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  • Writer's pictureHelen Newling Lawson

Deer-resistant trees for larger spaces

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

My deer-resistant planting plans all use small trees or large shrubs, topping out at about 15', to fit into most garden spaces. But what if you have a larger space to fill, and need a deer-resistant large or mid-sized tree?

Dr. Michael Dirr, woody plant expert extraordinaire, made some recommendations for deer-resistant trees that fit the bill in a presentation at Wintergreen, the Georgia Green Industry Association's annual conference.

Medium-sized Deer-Resistant Trees (30-50')

'Little Volunteer' tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipfera)

'Little Volunteer,' a yellow-gold foliaged variant found in North Georgia, grows about one-third the size of the species and has leaves, flowers, and fruits in scale. Photo courtesy of Greenleaf Nursery

Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis)

A tree for fall foliage, with yellow, orange or red fall colors. Seedling grown trees will vary; to get a predictable hue go for a cloned variety like 'Keith Davey,' Western Son(R), or Sarah's Radiance(TM).

Purpleblow maple (Acer truncatum)

Adaptable to a range of locations and growing conditions, ranging from Maine to Florida to Oklahoma, Texas and California. Heat, drought, cold, acid and alkaline tolerant. Insect and disease free to boot. Dirr recommends Main Street(R) and Fire Dragon(R) for their outstanding orange to red fall color.

Three-flower maple (Acer triflorum)

Multi-season interest with clean summer green foliage, brilliant orange-red fall color, and exfoliating bark to lend texture to the winter garden.

Sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)

Foliage may range from deciduous to evergreen depending on Zone. Very attractive foliage, especially when a light breeze tosses the leaves to display the silvery undersides. Fragrant white flowers and silver-gray bark add to the ornamental quality of this tree, which Dirr deems to be "one of the prettiest native trees." He recommends the selections 'Henry Hicks', 'Green Mile', 'Green Shadow', and Keltyk(R). Tolerant of wet soil.

Large Deer-Resistant Trees (Over 50')

Photo courtesy of Anyt Havaub for Pixabay

American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)

One of what Dirr terms "noble trees," this native tree has been catching my eye recently, since its yellow serrated-edge leaves persist through winter, and can be seen growing in colonies in the leafless February woods around my home in north Georgia. Dirr has been evaluating a more compact variety he found in this area, and will be introducing as a commercial cultivar in Summer 2018. The species is also distinctive for its smooth gray bark.

Beacon(R) Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)

Although my deer-resistant planting plans don't normally include trees the size of oaks, this selection was suggested as an alternative in the Pollinator plan thanks to its extremely tight columnar form. While deer don't eat the foliage, oak leaves are an important food source for over 500 species of larvae (aka baby butterflies). The Dirrs found this selection in Virginia, so it is also known as 'Bonnie and Mike.'

Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii)

Native over most of eastern North America. Adaptable to a range of soil moistures and pH. Red fall color and dense leaf canopy.

Yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava)

Unlike the small red buckeye (see Dry Shade plan), Dirr describes this tree as "immense." Early leafing, yellow-green flowers, smooth brown fruits. Gray-brown "puzzle-piece" bark.

Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus)

Although Dirr admits this is an "ugly duckling in youth," in its beautiful swan adulthood it is "beautiful and imposing." Its upright spreading growth habit requires space. Excellent for heavy clay; tolerates a range of pH. Dirr describes the bark as resembling "ribbon candy."

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