Japanese maples

My garden is a bit over an acre and filled with plants of every shape and size, and growing every day. I’ve forgotten the names of many over the years, there being too many hostas and other wonderful odds and ends with too little distinction between for my poor feeble mind.p1011234

I know little or nothing about their lineage, or who found them on a mountainside wherever. I know plants that grow well, mostly from experience, and ones that have interest that should earn a spot in others’ gardens. Japanese maples deserve a spot in every garden.p1011251

All of the following Japanese maple photos were taken in my garden. I’ve no doubt that there are collectors with more, but I have nearly as many as I need. Last year I added two new plants, a Full Moon maple (above), and an odd compact upright ‘Shaina’ (below). I’ve been trying to find a Full Moon of substantial size for a reasonable price (meaning cheap) for years, and found one with a scarred trunk from a grower in Oregon. The scar made the tree unsellable, except to me.p1011223

I found a spot that I needed to plug a shrub into, and ‘Shaina’ became that shrub. Although a small tree growing only to five or six feet tall and wide, I’m certain that it will grow much larger than the space I’ve set aside for it, so when that happens I’ll carve a wider area and move its neighbors to give them proper room.

This happens frequently to the gardener, at least it does to me, and choices must be made to determine who stays and who goes. The Japanese maple always stays.

There are many thousands of Japanese maples, and dozens of varieties readily available through nurseries, so how can you possibly pick the right one for your garden?

First, calculate the room available for the maple to grow. Weeping varieties, deemed to be dwarf, will occupy a ten foot  by ten foot area much quicker than you think. Many upright varieties will grow nearly thirty feet in height, with a similar spread. Neither is appropriate to be planted in close proximity to a house, walk, or patio.

Gardeners, and even landscape designers, mistakenly plant Japanese maples so that they must be chopped and mangled to keep within bounds and from blocking walkways. Resist the urge to plant before proper consideration, and give ample space for these graceful trees to show their character. Allow seven to eight feet from a walk or patio for weeping varieties, and double this for uprights. If you don’t have adequate space, plant a maple that matures to a smaller size, not just a smaller size of the same tree.

Now that we have considered the space available for our Japanese maple, we can move to aesthetic details, leaf color and shape, Fall color, texture, and branching structure. After deciding small tree or large, weeping or upright, we can scarcely go wrong with any selection, for each has its beauty.

Weeping Japanese Maples ‘Dissectum’ is the description given to maples for their finely divided lacy leaves, and for this and their generally smaller size they are most popular. acer-weeping-laceleaf-greenLeaves can be green, as with Viridis (left), or red, found in many popular varieties such as Crimson Queen (below), Garnet, Tamukeyama, Red Dragon, and many more. For many people these are indistinguishable, but each has a distinct character in size, coloration, or branching structure. acer-threadleaf-map-leaf

The branching of Crimson Queen is so full that it is often referred to as a big red mushroom, while Garnet has an open growth habit to ten feet tall and would hardly be considered to have pendulous branches. Though often placed without being allotted adequate space, weeping maples are ideal for most small gardens.

I have only two weeping maples in my garden as I have plenty of room for larger trees, and I prefer the diverse leaf shapes and colors of the upright Japanese maples.

Upright growing Japanese Maples range from slow growing trees such as ‘Butterfly’ to the fast growing ‘Bloodgood’, and strict upright to wide spreading shapes.

acer-butterfly-mapleButterfly Maple (above) has beautiful variegated leaves of green, white, and a bit of pink in the Spring. It is a slow growing, densely branched tree that will reach ten feet in height if I live so long.

06Most Japanese maples are Acer palmatum, but several lesser known are Acer japonicum or Acer shirasawanum, including the Fern Leaf maple, ‘Aconitifolium’ (above showing Fall color), and the Golden Full Moon maple ‘Aureum’ (pictured near the top). Fern Leaf maple is a nice, small spreading tree, but really takes a front seat in the garden with its Fall color. The Golden Full Moon prefers a break from the afternoon Summer sun to show its leaf color and not burn the leaves, and is quite slow growing.

