My little garden paradise is home to many different kinds of critters. Many species of birds frequent the garden throughout the year, the squirrels are almost always out and playfully busy, I’ve seen small rabbits from time to time, tree frogs can more often be heard than seen, we have the occasional raccoon, opossum or coyote make a visit (usually on their way to the neighbor’s dog food dish I suspect), but I have never seen any sign of deer. Perhaps our place is just urban enough to be outside of their domain – I do know folks with deer sightings a mile or two (and further) away.
A few weeks ago, I was asked about deer-resistant conifers from a new garden friend in Connecticut. I had a few ideas for her, but I knew the best thing to do would be to contact some of my friends living around the country so I could pull from their real-world experience. In the process I discovered that there are many conifers choices available which deer seem to have no interest in whatsoever. I also discovered that just because the local herds of deer in New Jersey may avoid one plant, the herds across the state line on Long Island, may find it to be a delicacy.
I have come to the conclusion that there are some very reliable conifers that deer will absolutely avoid until the food supply is so scarce that they are desperate. I wonder if one were to create a border around the property with a selection of those proven deer-resistant trees, would the herd move on to another property that is much more inviting? I also believe that a great way to enjoy conifers – especially the smaller dwarf and miniatures – is to plant them in containers that are kept close to the house on the patio or deck. Deer seem to generally stay away from homes and prefer not to get too close to humans. Man’s best friend also can be a great deer deterrent as many dogs quite enjoy a good chase after four-legged trespassers. One of my friends – an avid hunter – suggests that the best thing to do is eat the deer before they eat your conifers.
Below is a list of conifer species which appear to be the most deer resistant. Most cultivars within this group should also enjoy the same deer-resistant qualities of its parent species. For example, Picea pungens appears to be a successful deer resistant conifer species, so it is probable that its cultivarients would exhibit the same qualities. With easily a hundred cultivars of Picea pungens available with a broad assortment of growth rates from large to miniature and colors from forest green to the brightest silvery-blue, the gardener should be able to find several that would be perfect for their garden.
Juniperus – the more prickly types
Pinus mugo ‘Tannenbaum’
Keep in mind that resistance depends greatly on the size of the herd, the opportunity to eat other agricultural crops and the time of year. It is always a good idea to talk with neighbors or the local county extension agent for their experience.