Sunday, March 6, 2011

Deer Country 13: Seven More Summer Perennial Flowers

Spotted mint in bloom

This “Deer Country” posting adds seven summer perennial flowers to the list started in “Deer Country 12” based on a survey in which Howard County Master Gardeners listed plants their local deer don’t eat.

Spotted mint
One of my all-time favorite plants, a gift of a fellow Master Gardener, Corliss G., is spotted mint (Monarda punctata), an American native also known as horsemint and spotted bee-balm. Over several years it has grown into a beautiful mound about 3’ in diameter. In summer it is covered with beautiful, complex blooms that attract all kinds of pollinators. It’s the kind of plant that will convince you of the wisdom of planting native plants that are keys parts of the life cycles of native insects, which in turn are part of the life cycles of other native animals.

Redhot poker
Redhot poker (Kniphofia uvaria) is also called tritoma and torch lily. It gets its name from the red and yellow flowerhead that in my garden reaches about 2½ feet high. Nectar-eating birds and insects come to redhot poker, but deer don’t, because, I think, its leaves are so stringy and tough.

Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) is a native American flower the roots of which Native Americans traditionally used to treat toothaches. Pictured is the ‘Husker Red’ cultivar, which has reddish-bronze leaves and white flowers that bloom much of the summer and which local deer have totally ignored. This variety grows about 18” high.

Blazingstar (Liatris spicata), sometimes called gayfeather or button snakeroot, is another North American native that grows to about 3’. It’s often described as having flowers that open first at the top of the stem. Corms (commonly called bulbs) are often available for springtime planting. One bag of 10 to 15 corms probably will be sufficient for all but the biggest gardens, as the plant readily self-seeds. Common colors are purple and white. To add a little character to our wintertime scenery and to provide seeds for a variety of sparrows and finches, I let the spent stalks stand until February or early March, when I cut them to the ground with my electric trimmer.

Rose campion
Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) is a somewhat scraggly plant with silvery, furry leaves and red-pink flowers. A friend, Kazuko E., gifted us with a plant some years ago. It has adapted well to its minimal-sun growing spot on the east side of our house. It self-seeds modestly, and now we have five or six plants. Its silvery leaves and burgundy flowers complement the deep-green leaves and yellow flowers of the goldenrod plant growing nearby.

Shasta daisy
Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum) is one of the few flowers that has an unpleasant smell, at least to my nose, and perhaps to deer noses too. I’ve grown two cultivars, ‘Becky’ and ‘Silver Princess.’ ‘Becky’ is the larger plant, growing to about 2’ with quite a bit of foliage that deer occasionally sample if the leaves linger into early winter. ‘Silver Princess’ is my favorite. It’s sometimes described as “dwarf” and grows to about a foot. Its foliage hunkers near the ground where our deer ignore it.

Lamb's ear
With its silvery leaves, lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) makes a great groundcover for a partly sunny to sunny garden. Deer don’t browse it, perhaps because of its furry leaves. Leaves alone make this plant attractive, not its small, unremarkable, white or pink flowers. Its furry leaves probably are about as appealing to deer for food as would be a real lamb’s ears.

Note: There are no guarantees that deer in your neighborhood won’t eat the plants listed here. There is no “deer-proof” plant. Browsing depends on many things, including number of deer, availability of other foods, and preferences of individual deer. If you’re serious about finding perennials that deer won’t eat, check the lists in the brochure and the books I recommended in “Deer Country 3” and in lists available online. Research your favorite candidates and give them a try.

Next week’s “Deer Country” posting: late-summer perennial flowers and ornamental grasses.

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