The Q&A Archives: Deer Resistant plants. Shade trees.

Question: Deer Resistant plants. Also I live on a small lake and would like to plant some trees that would provide shade but not block the view.

Answer: It is nearly impossible to give you a reliable listing of plants that deer will or will not eat -- I have seen our own local deer eat many things listed as supposedly unattractive to deer. Unfortunately, these are adaptable animals and they will learn to eat new plants when there is a harsh winter or a food shortage or when new things are planted along their usual browse path. So a list from one area will not necessarily be applicable to another. The best you can hope to do is check with local neighboring gardeners and find out what the local deer population already recognizes as edible, which plants they are having the best and worst luck with, and plant accordingly. (Your local county extension may also have some suggestions.) It is also worth mentioning that deer can do almost as much damage by trampling as by eating and since they are creatures of habit, if they already dine at your house they will continue to come onto your property to do so if at all possible. In my own sad experience, a tall fence is the only reliable long term defense against these creatures, especially in an area where the pressure is severe. Repellents may also be effective if consistently applied and reapplied according to the label instructions, but this is a lot of work if your plantings are extensive.

Having said all that, here are some lists.

As far as shade trees, first of all measure the space you have so you select something there is room for -- many of the typical shade trees can reach over 60 feet tall with wide spreading branches and root systems beyond the branches. Most lawn or shade trees are initially trained or limbed up to remove lower branches and possibly continue to be pruned over time as they grow, this allows people to walk beneath them (to mow the lawn also) and to see beneath them.

Since it is by a lake it may tend to be fairly moist soil conditions especially in the spring, so you would select something that can handle that such as river birch (Betula nigra) or red maple (Acer rubrum) or swamp oak (Quercus palustris). These particular trees also do fine in average soil conditions and make nice trees. Keep in mind they will need to be protected from deer browse damage and also from deer rubbing their antlers on the trunks; in a rural situation you may also want to routinely protect them from rabbit damage in winter, too.

Your local professionally trained and certified nursery staff and/or county extension may also have additional suggestions for shade trees based on a more detailed understanding of the growing conditions and your design goals. Good luck with your planting!

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