‘Bloodgood’ maple is the most common of the red leaved upright Japanese maples (seen at the top of the page) and is a fine tree reaching over twenty-five feet, but there are many others with distinctive leaf color or shape. Some are not popular in commerce because they are more “unusual” than beautiful.

p1011232‘Burgundy Lace’ (above) is similar in growth to ‘Bloodgood’, but spreads slightly more and grows not quite as tall, and leaves are more finely dissected.p1011238

‘Seriyu’ has an upright growth habit to about fifteen feet with green dissectum leaves. The red Fall color is outstanding. I have planted two of these quite close to my house with the intention of walking under them as you follow the path to the front door. For several years the path was impassable until Seriyu grew large enough to prune the lower branches. Now the entry is wonderful.p1011215

‘Sangu Kaku’ the Coral Bark maple has brilliant red stems that stand out in the Winter, but is rather ordinary with leaves.p1011220

‘Shishigashira’ is quite unusual, called Lion’s Head maple. Crinkled leaves are bunched on branches giving the tree an irregular shape. Fall color is outstanding, and very slow growing, but this is not a tree that everyone will appreciate. I like it enough that I have two.p1011227

‘Linearilobum’ or perhaps ‘Atrolinear’ is notable for the spidery red leaves. In my garden a large tree from the forest edge was arching over this tree, and I knew that in another year it would fail from too much shade. The removal was a bit tricky in order not to damage the Japanese maple, but hardly a branch was scratched.

p10112241‘Okushimo’ has unusual coarse green leaves where each lobe curls inward. It has spectacular Fall color, and a narrow upright shape, but is a bit too odd for most gardens, and it’s green while most people prefer red.

p1011240‘Orido Nishiki” is a medium height grower (up to 15-18′) with green leaves splashed with pink and white. I have planted mine on the back side of a tall hornbeam hedge, so it is protected from the hot afternoon sun. Unfortunately, it is underplanted with a bamboo that has decided that it wants to grow taller than it should, so this beautiful maple is not as obvious as it should be.

p10112301My collection ends with another maple that I should know the name of, but have forgotten. It matters little though, the names are only important in commerce. The Japanese maples were planted for my enjoyment, and there is no tree in my garden that brings more satisfaction.


Late April, early Summer

Saturday and Sunday this week were moving days, hauling the big tubs of tropical bananas, elephant ears, agaves, and other assorted this and that’s out of their crowded Winter home. At long last I can move around the house without fear of being speared by an agave tip.

p1010610Most of the tropicals were set on the small stone seating area by the pond in the front yard, shaded from the afternoon sun by the house and a large white dogwood. Only a handful of days before complaints were many that Spring would never arrive, and now most of the week will hover around ninety degrees.

After acclimating to the morning sun I’ll move some to the afternoon sun-drenched back deck and patios for the duration of the Summer. Many will grow such that I’ll doubt that there’s room enough to fit all back inside for the Winter, but in they’ll go.

Today, several varieties of New Guinea impatiens were planted beneath the Seriyu and Bloodgood maples and in the big concrete planters that dry out so quickly. The maples assure that this area remains dry unless a monsoon moves in, and New Guineas do well there despite neglect.

p1010620An ‘Illustris’ colocassia replaced one that I let go to the freeze in the swimming pond last Fall, planted along with a dwarf papyrus, and the yellow striped canna ‘Pretoria’, or ‘Bengal Tiger’, that will grow well over head high planted with several inches of water over its container. By July the roots will spill over the top of the plastic pot, and I’ll have to keep them chopped back or it will look to invade the Japanese iris and sweet flag. ‘Illustris’ is no more than three inches out of its four inch pot, but  is just as vigorous as the canna, and will grow taller than my reach by August. Elephant ears (colocassia) and most cannas thrive planted in water, though the alocassias prefer damp, not wet soil and shouldn’t be grown in the water.

Moving the potted tropicals, planting the impatiens, petunias, and water plants, removing a bit of string algae from the swimming pond, pulling a weed or two as I went, and I was whupped by mid-afternoon. I don’t know if it was the heat, or getting old, probably both, but I was ready for a tall iced tea a few hours earlier than anticipated. I summoned enough energy to make a last trip through the garden to bring you this week’s highlights. There are still many holdovers from weeks past, but with warm days they’re fading fast. Still, the blossoms and new leaves make the garden a magical place.

p1011216I’ve been anticipating the dogwoods for weeks, and here they are, only a week late, so in reality, right on schedule. Cherokee Sunset dogwood (above), with red flowers followed by yellow and green variegated leaves, is much slower growing than the other dogwoods, only five feet tall after several years. I think that it will pick up the pace now that it’s had ample time to establish roots. I won’t quibble with anyone who argues this is pink, not red, and what do I care, for it is a wonderful tree.

