Deer-Resistant Planting

One of the most iconic of wildlife native to the Finger Lakes region, the whitetail deer is as revered for its rustic beauty as it is reviled for its destructive feeding habits. Gardeners and landscapers alike wage a constant and often losing battle against the deer’s very survival instinct as they feed upon our landscape plantings. Methods utilized to limit deer browse damage range from scent and contact repellents to physical barriers and scare tactics, each with its own limitations or drawbacks. As a landscape contractor, I believe the best way to minimize browsing damage is by installing plants that deer simply just don’t like.

A Common Problem
When meeting a customer for the first time to discuss a landscape planting design, one of the first things I hear is: “We have a deer problem.”  Invariably, one of the next criteria mentioned for their planting is: “And, we want it low maintenance.” Planting trees and shrubs that require repeated applications of malodorous potions or seasonal installation of barriers does not qualify as low maintenance by anyone’s standards. Even those of us that really enjoy gardening and the work it entails, soon tire of all this additional effort. Furthermore, the idea of landscape plantings is to beautify our surroundings. Have we really achieved anything aesthetically pleasing if there are barricades and fencing around shrubs six months a year, or if we have dangling bars of soap and shredded rags soaked in coyote urine hanging from tree branches?

Prudent Planning
I’m not suggesting that anyone abandon their existing landscape plantings or an heirloom plant from a dear (no pun intended) relative to the ravages of the resident deer population. These are the situations where the repellents and barriers serve the best purpose. But you will be saving quite a bit of effort, not to mention replacement costs, if newly installed plants are ones that deer do not find especially palatable. The list, on pages 14 and 15, of deer-resistant trees, shrubs and perrenials is compiled from my own experience at homes throughout the Finger Lakes area. These are species that have sustained very little or no damage, even when everything else around has been severely browsed. While no method of deer-proofing a landscape is entirely foolproof, these particular plants will assist you in developing and sustaining an attractive planting while allowing you once again to appreciate the natural beauty of the whitetail deer.

by Del Cronise
Del Cronise, of Cronise Landscape & Design, works throughout the Finger Lakes region. Call him at (585)229-4776 or visit his website at

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