deer resistant

Some of Mike Ruggerio's Favorite Perennials

Mike Ruggerio, one of my favorite teachers from NYBG, basically knows everything about anything related to trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and bulbs.  His talks are always both funny and fascinating – you never fail to learn about a million new things.  And you long to see what his own gardens are like!

This particular talk was on new perennials – new cultivars that fit his definition of a perennial – “a plant that comes back after more than two years”  - meaning they are cold-hardy, adaptable, easy, beautiful and for the most part long-blooming – many also deer resistant.

I’ve chosen a few that I love too, or that I’m definitely going to try.

  • Achillea ‘Oertel’s Rose’ (yarrow) is a lavender-pink, gentle form of yarrow – a nice alternative to golden yellow that fits in well with the purple/white/pink/chartreuse/burgundy garden.  I love the fresh foliage of yarrow in the spring – it’s one of the earliest.  BUT it’s a dry meadow plant – it won’t be nice if you don’t have the right conditions.
  • Actaea ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ and ‘Black Negligee’ (bugbane) are dark-foliaged cultivars of the green-leaved species.  Bugbane is wonderful in shade, with mounds of almost-black foliage and fragrant white wand-like flowers rising up several feet above the foliage in autumn.  It’s an excellent back-of-the-border choice for your shade garden.  The newest cultivar ‘Black Negligee’ has foliage that is more purple than black – we’ll see if we can get better photos this season that show it’s purple-ness.  ‘Black Negligee’ typically grows to 4-5’ tall and is a noteworthy addition to the garden for its deeply-cut, dark purplish-black leaves on branched, dark stems.  The foliage has a lacy effect, hence the cultivar name, and makes an effective accent throughout the growing season.

Black Negligee

  • Corydalis lutea (yellow corydalis) seems to have it all if you’re in the market for a self-seeding spreading deer-resistant ground cover for shade that flowers from May till frost.  It’s easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in part shade to full shade. Corydalis doesn’t tolerate wet feet, and wet soils in winter can be fatal.   It forms a mound of ferny, medium green foliage to 15" tall and 18" wide and produces bright yellow flowers.   It’s great for shaded rock gardens or border fronts and forms a nice ground cover in shady woodland areas.  Wear gloves – the sap is very irritating.
  • Echinacea purpurea ‘Fragrant Angel’ (coneflower) has taken over as “best white coneflower”.  It’s a pure white color that stays white and it’s also quite fragrant.  Don’t plant it if you have groundhogs – they’ll come from far and wide and eat every bite on the first day.
  • Hemerocallis X ‘Barbara Mitchell’ is his favorite daylily – a “true pink” flower 6” wide.  He also enthused about H. X ‘Bill Norris’, a golden daylily that grows 4 ft tall.

Hybrid daylily 'Barbara Mitchell'

Hybrid Daylily 'Bill Norris'

  • For those of you who don’t already know about Geranium macrorrhizum (bigroot geranium), here’s another shade plant/groundcover that is deer-resistant, has either white or pink flowers, spreads enthusiastically by runners, has a nice fall foliage color and is semi-evergreen in our area.  It flowers in May – June, and after that is just a mound of foliage.


  • Another geranium that he mentioned in passing is one of my new favorites – Geranium X ‘Midnight Reiter’ (cranesbill) – it has purplish-black leaves and dusky blue-violet flowers.  It goes with everything, and, like most cranesbill, spreads nicely.
  • His favorite new aster cultivar, Aster tataricus ‘Jin-Dai’ (tatarian aster), a full-sun standout that blooms in October when basically nothing else is flowering.  ‘Jin-Dai’ is a compact cultivar (believe it or not!), typically growing 3-4' tall.  (The species may reach 6-7' tall).  Distinctive almost tobacco-like basal leaves are up to 18" long and 5" wide – interesting foliage for the spring garden. Dense and abundant blue flowers with yellow centers appear in autumn on rigid stems. This late bloomer doesn’t need pinching to control height and doesn’t flop (i.e. doesn’t need staking) as long as it’s in full sun and usually blooms until the first frost.  Added bonus - attractive to butterflies!

Deer resistant evergreens

I've designed and installed plantings all over Westchester County: the shores of the Long Island Sound, the hillsides along the Hudson, homes next to golf courses, lakes and wooded areas, and rural areas in the northern part of the county.  Many of these plantings were done without benefit of deer fencing in deer-infested areas.  There are a handful of trees and shrubs that are my go-to  plants in these situations. These are the ones you should try if you have deer wandering through your property unchecked and have had problems with deer browse damage on your existing plants.  The caveat is, of course, that if the deer get hungry enough they may eat plants that they've never eaten before.  So no guarantees!  But try them anyway!

Evergreens that are deer-resistant are the most important category, since they  are integral to the "bone structure" of your garden, and are important for privacy screening as well.  The most reliably deer-resistant evergreen is boxwood.  Deer really leave it alone!

Other broadleaf evergreens that I often use are skimmia (Skimmia japonica), andromeda (Pieris japonica) and sweetbox (Sarcococca hookeriana).  If I want to add some flower power and have the right conditions, I plant hybrid mountain laurel (Kalmia hybrids).  New Kalmia cultivars are entering the Nursery trade every year, with more spectacular bloom colors and compact, neater silhouettes.

Another excellent choice is American holly (Ilex opaca).  It takes shade, and is actually found in the forest, but it doesn't mind some sun either.  It is a tree, though, so give it enough space.

The needle evergreens (conifers) that I turn to are Norway spruce (Picea abies), Oriental spruce cultivars (Picea orientalis), Colorado Blue spruce and its cultivars (Picea pungens),  limber pine (Pinus flexilis) and concolor fir (Abies concolor 'Candicans'). 

A few favorite deer resistant ornamental trees and shrubs

Ornamental small deciduous trees and shrubs lose their leaves in winter, so they're only at risk of being devoured during the growing season. There are quite a few choices in this category, but I have a few favorites that are reliably left alone, and that have other qualities that make them interesting and valuable additions to the landscape.

Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) is a thorny shrub which flowers in very early spring and you can cut branches in late winter to force indoors.  Amelanchier or Shad (Amelanchier hybrids) is a multi-stemmed small tree with delicate white flowers in early spring, juicy berries beloved by birds in summer, beautiful fall color and showy bark in winter.

Of course, nothing can beat American dogwood (Cornus florida) for beauty in the spring, and new cultivars are becoming available that are much more disease resistant than the species.

I also love I also love the less commonly planted enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatus), fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) and Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) - all have spring flowers and spectacular fall color.  And viburnums are versatile yet beautiful, so I use them often.  Both doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum v. tomentosum) and fragrant viburnum (e.g. Viburnum carlessii and other cultivars) have beautiful flowers, a dense habit, berries and good fall color.  ■


Enkianthus blossoms

Enkianthus Fall color