p1011207The white flowering Cherokee Princess is a selection of our native white dogwood that is more vigorous and disease resistant than seedling grown. There are a number of selections that are propogated by rooted cuttings, some better than others, but all delightful trees. The weeping white dogwood is in bloom now, but is losing the battle and getting squeezed out by the tree lilac and a large mahonia.

p1011212The fragrant viburnums are fading, but several other shrubs are blooming. Fothergilla ‘Mount Airy’, with its bottlebrush flowers, is blooming near the base of the sourwood faced for the neighbor’s enjoyment. Too lazy to walk this area often, I hadn’t realized that it sprang upwards last year, being on the far side of the mixed  planting of evergreens, flowering trees and shrubs that borders the garden. On the opposite side of the garden Bottlebrush Buckeye is days from opening. Perhaps next week we’ll take a look.

p1011218p1011205The Lilacs (above and left) are blooming, except for Miss Kim, the poor lass planted in the shade of three huge hornbeams and the pink weeping cherry, and on the other side the sourwood. Still, she’ll get around to blooming in another week.

p1011244Near the Buckeye, our teaser for next week, is Calycanthus, the sweetshrub, distinctive for its odd, reddish brown fragrant blooms. The scent is not strong enough for my weak sense of smell.

p1011206Back again across the garden Schip laurel is flowering. I have made too much that the blooms are insignificant, but today they seem more substantial, though not long lasting, and I guess not very memorable since I seem to forget about them.

p1011213I photographed the cones of the weeping spruce last week, and this is one week later. No flower is more beautiful.

Azaleas should be blooming in days, mostly Encore azaleas in my garden that bloom now and in September, except deer have eaten nearly all the blooming tips. The buds on the fragrant deciduous azaleas are fat, another to look forward to in the coming week.

My overheated and overworked body yearns for cooler days coming by late week. Though the gardener’s work is never complete, more relaxing minutes creep into each weekend, and soon enough days will be consumed floating lazily in the swimming pond with no care but to watch the koi, and dragonflies darting here and there.

What’s blooming in mid April – Redbud

How many Redbud are enough in a garden? Of course it depends on the size of your plot, but in my one acre plus garden I have six, which could be enough. Or nearly enough.p1011132

I am convinced that there is no better tree than our native dogwood, though it occasionally suffers from mildew, blights, and cankers. It’s beauty in flower, leaf, and berry is unsurpassed, but our native Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) can equal dogwood in many respects, and is tough as nails.redbud2

Both dogwood and redbud are considered small trees, maturing to less than thirty feet in height, and both flourish in the same woodland settings. The rosy-pink flowers reaching for sunlight at the edge of wooded areas along highways in early April are the native redbud, and though they will grow in shady spots they bloom best with more sun, and will tolerate full sun.

Redbuds appreciate a good garden soil with adequate moisture, but will survive in dry clay soils. Provided with a well suited location and regular moisture, redbud will bloom prolifically, follow with large, deep-green, heart-shaped leaves, and then yellow Fall color.

While the green leaved native tree is wonderful, there are a number of selections with colorful leaves, and the combination of Spring bloom and colorful foliage is enough to make you want to have one of every kind. For several cultivars I have two.   redbudforestpansy32

Forest Pansy redbud is the most popular of the redbud varieties with red-purple leaves that will fade somewhat as the season goes on. I have one planted in an area that has grown too shady from large forest maples so that it barely blooms, but still gets red leaves. The arching branches provide a canopy for that section of the garden.

The other Forest Pansy is in full sun. It is covered in blooms several days later than the other redbuds in the garden, and since the area it is planted in is just above an earthen pond its leaves stay much darker than other Forest Pansy’s I have seen in drier conditions. This has to be one of the finest small trees for the garden.dsc00532

‘Silver Cloud’ redbuds are blotched with white, and early in the Spring with pink. From a distance the tree appears to be in bloom through the Summer. There are reports that Silver Cloud will fade in Summer’s heat, and also that it may revert back to green. I have two Silver Cloud planted so that they are shielded from the late day sun, but in an otherwise sunny location, and they fade so slightly that it’s hardly worth mention. I have had no reversion, so I don’t consider this much of a worry.

