Monday, December 12, 2011

Deer Country: Don’t Cut Back Perennials?

My surprise--a browsed lychnis plant
I took my pruners to one of our perennial beds to cut back the dead flower stalks of our rose campion (Lychnis spp.) and discovered something that convinced me to put my pruners away.

One of the younger lychnis plants had been deer browsed.  That was significant here at Meadow Glenn because I’ve never seen a browsed lychnis plant in the four years they’ve been growing in that bed.  Photo 1 clearly shows the browsed leaves—some with tough fibers still attesting to a tough, fuzzy meal attempted by a deer.

Just a foot way another lychnis plant lay unbrowsed under a protective umbrella of dead stalks (Photo 2).

Unbrowsed lychnis protected by dead stalks
Eureka—a thought!  Perhaps deer are as energetic as I am and take the easy way out if they have a choice.  Exposed leaves: browse.  Protected leaves: pass by.

I looked around.  Not far way was a Shasta daisy with tall but dead stalks.  Still-green leaves of the plant hugged the ground.  A couple of the outer, unprotected leaves had been browsed—but the leaves protected by the stalks were untouched.

Put the pruners away until late winter, Bob.  Let the dead stalks help protect the plants over winter.  Sounds like a good plan to me.

And there are other reasons not to cut back dead perennial seed stalks.  Seed-eating birds—chipping sparrows and song sparrows, for example—check them out for winter food, and the stalks add character to gardenscapes when frosted or coated with ice or snow.

Seed stalks add winter character
Ah, yes, these are excellent reasons to put away my pruners until some sunny, pre-spring day in February.  Meanwhile, back at my lounger….


  1. I've also heard that butterfly chrysalises might be overwintering among the perennials.

  2. Anita: Yes, and I sometimes see praying mantis egg cases on seed stalks of perennials, though more often on branches of shrubs.