Expensive ornamental plants often become the snacks of marauding deer that visit at night. Deer will munch on shrubs, perennial and annuals, causing untold frustration and expense for the home landscaper. Designing your landscape to discourage deer involves choosing plants that produce thorns or foliage that won't attract deer. The strategic placement of the plants can save your vegetable garden and flower beds from being stripped clean of flowers by unwanted visitors.
Holly and barberry shrubs top the list of deer-resistant shrubs. Holly contains the trademark pointed leaves that deer simply avoid because of the sharp tines on each leaf. Barberry features lovely maroon foliage on stems loaded with hundreds of sharp thorns. Place a hedge of holly or barberry around a vegetable plot to create a natural fence. Deer also loathe boxwood, so this common hedge can be used for the same purpose. Replace foundation plants with boxwood, holly or barberry to discourage grazing close to the house.
Instead of fighting the deer with fencing, grow plants that naturally repel deer. Include astilbe (shade loving) and butterfly bush (sun/part-shade) in your garden beds. Astilbe produces dark green foliage and a delicate, feather-like flower in maroon or light pink. Butterfly bush offers the option of a larger perennial bush with cultivars featuring flowers in blue, pink or purple. Other perennial flowers to repel deer include the beautiful heart-shaped flowers of the bleeding heart and the delicate needle foliage of coreopsis. Avoid planting hostas in accessible areas of the garden because this plant basically looks like a salad bar to the deer population.
Discovering that your newly planted pot of petunias has been eaten to the nub in one day generates considerable anger. Instead of petunias, choose ageratum to add blue colors to the garden or dusty miller for its fuzzy gray foliage. Deer won't much on marigolds or snapdragon, so they can add vibrant color to the landscape. See Resources for a list of annuals that deer won't eat. Remember that starvation creates a desperate situation for wildlife, so what deer won't eat one year, they may choose to eat the following year.