Though Silver Cloud is not widely available, it is a grand tree and should be more popular. I wouldn’t trade one of mine for two of any other tree.

cercis-hearts-of-gold1Unless the two were ‘Hearts of Gold’ redbud, then I’d consider it. This is a relatively new introduction, and a wonderful tree for a spot in the garden that is shaded from the hot afternoon sun, though it should not be too shady because yellow leafed trees fade to a sickly looking green in shade. There are plenty of green redbuds that should attract attention.

p1011142‘Lavendar Twist’ or ‘Covey’ is a green leafed weeping redbud. It is quite compact, my tree is almost ten years old, has grown to touch the ground, but has not spread appreciably. This is an excellent tree for a small garden, even a townhouse garden where almost every tree gets too large.

Though this wraps up my redbud collection there are other outstanding selections worth considering. All bloom at about the same time, are sized similarly, and all are comparably trouble-free. Texas and Oklahoma redbuds are similar trees that are adapted to the harsh conditions of those areas, but are fine small trees for any garden. Leaves of both are heavier, and have a waxy sheen that help it deal with the harsh Summers. There are white buds and pink buds, and the differences, I think, explain themselves. The native redbud will do just fine for any garden, but if you want a bit of splash to last through the year redbud has plenty to offer.

Will the real April please stand up?

When is this going to end? April has been a rollercoaster, with more chills than thrills.

Not so far from typical weather as one expects, but enough that the itch to plant is turning ugly. Thank goodness for the blossoms that are hanging around from March because of the coolness, and April’s bloomers that are only a bit late.

dsc00303Many of nature’s wonders are on schedule. The fiddleheads of the Ostrich ferns (above) are unfurling, an enchanting process each year. Though they prefer a damp location, ostrich ferns have spread quickly through dry shady areas of my garden. Not out-of-control quickly, but a pace to make the gardener appreciate a plant dealing with a difficult circumstance, for none is harsher than competition from shallow rooted maples.

Several rhizomes strayed into ground reserved for Columbines that are popping up, and the annual African daisy that blooms throughout the Summer. A simple tug on the out of place fern popped the plant loose with a chunk of root, so that it was replanted in a preferred spot.p1011142

p1011132Redbud (above from the weeping redbud and left from Silver Cloud) is in its full splendor, poking its head from the forest edge along the highways. There are many shades of flowers, all similar but unique, as trees that grow from seed will show natural variation. Nursery grown trees are usually propagated from cuttings, so the genetic tissue of their offspring are identical and blooms will be the same color except for differences caused by their environment.

p10110471Documenting the progress of buds and flowers through the weeks might seem repetitious to read, but the gardener grows impatient with delays from the “expected” blooming time due to cool temperatures. Dogwood buds were beginning to open a week ago (last week above and today below) , and have continued unfolding in my northern Virginia garden through a week with highs of forty-five degrees and seventy-five.p1011158

Several days remain before the expanding dogwood buds show color. Examining the buds today you would wonder if they’ve been somehow damaged to ruin this years’ flowers, but a short week away the native dogwood will be unblemished and glorious. Last year there were fewer than average blooms, but this year the trees will be covered.

A reader inquired weeks ago whether dogwood would make a suitable backdrop in full bloom the second week of May for a family picture. No, though the flowering season is late, dogwoods will be past bloom at this date. The correct date that dogwoods will reach their peak (as in the photo below from last year), I pronounced, will be April 26.dogwood-white-41

By some spectacular stroke of luck the 26th might be close enough in my garden, but his appreciative thank you reply encouraged me to visit the tree on the grounds of a church in Washington D.C., a zone warmer than mine. It is probably in full glory today, ten days prior to my foolhardy prediction. If I had asked all the right questions, where is the tree, is it on the south side of the church, and in full sun, I should still have little idea to place a date on an event that only natural forces control.

I have sufficient powers of observation to predict flowering times accurately within two weeks, perhaps more likely a month. And why bother?  Gardeners need not live our lives like the groundskeeper of Augusta National golf club, who is responsible for defying nature to assure that thousands of azaleas and dogwood are in bloom for their annual golf event.

We need not do battle with nature, or take pains to anticipate its every move, only enjoy each event as its time comes.

The yellow flowered Elizabeth magnolia is now in full bloom, and Jane is just past her peak, but Dr. Merrill and Royal Star have few remnants of the blossoms that sustained much longer than expected.p1011138

p1011140The fragrant Viburnums, Carlesi (left) and Burkwood (above) are beginning to bloom. Though I am scent impaired, their sweet fragrance is unmistakable walking through the garden.

