Deer-resistant Foliage Follow-Up

For April’s Foliage Follow-Up (a celebration of foliage on the day after Bloom Day), let’s see how the one-month-old garden in the deer-infested front yard is holding up. It’s mostly a foliage garden, after all. In case you’re wondering, by “deer-infested” I mean that a half-dozen to a dozen deer come tromping through every night. Some mornings they’re still moseying through the yards on their way back to the greenbelt that borders my neighborhood.

First stop: the focal-point trio of ‘Color Guard’ yuccas. I bought them for their stripey yellow-and-green foliage, knowing that deer would eat the blooms. It’s worth sacrificing flowers if I get to keep fabulous foliage like this. So far they remain untouched.

What’s this? A deer’s calling card. This gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida) has had its flower head bitten off.

I felt grimly smug, I must admit, when I saw the flower head lying on the driveway, where it clearly had been spat out in disgust. I knew that the perpetrator had received a taste of irritating, latex-like sap with that ill-advised sampling. None of the other gopher plants were touched. Yeah, go tell it on the mountain, deer!

Hymenoxys (Tetraneuris scaposa) is one of the few plants I put in this bed for its flowers. Pictured at bottom, it’s a scrappy little native that will bloom nearly year-round. So far, the deer have left it alone.

Silver Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis var. argentea) is a stunning specimen plant with silvery-blue foliage and a strong silhouette. I positioned it for screening my across-the-street neighbors, though it will take a few years to grow large enough to do the job. Again, so far no deer damage.

Texas betony (Stachys coccinea) has coral-red flowers and hairy, almost prickly stems that the deer have left alone.

Pale pavonia (Pavonia hastata), a South American cousin to our native rock rose, has white flowers tinged with burgundy and a wine-colored eye. The flowers open in the morning and close in the afternoon. Again, so far the deer have not munched on it.

I planted red cordyline (Cordyline australis), an annual in Austin except in mild winters, to relieve the sea of green. It has a nice color echo with the flowers of pale pavonia and Texas betony. We inherited a couple of cordyline along the foundation of our home when we moved in, and the deer never bothered them. So I’m hopeful that these will be left alone too.

Mexican oregano (Poliomintha longiflora) has strongly scented foliage and eventually will be covered in a mass of lilac-and-white, tubular flowers attractive to hummingbirds. Softleaf yucca (Yucca recurvifolia) is an evergreen, non-clumping yucca that’s not as sharp as some. I expect deer to eat the flowers this summer, but so far the foliage of both plants has not been bothered.

Texas dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) is a slow- and low-growing native palm.

Copper canyon daisy (Tagetes lemmonii) isn’t native to central Texas but might as well be. It can grow with no babying once established and provides a cloud of yellow flowers in fall. Its strongly scented foliage makes it unappealing to deer.

Majestic sage (Salvia guaranitica) is a shade-tolerant salvia with lime-green leaves and electric-blue, tubular flowers. Easily divided and transplanted, I dug up three pieces from the back garden and moved them to the front bed. I’m still waiting to see whether the deer will find these tasty.

Lindheimer’s nolina (Nolina lindheimeriana)—this is one of three divisions from my former garden—is one of our native woody lilies, related to agave and yucca though it has a grassy habit. Here it’s paired with softleaf yucca.

Variegated Agave americana is a vigorous, offsetting agave that can rapidly take over if not “de-pupped.” But I love the stripey foliage and writhing arms. So far the deer haven’t bothered it, but it may be in more danger in the fall, when deer look for trees and stiff plants to rub their antlers on.

At one month old, the garden has held up well to nightly visits by deer. Only one plant, the euphorbia, has been browsed so far. I’m cheered by this early success but certain that the real test will be this fall and winter, when the deer are hungrier. But by then these plants should have a solid root system and be better able to withstand any munching.

If you are moved to join in for Foliage Follow-Up, just post about your favorite foliage this month and leave a link to your post in the comments on this post so that others can find your contribution.

All material © 2006-2010 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

29 Responses

  1. Debbie says:


    I laughed when I saw the flower spit out too. Interesting to see that it was bitten right off and not chewed or nibbled at all. Your foliage garden is beautiful in its infancy and I can’t wait to see more photos as it progresses. The copper canyon daisy looks just like a coreopsis I grow in my garden. It is also deer resistant and has yellow flowers all summer long.

    I just posted my foliage follow-up post with lots of new leaves and shoots coming up in my CT garden. You can find it here: Thanks for hosting us again for another month of Foliage Follow-Up.

  2. Sylvia (England) says:

    Pam, this is fascinating, not having had any problems with deer I am still interested in what you are doing to grow a colourful garden. I imagine that the deer can do some damage just looking for something worth eating. I do hope your neighbours provide lots of plants they like so they leave your garden alone!

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

    Me too, Sylvia! Ha! —Pam

  3. gardener says:

    Hi Pam
    While I’m still a little ways-away from posting foliage on the balcony, and deer haven’t been a problem, happy to see that so far your plant selections have been pretty successful at fending off critters. The colour guard yuccas and the pale pavonia are very striking
    Here’s what is happening inside the balcony garden:

  4. Pam– you’re doing well with the deer resistant garden. The sampling and spitting is typical, but as you’ll see, they won’t try the euphobia again.

