Nobody likes a glutton. That’s especially true when wildlife comes to feast on your customer’s newly planted landscapes.
While deer and rabbit are the most notorious grazers, woodchucks, chipmunks and a host of other hungry wildlife can chomp their way across plantings in no time.
There’s no perfect solution, but you can do a few things to lessen the impact of browsing animals.
Fencing is the most effective means of keeping many types of animals away from plantings.
“With proper installation, fencing is almost bulletproof for deer,” says David Drake, extension wildlife specialist and associate professor in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “But it can be costly, and it’s not always an ideal solution in some settings such as a suburban neighborhood.”
Another choice is commercial repellants that you spray on vegetation.
“But they’re really just meant to reduce browse, perhaps around 60 percent,” Drake says. “They won’t eliminate it completely.”
The other downsides are that repellants are not always effective (if they’re hungry enough, wildlife may eat even treated vegetation), it’s expensive and it must be reapplied regularly and after rain.
Choosing plants that are less palatable in taste and texture may help. “The truth is that there is no plant that is ‘wildlife-proof,’” says Stephen M. Vantassel, program coordinator for the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management (ICWDM) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “But you can select plants that are less appealing. You could say it’s the equivalent of us humans choosing between a hot fudge sundae and broccoli.”
It’s important to understand there may be regional variations as to what wildlife will eat. For example, drought can have an impact, forcing wildlife to sample vegetation they may not normally browse. “And numbers come into play, too,” Vantassel says. “If you see 20 deer in your backyard every day, you can assume the population density is high so there’s more competition for food.”
In prime areas of wildlife activity, check with your local extension service, university, nursery or arboretum for suggestions about what’s least likely to get eaten in your part of the country. The ICWDM website is another useful resource.
And consider a few of these new varieties and old standbys that generally fare better against hungry critters.
Angelonia/ Summer snapdragon (Angelonia angustifolia)
Sturdy long-blooming plant available in an array of vibrant colors including deep plum, dark pink, white, purple, blue and violet. Archangel series has large flowers and an upright habit; AngelMist series has a more spreading habit; and Angelface series is taller, growing to 24 inches tall. Stands up well to drought, heat and humidity. Grows 10 inches to 24 inches high and wide. Full sun.
Lantana (Lantana camara)
A North American native that loves heat and drought, attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and can survive in warmer climates as a tender perennial. Brilliant season-long color in a variety of colors and sizes. Little Lucky Hot Pink and Little Lucky Lemon Cream are more compact varieties with low seed set. Grows 10 inches to 24 inches tall and wide. Full sun.
Wishbone flower (Torenia hybrid)
Great season-long color in pots, hanging baskets and window boxes. No deadheading necessary. Attracts hummingbirds. Summer Wave series thrives in high humidity. Grows 10 inches high, trails to 36 inches. Part shade to shade.
Verbena (Verbena x hybrid)
New Aztec series has a pretty center “eye” that contrasts with its deep burgundy or violet petals. More upright habit and more flowering with stronger branches. Grows 8 inches to 10 inches high and 12 inches to 18 inches wide. Sun.
Heuchera/ Coral bells (Heuchera x villosa)
Attractive foliage comes in a rainbow of colors including watermelon, chartreuse, chocolate and deep rose in the Carnival and Dolce series. Mounding habits with tiny flowers on long spikes in spring to summer. Grows to 16 inches tall and 12 to 14 inches wide. Hardy to USDA zones 4 to 9. Shade
Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata ‘Fanfare’ PP#15892)
Unique orange and yellow trumpet-shaped flowers with scarlet tips. Heat and drought tolerant. Does well in landscapes and containers and provides a pop of color in borders. Grows 12 inches to 18 inches tall and wide. Hardy to USDA zones 3 to 8. Sun.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Hardy and vigorous grower that looks good in mass plantings. New varieties include better color retention in bolder colors such as New Vintage Rose, New Vintage Red and New Vintage Violet. Grows 1 foot to 30 inches tall and 1 foot to 16 inches wide. Hardy to USDA zones 3 to 9. Sun.
Veronica (Veronica austriaca)
Sturdy plant that flowers in early spring. Look for ‘Venice Blue,’ which has large flowers and a deep blue color. Heat tolerant. Grows 10 inches to 1 foot tall and wide. Hardy to USDA zones 5 to 9. Sun.
Deutzia (Deutzia gracilis)
Look for the heavy-blooming, compact varieties such as Yuki Snowflake and or the variegated Crème Fraiche, which boasts cream and green foliage. Use this showy spring bloomer in mixed borders, foundation plantings or as a groundcover. Compact types grow to 2 feet high and wide. Hardy to USDA zones 5 to 8. Full sun.
Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)
Brilliant orange early season blooms on Double Take ‘Orange Storm’ provide an impressive springtime display. Drought tolerant once established, thornless and does not produce fruit. Grows 3 feet to 4 feet high and wide. Hardy to USDA zones 5 to 8. Part sun to sun.
Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)
Reliable summer bloomers. The Chiffon series offers large double blooms with delicate, lacy centers. The new ‘Blue Chiffon’ is a color that’s difficult to find in cold-hardy plantings. Attracts butterflies. Grows to 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Hardy to USDA zones 5 to 8. Sun.
Mahonia (Mahonia x media ‘Lionel Fortescue’)
A dramatic evergreen shrub with upright fern-like branches and sprays of yellow flowers in late fall to early winter. Use in the back of a border, as a hedge or as a winter focal point. Grows 7 feet to 10 feet tall and 4 feet to 5 feet wide. Hardy to USDA zones 5 to 9. Full to part shade.