There are many other flowers in the garden today, and at the risk of going on too long, I will show them all, for next week there will be many more.


Though early varieties have faded, several daffodils are still flowering, but other ‘minor’ bulbs also. The Grecian Windflower, Anemone (above), began to bloom a week ago and remains delightful today, though the flower shows signs that it will soon fade. It is an inconsequential plant after bloom, and indeed my numbers have diminished over the years as they were mistaken for weeds. p1011149

Grape Hyacinth, Muscari armeniacum (above), has naturalized in small numbers into the woodland beside the garden, here poking through mayapple.p1011146

Viburnum is not the only highly fragrant shrub in bloom now. Daphne ‘Carol Mackie’ (above) has green and white variegated leaves and extremely fragrant blossoms. Daphne is reputed to be finicky and short lived, and I had a trial or two before this plant settled in almost ten years ago.p10111531

Though flowers grab our attention, the garden holds many wonders in bud, leaf, and seed. The red new growth of Pieris ‘Flaming Silver’ (above) is set off by the variegated leaves in the background.p1011163

The emerging lime-green leaves of the Golden Full Moon maple (above) from their crimson sheath are a pleasure for the gardener not seduced only by Spring flowers.p1011166

The seed cones of this weeping spruce (above) a low growing Norway spruce of some sort, are as colorful as any flower. And so this week’s travel log through the garden must end. Though several cool days will follow, warmer days must be on the horizon.

A maple is born

p1011124May through September, if you visit our house along with your kids you’re probably going to leave with a seedling of a Japanese maple. At any time there are dozens growing here and there, maybe hundreds could be found if you crawled around under the viburnums and moved aside the hostas. p10111311

Without stopping to count I suppose that there are fifteen or more large Japanese maple varieties in the garden, so when they cross pollinate the result is a bunch of unique seedlings, few looking identical to their parents, as you can plainly see in these photos taken beneath one tree. Japanese maples are like many other plants that do not come true from seed. The seedlings from a ‘Bloodgood’ maple are usually red-leafed, but the leaf shape will rarely be the same. ‘Bloodgood’ maples in nurseries are propagated from cuttings so that the rooted cutting is identical to the parent.p10111261

I recall reading a reference years ago that said there are more than twenty-five thousand named Japanese maple varieties, and most were probably discovered just as I did today, crawling under the big Bloodgood to take a few photos. The next step following discovery of a unique seedling is to grow it to a mature size, document its branching, leaf shape, and color through the seasons.p1011122

If these characteristics are different than the other twenty-five thousand recognized trees then you have a distinct variety. Then, is it better than the others so that it has commercial appeal? If not, and most are not, then this new tree that you named after your wife, or perhaps your favorite hound, is one of many thousands that will be seen only in collectors’ gardens, likely just yours’.p1011120

My collection of seedlings will be spread far and wide in gardens of friends and relations, known only as ‘the maple that uncle Dave gave us’.

April’s not fooling around – part 2

Less than a week since Part 1, and there’s so much beginning to bloom that I don’t know if it will all fit in today. I was walking through the garden yesterday and a few were popping out, but a day later, WOW!p1011051

I’ve been closely monitoring Redbuds (left) for the past several weeks, and finally they’re showing color. I noticed some on my drive home, and while mine aren’t quite that far along they’ll be in full bloom in a day or two. Dogwoods (below) aren’t far behind, the buds are opening, though it will take another week for the flowers to open fully. p1011047

Elizabeth (below), the beautiful yellow flowered deciduous magnolia, finally caught up to Jane, but Royal Star and Dr. Merrill are starting to fade. Still, all are magnificent in bloom at the same time. p1011094

Cherries are still in bloom, Kwanzan buds are swelling. Certainly they must be in full glory in town for the end of the Cherry Blossom Festival. Flowering pear blossoms are being overtaken by bright green leaves. Today the Amelanchier (below) bloomed. I had to remove a swamp red maple yesterday that was overhanging it and several Japanese maples. There will still be filtered shade, but the maple hung too low and threatened to overwhelm the others.p1011108

This was quite a project, with my son hoisting his chainsaw thirty feet up a ladder, and a couple fellows tugging a rope so the huge limbs would clear the branches of the amelanchier and Japanese maples. My role was chiefly to point and yell. Amazingly, for tree work is not our trade, the project came off exactly as planned, which is rare in the garden.p1011119

