Deer resistant plants can keep critters at bay

However much you like wildlife, it can be disheartening to see deer and other critters munching away on plants to which you have devoted so much of your time and money. If you see this as a potential problem, the most sensible solution is to start out with plants that deer are less likely to find desirable.
QUESTION: "We have just moved to a new home and the back yard is heavily treed with pines and a few hardwoods. Therefore it is partial sun to shade. We're interested in purchasing some shrubs and ferns which are resistant to deer. What are your suggestions?" - Dave Whiting
ANSWER: Being "deer resistant" is a relative phrase. If deer are not getting food from their normal sources, they will eat anything and everything. With that noted, some plants that will grow at least in partly shaded areas and that are not on the top of the list for deer to eat are:
Sage, Thyme, Chives, Hellebore, Ferns, Yarrow, Bamboo, Blue fescue, Boxwood, Dogwood, Euonymus, Forsythia, Holly, Japanese red maple, Junipers, Sambucus, Viburnum.
QUESTION: "We've been thinking of planting some Barberry and we looked at a variety called Crimson Pygmy. However, we were told there is another variety that has even redder foliage. Can you tell me what it's called?" - James T.
ANSWER: I believe you're thinking of a Barberry named Berberis thunbergii, Royal Burgundy. Royal Burgundy has a number of benefits over Crimson Pygmy. For one thing, I prefer the reddish-purple foliage of the Royal Burgundy. It holds its color throughout the summer before turning to a darker, almost blackish-red in the fall before defoliating for winter.
Royal Burgundy is also smaller with a more compact shape compared to Crimson Pygmy with a mature height of around 18 inches and a spread of 30 inches or so. Although it is tolerant of shade, you'll see the best color when it is planted in full sun. It is quite drought- tolerant and can be used in xeriscaping.
Planting Royal Burgundy en masse adjacent to gold or blue evergreens allows the contrast to make the color really "pop." Remember that it is thorny so handle with care.
QUESTION: "Having read your article on raised boxes, I have a question. In making the raised boxes can one use treated lumber? Sounds hideous, I know, but I've seen it done and it raises the question in my mind of leaching chemicals from the wood to the soil and then to the roots to the edibles. Really bad idea or am I worried unnecessarily?" - Erik Jansen
ANSWER: No, actually you are correct to question their use. But, you know, I have read arguments from both sides. Gardeners and the nursery industry alike have used pressure treated wood for raised beds for decades and have not experienced any problems.
However, there are arguments that the chemicals used on this lumber leaches into the soil. I have e-mailed a link to you from Fine Gardening Magazine that will offer you much more information. (If other readers want to see this article, drop me an e-mail at and I'll send you the link. Alternatively, go to and type "pressure treated lumber" into the search window.)
You can isolate pressure-treated wood by lining the inside of a bed with heavy plastic to prevent leaching of chemicals from the wood into the soil. Some landscape designers are now using recycled plastic lumber, such as the brand name Trex, when building raised beds.
Redwood, cypress, cedar and straw bales can be used as organic materials to create beds as well as many inorganic products such as old tractor tires, large garbage bags (heavy mil), and masonry, and now kits are available for raised beds in many garden centers and hardware stores.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit
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