The Q&A Archives: Rocks, Shade, Deer - Options

Question: The front of our home has an island about 180' by 40' with very large old oaks, a deer path through the middle and limited soil cover due to the rocky soil. As you come up our hill it is the first area you see other than the surrounding forest. Of the deer resistent shrubs and ground covers, what are our best options for rocky, shady areas? We already use various egg mixtures and the fishing line to discourage the deer. (Thanks - those tips were from the Q&A section!)

Answer: To be honest, in my experience the deer will learn to eat just about everything in time; there really is no reliable list of deer proof plants and the only reliable solution over the long term is a fence. Having said that, the best suggestion for such a list of shrubs would be to ask your neighbors what the local deer have not yet learned to eat. Daffodils are often included on such lists and might make a fine show early in the spring before the oaks leaf out and create shade. After that, you might find that the trees are enough of a feature all by themselves to be set off by a low maintenance moss lawn.

Another possibility would be the evergreen groundcover vinca minor or creeping myrtle which makes delightful blue flowers in the spring. Oak trees are very sensitive to changes in surrounding grade and drainage patterns, so you will want to work with the existing soil. You could possibly establish the vinca by planting it in pockets amended with compost or other organic matter and building up a thin layer of soil over time by mulching annually with just an inch or two of organic mulch such as shredded bark. Finally, English ivy, although not a blooming groundcover, would proabably do well there once established, also.

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