    Deer are lead by a female doe. The matriarch of each herd is the one who gives the okay on what can be eaten. Sometimes, fawns will try tender plants. It’s probably too early for fawns (ours start dropping in early June).

    I’ve had the tops of the yucca leaves eaten in Feb 2009. However, the yucca bounced back completely and beautifully. The same deer herd left it alone this year.

    They will probably taste the first blooms on the salvia guaranitica, but not enough to do serious damage. I have good luck with salvia greggii (no damage at all), though I’ve read reports of those out west having deer eat them.

    Go ahead and plant any western agastache with the tubular blooms, if you want. The herbaceous forms with the wider leaves and bottlebrush flowers may be sampled, but not destroyed.

    Lavender, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage — an herb garden is fine. You can eat, but the deer won’t.

    Thanks for the deer-behavior information, Cameron. Good to know! Unfortunately, I don’t have much sunny space to play with in this new bed. It’s mostly dry shade: a bermed area shaded and thickly rooted with live oaks. Which means all those sun-loving herbs, salvias, and agastaches wouldn’t be happy here. Too bad because I love those plants. —Pam

  5. commonweeder says:

    What a useful post. The deer wandering my field mostly get into my vegetable garden and they’ve never spit out any cabbage. I have been looking covetously at color guard yuccas at the nursery. If I put them near the cabbage, maybe they will act as a deterrent. My post is up. Thank you for inventing Foliage Follow up.

  6. I’m fortunate that deer are not a major problem in my neighborhood. I’m sure they’d find my garden a tasty treat.

    I really like your Color Guard Yucca and the Copper Canyon Daisy. I like high contrast and bright colors. Some people consider that “childish” taste, I like to think I’m young at heart.

    Good luck with your deer resistant garden!

  7. Pam — We’ve been lucky that deer have not made it to our garden, but they live in a wooded park that is close enough to the house that it could happen yet. Thanks for all the great plant info. I love foliage and appreciate this extra chance to share ideas and plants at your site and mine.

  8. Daricia says:

    Deer are a huge problem here, too. We have a half dozen or more daily as well. I don’t know why I keep trying with the daylilies and hostas! Hellebores and daffodils are about the only things they never seem to eat. I’m always inspired to try something new when I see your pics. Euphorbia is on my list for this year.

  9. The little dears will try anything, won’t they? I am trying to give them that same experience with my disgusting concoction of egg, soap, hot chilis and water all mushed up in the blender, strained and sprayed on the leaves they seem to like. So far it is working.

    “The little dears”: heh. Give it to ’em, Ricki. Good luck with your concoctions. —Pam

  10. Ah, deer…don’t you just love them? I’ve had them try just about everything I’ve put in the ground…or moved. They seem to want to try whatever’s new….and pull it up, in the process. They did chomp on an agave here, last year. But, that one turned to mush in the cold. I didn’t know what kind it was. Hope they leave yours alone.

    My Foliage Follow-Up is here: More foliage that has survived the deer.

    Thanks for hosting.

  11. Jenny says:

    Clearly you chose your plants well. Maybe this is the first time they have come across this plant and were testing it out. They are browsers by habit and sometimes they don’t make it by a plant for a long time, then wham, dinner. However, I think you have made the right plant selections. The variegated agave you gave me last year was eaten by the deer last summer along with other agave centers. They must have been desperate. They also leave damianita and dahlberg daisy alone too. Rain lilies- munch, munch on the flowers. Your copper canyon daisy is in flower. Mine is just coming back and will probably not bloom until October. I love it. I have large stands of poppies out there and they haven’t touched a one.

    Sorry about your variegated agave, Jenny. If you ever want to try another one, just let me know. I get lots of pups. The copper canyon daisy is definitely blooming out of season. I think I’m going to whack it back pretty soon just to get it focused on foliage instead of flowers. —Pam

  12. Hello Pam,

    You have proven that you can have a beautiful garden that the deer will leave alone. I laughed when I read about one deer trying your gopher plant ;-)

    Thanks, Noelle. Like I said, I don’t necessarily think it will always be left alone by deer. But I am pleased with how it has held up so far. Smart plant choices is half the battle. The rest may be up to luck. —Pam

  13. I guess I’m lucky. The street next to mine is call “Deerpark,” but it seems to memorialize a time when deer roamed the area rather than present days. Even with a canyon edge a few blocks away we don’t have deer. Looking at your great deer-resistant selections, it’s nice to know people have some striking plant options in an area where they really can be more than a nuisance. And it’s terrific that so many of them have really interesting fragrant leaves.

    I have no idea whether the foliage in my foliage post would survive a herd of deer, but here are some really cool leaves:

  14. Hi Pam! I had no idea you had so many bold deer and on such a regular basis, must be frustrating. I really love your ‘color guard’ yuccas! My foliage follow up post is now up
    Thanks for hosting!

  15. Floridagirl says:

    Oops…I left a message on the wrong month somehow. Here’s my contribution to April’s FFU:

    Thanks for hosting this! I love that red cordyline!

