Gardeners in most areas of the United States must deal with deer feeding on their plants. These pests may cause severe damage to trees, shrubs and flowers, leaving the landscape looking unkempt. This is a highly difficult, if not impossible, situation to remedy, as keeping deer out altogether is a tricky prospect. Growers have turned to planting deer-resistant plants, which are less likely to be damaged. Unfortunately, azaleas, a common garden shrub, are not among these species.
According to Rutgers University, the azalea shrub is among those most eaten by deer. There are more than 10,000 species within the rhododendron family, with some that are either deciduous or evergreen growers. Though both types are prone to deer damage, those of the deciduous variety are less often affected. These types include the fireball azalea, the double delight and the golden light. Both varieties may suffer damage to new buds, leaves and branches. For a deer resistant garden, growers should avoid azaleas and choose from the variety of similar flowering shrubs that aren't attractive to deer.
Instead of azalea, growers may seek out one of the dozen or so shrubs that are seldom ravaged by deer. One possible replacement is the butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), a quick growing plant with bold purple flowers and deep green foliage. Its hardy growth makes it invasive in some areas, and it does best in five through nine. It is often used to provide a pop of color in the garden, and is highly attractive to butterflies. The common boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), arrowwood viburnum (viburnum dentatum) and the bayberry (myrica pensylvanica), each of which will have their own growing conditions and uses.
A small, deer-resistant tree may be an ideal replacement for an azalea. There are approximately 11 that are ranked as rarely damaged, and more than double that number will be seldom damaged. For a nice evergreen look, consider the American holly (Ilex opaca), an ideal choice for zones five and six, with a maximum height of 30 feet. It is usually slow growing, and will produce white flowers in the spring. The katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), paper birch (Betula papyrifera) or the red pine (Pinus resinosa) are also options.
Flowers and Groundcover
The angel's trumpet (brugmansia) is an annual shrub that may be ideal for replacing azalea in the garden. It is called the angel's trumpet because of its flowers, which are available in a number of colors. Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica), larkspur (Consolida ambigua and snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) are each deer-resistant annuals. Daffodil (Narcissus), autumn crocus (Colchicum) and snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are all bulb growers, while lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) will all provide groundcover.
- New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station: Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance
- Arbor Day Foundation: Deer Resistant Trees and Shrubs
- Colorado State University Extension, Preventing Deer Damage, C.E. Swift, et. al. 04/2008
- West Virginia University: Resistance of Ornamentals to Deer Damage; John W. Jett;