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GardenSMART :: Five New Deer-Resistant Perennials for Sunny Landscapes

Five New Deer-Resistant Perennials for Sunny Landscapes

By Susan Martin for Proven Winners
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners

There’s nothing worse than bringing home your prize new perennials from the nursery, only to discover that the deer have devoured them within a week. It’s enough to make a gardener crazy, or at least to desire a venison steak for dinner! Unfortunately, deer will eat anything if they are hungry enough, including plants on the “deer-resistant” list. Fortunately, some perennials are less desirable than others. Here are five new varieties to try.

Those brazen creatures, they ate your phlox again! And it was even planted up close to the house where Rover roams! Some plants are just not safe no matter where you plant them. If deer find them extra delicious, they’ll go to extra lengths to eat them. Thankfully, there are some plants that are typically passed over by deer, perhaps because of their aromatic foliage, fuzzy leaves or because they are just too much work to bend all the way over to eat. Here are five top recommended new perennials for Spring 2016 that should be safe to grow in your sunny landscape.

DECADENCE® ‘Sparkling Sapphires’ False Indigo (Baptisia)
Perhaps it is because of its ancient history that deer don’t bother with False Indigo—they are over it already. So passé. But for gardeners, the Decadence® series is quite a new phenomenon, with exciting new colors being introduced almost every year. This year brings ‘Sparkling Sapphires’, a tremendously rich, violet blue flowered selection that grows just 2½ - 3 feet tall (about the size of a clump of daisies).

You’ll see its blooms appear in May in the Midwest, though it will easily grow and bloom in zones 4-9. Don’t trim the flowers off when they are finished because decorative seed pods will grow in their place and lend interest through autumn. Make sure you find a permanent home in full sun for your new False Indigo as it resents being moved once it is established. That’s because it grows a very long tap root which helps it survive in times of drought. What a smart plant!

FRUIT PUNCH® ‘Sweetie Pie’ Pinks (Dianthus)
Deer can actually be quite lazy creatures when it comes time to eat. They’ll often munch on plants that are knee high to eye level first, which keeps Dianthus out of the target. Maxing out at 8-10 inches tall in full bloom, the new ‘Sweetie Pie’ forms a dense mound of finely textured, silvery blue-green foliage. In early summer, pure pink, semi-double flowers cover the foliage and provide a beautiful swathe of color in the landscape in zones 4-9. Be sure to pick a few of the fragrant blossoms for a fresh bouquet.

Unlike False Indigo, this is a perennial you’ll want to trim back after it’s done flowering, as that will encourage the plant to rebloom in early fall. Take a sharp pair of scissors or pruners and shear back all of the stems at once to the top of the foliage. One very important thing about growing Dianthus is that it needs to be grown in well-drained soil, especially in winter. Don’t plant this where you pile snow in winter or in heavy, wet clay as that will surely lead to rotting plants.

SUMMERIFIC® ‘Berry Awesome’ Rose Mallow (Hibiscus 
Midsummer brings spectacular dinner plate-sized blooms on Summerific® ‘Berry Awesome’ Rose Mallow. It’s a must-have for every sunny garden in zones 4-9. You won’t believe the amazing flowers on this beauty—you’ll want to reach out and touch it just to make sure it’s real. The vibrant lavender pink, ruffled blossoms are produced from the ground up to the tips of each branch, flowering for at least two months in northern zones, and even longer in the south. It will be the focal point of your landscape when in bloom.

The key to growing beautiful Rose Mallow is moisture, and we’re talking a lot of moisture. Grow this plant where the sprinklers or hose reaches regularly, at the end of a downspout, or in a low spot in the landscape where water tends to collect. Expect it to wake up late in spring but to grow about an inch a day once it gets started. Keep it moist and feed it regularly for best performance. It will go completely dormant in winter, but cut back the stems in spring and it will quickly fill back in. 

‘Pardon My Cerise’ Bee Balm (Monarda)
If you love the look of the tall bee balms in your garden but need something a little shorter for in front of your evergreen hedge or up by the mailbox, try the ‘Pardon My’ series from Proven Winners. It comes in four colors, including a brand new cherry pink flowered variety called ‘Pardon My Cerise’. From midsummer into late summer, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds will delight in the large blossoms that top the fragrant, deep green, glossy foliage. Deer aren’t a fan of Monarda because of its foliage, which emits a strong minty scent when crushed.

Gardeners have grown wary of bee balm over the years because of older selections that are often plagued by powdery mildew. Proven Winners’ bee balms are selected first for their resistance to this disease, so you can be confident in growing these cultivars. That said, all bee balms need good air circulation and prefer to grow in climates that have cooler nighttime temperatures in zones 4-9. If you live in a very warm, humid area where temperatures don’t dip at night, bee balm—even those labeled as disease resistant--is probably not the best choice for your garden.

‘Denim ‘n Lace’ Russian Sage (Perovskia)
Russian Sage is the ideal plant for hot, dry climates with poor soil in zones 4-9. It enjoys similar growing conditions as Lavender, so if you’ve been successful with that, you should be able to grow Russian Sage too. While typical sages grow to be large, unruly bushes, the newest variety called ‘Denim ‘n Lace’ is much easier to handle in the landscape. It forms a bushy, upright clump of silvery green foliage topped with dense panicles of bright amethyst purple flowers from midsummer into early fall.

Deer tend to steer clear of Russian Sage because of its aromatic foliage and tough, almost woody stems that are rough on their mouths. These strong stems make the flowers ideal for cutting for fragrant bouquets and dried flower wreaths. Like Dianthus, it needs well-drained soil to thrive, so you’ll want to amend your soil before planting if necessary. 

Watch a video of new Proven Winners Perennials here.
Read more about all of the new Proven Winners Perennials for Spring 2016 here.

Contributor Bio: Susan Martin is a lifelong gardener and perennial specialist with 18 years of experience in the Horticulture Industry. She is a native of Michigan where she has been gardening since the age of four in sandy and clay soils. 

Patent Info: DECADENCE® ‘Sparkling Sapphires’ Baptisia USPPAF CPBRAF. FRUIT PUNCH® ‘Sweetie Pie’ Dianthus PPAF CPBRAF. SUMMERIFIC® ‘Berry Awesome’ Hibiscus PPAF CPBRAF. ‘Pardon My Cerise’ Monarda didyma PPAF CPBRAF. ‘Denim ‘n Lace’ Perovskia atriplicifolia PPAF CPBRAF.

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