    Floridagirl, thanks for joining in! I tried to leave a comment on your post but couldn’t without an account. (If you’ll enable the Name/URL option in your comment field, non-acct. holders can comment too.) Here’s what I wanted to say:

    When your crepe myrtles mature into muscular, smooth trunks, you’ll LOVE them in the winter. Meantime, you have so much going on. Beautiful foliage–thanks for joining in! —Pam

  16. Melody says:

    Your pictures of the Color Gaurd Yucca are the only reason I haven’t thrown mine in the compost – lol. It dies back to the ground every winter and never gets more than 6 inches tall. I keep telling it, if it grows in Texas, it should grow in North Florida:)
    Here’s my Foliage Follow-Up for this month. Thanks for hosting it.

  17. RBell says:

    Really enjoyed the posting – I’m sure many will be interested in following the deer-resistant(we all know there is no such thing as deer-proof!) experiment.

    Here’s my April Foliage Follow-up:

  18. Hi Pam,
    You have a great looking property there, with lots of cool looking foliage. I love that agave. We have to grow them in pots here. I had a rabbit munching on my mother of thousands last year, until we put it where it couldn’t be reached. That’s a lot of deer to be tromping around! Are you still in Austin?

    I have my foliage post up. I’ll go find where to put my link.

    Yep, I’m still in Austin, Sue. Just a couple of miles to the northwest of my old garden. —Pam

  19. I forgot you’re supposed to leave the link in a post. Here it is:

  20. Pam, I can’t believe so many blooms on your Copper Canyon Daisy right now! Love the Betony, too. I might have to try that one. I hope your neighbors are starting to see your plan, and that it really wasn’t madness to remove the lovely (not) asian jasmine island. Great post and good educational experiment.

    You should try the betony, Robin, and it looks nice paired with ‘Sparkler’ sedge too. —Pam

  21. Fun to see your deer garden. We have some of the same plants. I’ve had to chicken-wire around some of our agaves because of antler destruction.

    We’ve had good luck with Jerusalem sage (full sun), with yellow blooms all summer, and artemesias, which I like for the silvery foliage. Oh, and tall asters, which bloom purple in late autumn. A couple of shady area plants too, cedar sage and lyre-leaf sage. It’s a process, isn’t it? Your garden looks lovely. I’m going to start regular Austin trips again in May, would be fun to come up and see your garden sometime this summer.

    Those pesky deer, rubbing their antlers on our beautiful agaves. It would be good to see you again, Kathleen. —Pam

  22. Pam, the new garden area is looking great. Sometimes I wish I had a less urban garden so that I could have lots of space but then I realize I’d have to deal with critters like deer, gophers and rabbits. And them I’m happy with my tiny tame urban garden. Although I should do something about the large roving herds of snails that go marauding through my garden at night.

  23. Pam, great information on the deer resistant plants. Deer breeze through here too, but they don’t cause much damage once native plants really start to grow. They have an entire banquet to feast upon. I also did my foliage post a day late. Thanks for hosting.~~Dee

  24. Diana says:

    Congratulations – Pam 1, Deer 0. You did all the right things setting up that bed and while they did taste your Euphorbia, at least THAT deer isn’t likely to try it again! And it looks just lovely – a world of difference from it’s original state. I’ll need to come see the whole effect in person. I’m a day late with my post, but better late than never, right. And I’m variegated today — check it out at:

  25. Jayne says:

    I wonder if the deer will learn from his mistake? Wonderful foliage Pam. We’ve seen deer on occasion in our, as yet mostly undeveloped, neighborhood, but haven’t had any damage from them.

    You are lucky, Jayne. I hope it stays that way for you. Deer are a pain to garden with. —Pam

  26. Hi, Pam ~ Hopefully they have learned there lesson with the gopher plant. I really like that plant and the blooms are unusual. Also, I hope it is okay with you that I linked to your blog about your success with Senorita Rosalita. I added one to my garden. Mine looks a little tall and thin right now. I might have to trim it back so it gets full. :)

  27. Cheryl says:

    Your betony looks great…I think I need to move mine to more sun. Lovely pics Pam!

  28. Jean says:

    Pam, I’m glad to see your new garden is handling the deer so well. That euphorbia munch was priceless! You obviously have given great thought to what would survive there. I finally have posted a pseudo-foliage follow-up here: I really meant to but it took a while!

  29. Michelle says:

    Thank you so so much for your blog. I love the pictures and truly appreciated the accompanying captions. An Austin transplant I have been struggling with deer in my shaded oak root ridden garden. So again thank you I am taking your list to the nursery tomorrow!

    I’m glad the plant suggestions are useful for you, Michelle. Of all these, only the hymenoxys didn’t work. They were continually bitten back by the deer, so I moved them to the back garden. Of course, every deer population is different, and yours might have differing tastes. It’s all about experimentation to find out which “deer-resistant” plants are best for your garden. Oh, and try ‘Sparkler’ sedge if you can find it; great for shady areas, and the deer haven’t bothered it. Also, Turk’s cap. —Pam