Another maple, this one a keeper, is making a show, though not extravagant. The flowers of the Fern Leaf Japanese maple (above) are unusual, folded up with the emerging leaves.p1011045

Shrubs and perennials are emerging, some with leaves, but others bloom directly out of dormancy. ‘Ogon’ spirea (above) was planted in the Fall for its threadlike yellow foliage, but is covered in dainty white flowers before the leaves have fully opened. I’m not quite certain that Ogon will stand out, not substantial enough to compete with its neighbors.

p1011104Viburnum buds are quite colorful, but Carlesi, Burkwood, and Juddi have not opened yet. The first flowers of Kerria japonica (left) are showing. This twiggy shrub lightens up an otherwise dull, dry, shady area. p10110671

Nearby, Euphorbia  has begun to bloom. Though not evergreen, the foliage never goes completely dormant. This one (one because I have forgotten its name though it is quite common) is planted in very dry shade, a difficult lot in a plant’s life, but it does very well and spreads nicely as it was intended to do. Another euphorbia (below), different in every aspect except a slight resemblance in the flower, grows in full sun. The foliage is threadlike, covered in early Spring by striking blooms.p1011056

p1011098Across the stone path from the dry shady spot of the euphorbia is Epimedium ‘sulphureum’ (left) with airy flower stalks, and the variegated Brunnera (below). p1011061

There are more blossoms, buds, and leaves to enjoy, but not until next week.

My absolutely (almost) deer resistant garden


I love having wildlife in my garden. No lions or tigers, and no bears that I’ve seen, but just about everything else has visited or has a home there. But deer are beginning to annoy me, and my anti-gun wife is ready to open fire.

It’s early April and deer have worn paths through the grass over the Winter, so I can see their little hoof prints in the mud to affirm that they visited again last night. A good number of plants in the garden show signs that deer have been feasting on them through the Winter. Many of these plants will grow enough that there’ll be no sign of damage in another month or so, but what can I do to prevent them from coming back. And where did my hosta collection go?

New shoots of hosta eaten

New growth of Hosta eaten by deer in early April

There are several ways to protect your garden, and I must admit that I’ve been too negligent, or lazy, to do much about them in the past. But my wife is getting a bit worked up, so I think that this year I’ll try to summon enough energy to give them a tussle.

Last year, for the first time, I used a preventative spray DEER STOPPER to try to stop the damage. This was successful for a month or more, and then I neglected to do the followup treatment. I was reminded when half of my hostas disappeared overnight. By then the deed was done, so of course it was too late and deer continued to plague the garden. Neglect is a time proven method sure to result in failure.

Aucuba inearly Spring after deer have eaten all leaves

Aucuba with leaves eaten in early Spring

I’ll do it right this year, at least that’s the plan. In addition to spraying or building seven foot tall fences that keep you and the deer out, there are some things that you can do to keep deer damage to your garden to a minimum.

First, use plants that they don’t like, that either taste or smell bad or inflict pain when they try to eat them. In theory, and often in practice, deer will eat just about anything when they’re hungry, particularly in Winter. But there are some plants that have been proven resistant even in the worst situations, though there is no guarantee that plants that are untouched in my garden will work in yours.

I’m not going to attempt a comprehensive list. Even in my garden there are hundreds of plants that deer don’t bother at all, and I’m not going to list them all, but note some highlights to emphasize that there are plenty of plants that will work. You can find lists from groups much more authoritative than me throughout the internet, and most will probably be alright as long as the source is from roughly the same geographic area.

Most of my plants don’t suffer at all, but there are some that would be obvious choices to avoid if you’re not planning preventative measures. As I mentioned before, I used to have a grand collection of Hostas, yellows, blues, variegated leaves, dwarfs and monsters. They’re not gone, but the numbers have diminished as deer have chewed them to ground season after season. Still, some big leafed varieties with corrugatred texture are not eaten at all. Hostas will be my prime target (or rather my wife’s) for preventative spraying this year. If it fails it will be her fault.

aucuba1This Winter the Aucubas were chewed to the nub. They have always taken some damage, but far worse this year.  There’s not a leaf on them now, but there are plenty of buds and they’ll look good in another month. My large camellias are nearly as bad.

