Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Deer Deciduous

Mission olive

Mission olive

“All I know is that I don’t know.” Operation Ivy

Now that the terms stress deciduous and drought deciduous are somewhat established, I want to coin another phrase: deer deciduous. A lot of the deer-resistant plants get browsed for the first couple of years, periodically losing some or all of their foliage. Sometimes they grow out of it, sometimes they don’t. The plants don’t die, many are able to keep growing and get their foliage out of reach or they develop harder less-palatable leaves as they age and require less water, but it seems like a big percentage of the plants on deer-resistant lists will lose some foliage during their first few seasons. Deer deciduous.

This olive would be an example. I really didn’t think it would go so completely deciduous, poor thing. Though, now that I check, I do find a few sites on the web saying that the deer will eat them. Sunset has them on the deer-resistant list, but that list is probably the least reliable thing in the whole book. We ended up bringing the olive back to our place for the summer because of a change in construction plans at its new home, and it’s now carefully putting out new leaves. It’ll recover completely, and when we replant it we’ll spray it with Liquid Fence, which is somewhat effective, or we’ll cage it until it’s taller than the deer. It’s an olive; they’re survivors. I’m surprised that it got eaten, but probably I should just be surprised that I am surprised.

I like the Las Pilitas rating system and list of ratings for deer, though his list is for a different part of the state and our deer population disagrees with him on certain points. We’ve never had heavy browsing from anything that he rates a 9 or a 10, though, so that’s been reliable. The list only includes California natives, but some comparisons can be made for non-natives. Toxic is best along with grassy or spiky, scented foliage is next, tiny hard leaves are pretty good, followed by larger hard leaves sometimes being good, sticky or very fuzzy might work, and after that you better have your fingers crossed.

Update: As Daffodil Planter and the author herself, Carolyn Singer, pointed out, the two volumes of Deer In My Garden are a good print resource for gardening with deer.

ryan 3/31

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7 Responses to “Deer Deciduous”

  1. March 31st, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    keewee says:

    So many times I have been told a plant or shrub is deer and rabbit resistant, who on earth determined that? They should have asked the critters if they like this plant, that bush. It seems the animals will nibble on almost anything.

  2. March 31st, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    Sam says:

    Hi Ryan – well, at least the possums don’t go for the olive tree in the way that your deer do! I rememeber the deer problem, when I used to live in upstate NY – I was pretty amazed seeing these huge animals in urban settings, but they do cause a lot of damage – especially in places where Spring is so brief. I remember people trading all kinds of sercret tips to deter them (especially from spring bulbs), including tying up bunches of cut human hair in stockings to plants… which didn’t seem to work and looked decidely odd.

  3. April 1st, 2009 at 4:30 am

    janet says:

    I guess sometimes the deer don’t read the list of what they are interested in eating. Luckily the plants that you are coining as Deer Deciduous will bounce back.

  4. April 1st, 2009 at 7:12 am

    Randy says:


    Good article! I’ll return again soon..

    Lucky we still have woods for the deer to forage in, other areas around here the deer are bad. The japanese honeysuckle in our woods seem to be a deer favorite. Butterfly bushes are very good in the fact that deer just don’t like them.

  5. April 1st, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Daffodil Planter says:

    Great new gardening term!

    The most reliable information I have found on what deer don’t eat is in the series of books by Carolyn Singer “Deer In My Garden”. Two volumes so far, and more to come. One hundred percent accuracy in my garden.

  6. April 3rd, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Carolyn Singer says:

    My books, “Deer in My Garden” (2 volumes so far) are based on 30+ years of experimenting in my garden (Sierra foothills), and trying the plants in other gardens as well. In Vol. 1 I went through all the “deer-resistant” plant lists I could find and compiled an appendix listing many plants that are on those lists that are NOT left alone by the deer. Also, on my new website, I have a list of deer-resistant plants I use with landscape clients. By the way, I have discovered that the use of ntrogen fertilizers definitely adds to the problem with deer…seems the taste is good to them. So protect your new plants until they establish, do good organic soil prep, and do not add nitrogen fertlizer.

  7. April 4th, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    ryan says:

    I know the books, they’re a good resource. Some of our standby deer-resistant plants are on the lists, and very few of the plants get eaten around here, which is not something I would say about any other book in the bookstore. There are actually tons of perennials and deciduous shrubs/trees that are deer-proof, really; it’s the evergreen shrubs that are hardest. I feel like most of the reliable evergreen shrubs are either a huge step down in terms of ornamental value or else they have more limited range like pieris or daphne or choisya. Fertilizing is definitely counter-productive, you’re totally right, and watering, too; the less you can water the better. The fresh nursery growth full of water and nitrogen so often gets eaten, to be replaced by tougher more deer-resistant foliage, hence our term deer-deciduous.

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