler has several pages of “Plants Rarely Damaged,” including some annuals, and Drzewucki lists a dozen annuals. Both Adler and Drzewucki include marigolds and petunias, which Meadow Glenn deer browse heavily. University of Maryland Extension Fact Sheet 655 includes several annuals in its “Rarely Damaged” section on “Annuals, Perennials, and Bulbs.”

If you’re serious about growing annual flowers in Deer Country, I recommend that you invest in a deer-resistant fence, experiment to find varieties your deer don’t eat, or use a deer spray.

To go to “Deer Country 3,” which lists the books and brochure mentioned in this posting, CLICK HERE.

To go to “Deer Country 4,” which discusses repellents, CLICK HERE.

Please post a Comment to identify annual flowers that deer in your part of Deer Country don’t eat.


  1. So, why do deer not browse perennials?

  2. Deer browse some perennials, Todd. But there are so many perennials available that they have been observed more, so more people know which ones deer probably will ignore. When I surveyed our local Master Gardeners, they didn't list a single annual as resistent. But they listed nearly 30 perennials, which I'll start listing next posting.

  3. The annuals I have used over the years that the deer in my yard pass by are purple ageratum, snapdragons, and white sweet alysums.

  4. Thanks, Donna, for listing three annual flowers that deer don't eat in your neighborhood. That will encourage others to try out varieties they see on the various lists of deer-resistant annuals. I've never grown ageratum, but I see it on most of the lists.

  5. I have also had good luck with lantana and the salvias as well. Lantana can be hard to find, but Home Depot usually has some early in the season. If people are tired of daffodils, I recommend they try scilla and snowdrop bulbs, which our deer ignore.

  6. Funny, over the years I only had a minimal damage done by dear to marigolds, vincas, snapdragons, salvias and wax begonias. When there is any damage done, I usually blame rabbits since I could not find any deer tracks. Spider flower, alyssum and impatiens are also left alone by deer in my yard.

  7. Anonymous, I usually look for hoof prints before blaming the deer. We have both foxes and feral cats that make rabbits few and far between. Another Comment pointed out alyssum as a good candidate, and snapdragons appear on many lists of resistant plants. Salvias were on my list. Our local bambits have browsed heavily on our marigolds, vincas (just the last two years), and wax begonias. I haven't tried spider flowers or impatiens. The bottom line is that each of us gardeners should experiment to see what our local deer don't browse and build our list of plants that survive!

  8. I have tried every plant with no luck. I am only lucky with Sweet Basil, which I don't want to flower because I make a pesto sauce in Autumn. I freeze it and have it through the winter - yum.