azalea2Azaleas have also taken a beating in my garden. I have deciduous azaleas that are not bothered at all, and Encore azaleas that bloom Spring and Fall. For several years I’ve had very few Spring blooms because the deer chew the top eight or ten inches and most of the leaves off. They rebound nicely by late May and bloom superbly in September and October. Though I have only Encore azaleas, deer cannot tell the difference, an evergreen azalea tastes the same regardless of variety.

dsc00184As a joke to friends walking through the garden I’ve often plucked a Daylily flower, taken a bite, rolled it around inside my mouth, and proclaimed with authority, “oh yes, that’s Catherine Woodbury”. I haven’t noticed a taste difference in daylilies (and definitely can’t identify varieties by taste), they all taste like slightly sweet lettuce to me, and I doubt that deer can tell the difference, or even care. But they love those flowers.

Deer will also eat the buds and blooms of Roses. The threat of thorns hardly distracts them as they munch on the tender new growth tips and flowers.

p1010943As close to a guarantee as there is in horticulture is that nothing eats Daffodils, not bugs, squirrels, or rabbits, moles, voles, and certainly not deer. And everything eats Tulips. Why? It doesn’t matter,  just plant daffodils and not tulips. p1010841

Winter is the time that deer cause the greatest damage to gardens. Though their choice hosta and other perennials are safely dormant, lack of foliage forces them to consume just about anything green. Sprays, fences, and resistant plants often fail to deter ravenous deer, but the delightful February blooming Hellebores are not worthy of even a nibble.

buxus-amNext to daffodils the safest plants resistant to deer damage are Boxwood and Cephalotaxus. The type boxwood doesn’t seem to matter, none have been bothered by deer in my experience.

Cephalotaxus is called plum yew, and its needlelike evergreen foliage is quite similar to the common yew, Taxus, which is a magnet for deer at anytime of the year. The plum yew is slow growing, and is a rare evergreen that grows well in the shade. And deer avoid it completely. I’ve had some damage when deer, or maybe a less nimble critter (me), stepped on and broke branches.

p10107401Take a look at the spines at the tips of Mahonia ‘Winter Sun’. They’re even worse than they look. Avoid planting a mahonia where you have to brush it as you walk past. And don’t dare walk around it in bare feet. Someone told me that they had witnessed a mahonia that deer had damaged, but they also reported seeing blood on the leaves. The deer in my neighborhood are much smarter than to try something so foolish.

dscf0104Dragon Lady hollyis almost as spiny as mahonia, is an excellent upright holly that deer will chew on only in extreme circumstances. Excellent hollies such as Nellie Stevens are more likely to be injured.

p1011058Large evergreens used for screening are also subject to deer damage. The ubiquitous Leyland cypress and Emerald Green arborvitae often fall victim, but the fast growing Green Giant arborvitae is seldom bothered. Cryptomeria, in its range of configurations from low mounds to tall uprights, seems resistant.p10109411

Pieris , or Andromeda have proven to be resistant. I have a least a handful of varieties from two feet to over six in height, and none have ever been injured.

And briefly, other plants that I have noted in my garden that have resisted deer damage, even when they are right next to plants being eaten.

Deciduous trees – I have never witnessed any damage to any shade or flowering trees in my garden, though I don’t have any apples or pears that are prone to injury. Many are too large, but dogwoods, redbuds, and Japanese maples have branches low enough that deer could reach them.

dsc00527I use small trees and colorful evergreens such as Montgomery spruce as centerpieces in landscape designs, then work smaller plant groupings around them. So, I have less problems creating a workable garden design than others who rely on deer prone perennials, and struggle for ideas in deer infested areas.

Spruce, in general, are pretty safe selections, but the needles of Norway spruce can be fairly soft, and there are reports of damage. Colorado spruce needles tend to be stiffer and more resistant.

Viburnums – I have not had any damage, nor heard of it from others.p1011067

Perennials – I’ve had no damage to large leaf hostas, hellebores, Japanese iris, stachys, euphorbias, epimediums, baptisia, grasses, and ferns, even when many of these are next to plants that are eaten. Many other perennials haven’t had problems, but they’re in areas that would be difficult for a deer to access, so I don’t have confidence in their resistance.

Though it may seem at times like nothing escapes the ravenous appetite of deer, there are many safe choices that shouldn’t limit the beauty of your garden. If you want to stretch the limits, as I do, then you must explore alternate methods. If I can overcome my innate laziness and keep at a regular preventive spray program I’ll report back on my progress.