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  • Helen Newling Lawson

Fall for these deer-resistant plants


You'll fall for these beauties, because fall is the season these deer-resistant plants shine. Plants with multi-season interest are great (and some of the plants on this list definitely have year-round good looks), but it's also exciting to have a few seasonal stars that give you a reason to look forward to autumn. With the deer making an extra effort to pack on pounds before the winter, using deer-resistant plants as part of your overall deer-deterrent strategy is key.


In true Spot On Gardens fashion, I have a plant for each of the eight categories I use in my complete deer-resistant planting plans.


Please note: Using the product links in this article earn me a small commission from my affiliates, but costs you nothing.

Sweetspire - Shrub

Sweetspire (Itea) is an amazing North American native shrub that deserves to be better known and more widely used. The fragrant white flower spikes draw in tons of pollinators and make a nice focal point in the summer garden, when many other flowering plants have pooped out. The shrub spreads nicely to fill an area or control erosion. And it grows in damp sites where many other plants will not. But its fall leaf color puts it in a class above other blooming shrubs, keeping it interesting beyond its flowering period.


Subscribers to my newsletter have a chance to win a 'Scentlandia' sweetspire from Proven Winners (shown in fall color here) - if you subscribe by October 31, 2020, you'll have a chance to enter, too! Or sign up anyway, because I'm sure to have more reader giveaways soon, along with bonus content and other goodies.



Japanese Maple - Small tree

When you're talking about fall beauty, the first thing that comes to mind are the brilliant colors of changing leaves, so I had to include Japanese maples.


Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) have so many good things going for them that I put them on my deer-resistant all-star line up. They are incredibly beautiful trees, first and foremost. In spring and fall, their foliage is extra-colorful. In summer, their lovely leaf shape and texture keeps them a focal point. In winter, the beautiful form of their branches comes into full focus, and coral bark varieties are exceptionally beautiful.


But they make the all-star list for their other qualities - they are adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions, are relatively pest and trouble free, fit a wide range of garden styles, and have so many variations that you can find one that is perfect for your space and design. Speaking of designs, if you're looking for other deer-resistant plants to grow with Japanese maples, check out my article on companion plantings.


Beautyberry - Large shrub

Beautyberry (Callicarpa) is a bit like forsythia, in both size, shape, leaf type, and the way they just sort of hang out for most of the year, until they are utterly glorious. And those few weeks are enough to earn them a spot in your garden year-round.


If you do want one that offers more in other seasons, check out 'Pearl Glam' beautyberry, shown above (photo courtesy of Proven Winners). It has lovely purple leaves and bright violet berries that pop against the darker backdrop.


Muhly grass - Grassy plant


I haven't held back in my praise of muhly grass - in fact, I devoted a whole blog post to the charms of the hazy pink glow this ornamental grass gives to an autumn garden. Another variety, called 'White Cloud', adds a sprinkling of white fairy dust instead. This grass really looks great planted in large groups, and if you can position it where the setting sun shines through it, you'll have a whole other reason to call the late afternoon "happy hour." Although it looks dainty, it's really tough, and thrives in dry soil and full sun.









Autumn crocus - Bulb


Autumn crocus is not a true crocus, which is why its botanical name is Colchicum. The purple or white cup-shaped flowers with yellow anthers sure look like them, though. Just like crocus, they will create a charming carpet of color - except in fall instead of spring.


Autumn crocus is also great as a late-season pollinator plant (bees and butterflies need to stay fueled up until its time for them to hibernate or migrate), which is why I use autumn crocus in my deer-resistant planting plan for pollinators.


Photo courtesy of BrentandBeckysBulbs.com



Snapdragons - Annual


You might think of them as a spring flower, but fall is a great time to plant snapdragons, too. These cheerful deer-resistant flowers love cool weather, and if you live in a mild climate they may even live through the winter and bloom again next spring. Buy them as bedding plants, or grow snapdragons from seed. Snapdragons come in tons of colors and sizes, and if you want a change from the upright spikes there are trailing varieties for hanging baskets and containers, too. National Garden Bureau named 2019 the Year of the Snapdragon for good reason!







Barberry - Foliage


Barberry is a shrub, but new varieties have been bred to be both sterile (important for avoiding the invasive potential of Japanese barberry to reseed and crowd out native plants in natural area) and to have stunning leaf colors. Since this is a deciduous shrub (loses its leaves in winter), I'm suggesting it as a great foliage plant for the garden. An upright variety like 'Orange Rocket' (shown above, photo courtesy of Southern Living Plant Collection) is small and skinny enough to pop into a planter, and can also be used to create an "exclamation point" in the garden (and trust me, people will make a point to exclaim over it, har har). Another one I love, with a wider growth habit, is Sunjoy 'Tangelo' from Proven Winners (last time I checked, my affiliate Nature Hills had it on sale).


Cotoneaster - Groundcover

Autumn Inferno Cotoneaster lights up the fall garden. Photo courtesy of First Editions

Cotoneaster (pro tip: pronounce it "Co-TOE-nee-aster," not "cotton-easter") is a sort of scrambly, rangy shrub that is generally low-growing and makes a great groundcover for all sorts of tough spots, including dry sloping ground. It also has cute little berries that birds and other wildlife enjoy.


A recent introduction that defies the low-growing rule, but is definitely worth mentioning in any roundup of plants for fall interest, is 'Autumn Inferno' from First Edition Plants (photo courtesy of them).



Bergenia - Perennial


'Winterglow' Bergenia and fine-textured amsonia proves that fall leaf color isn't just for trees. Photo courtesy of Walters Gardens.

Bergenia is also known by the highly adorable and also descriptive name "pigsqueak" (the thick rubbery leaves make a squeaking noise when you rub them). Springtime brings clusters of rose-pink flowers on tall stems, but fall and winter brings out the autumnal colors of its leaves as the temperatures drop. These leaves will hang on through winter, but you can trim them back in spring to make way for fresh growth. See how I use bergenia in my deer-resistant planting plan for dry shade.


Other great deer-resistant perennials for fall gardens include salvia (see my recent blog post) , amsonia (shown behind the bergenia in the photo), ironweed (Vernonia), aster, Russian sage (Perovskia), and goldenrod (Solidago).


Don't miss your chance to win a plant!

Remember, subscribe to my newsletter by October 31, 2020 to be entered to win a 'Scentlandia' sweetspire from Proven Winners. The winner will be selected at random using Random.org. Reading this too late? Freebies are always happening, so subscribe to be notified of the next one, or follow me on Instagram at @SpotOn_Gardens to catch the next one.


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