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Regional Picks: Deer-Resistant Plants – Northeast

Fine Gardening - Issue 169

1. Bloodroot


Name: Sanguinaria canadensis

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 9

Size: 5 to 12 inches tall, 16 inches wide

Conditions: Full to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

Pure white blooms with yellow centers are one of the earliest signs of life in springtime gardens. Large, deeply lobed leaves emerge after the flowers; these provide a dense, attractive ground cover that stays fresh most of the season, unlike the ephemeral foliage of other early-spring bloomers. Bloodroot foliage and roots taste bitter and contain toxic compounds that deer avoid. Use this eastern woodland native in place of hosta (Hosta spp. and cvs., Zones 3 to 9) for shady areas near trees.


2. Nodding Onion

Nodding Onion

Name: Allium cernuum

Zones: 3 to 9

Size: 12 to 16 inches tall, 1 foot wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist to dry soil

Nodding onion is an adaptable garden plant with pretty sprays of pink or white summer flowers atop elegantly nodding stems. A member of the onion family, its pungent taste deters pests and deer, while the star-shaped flower umbels provide pollen and nectar to short-tongued native sweat bees. Plant a wide strip as a transition zone between a lawn and a natural area.


3. Northern Spicebush

Northern Spicebush

Name: Lindera benzoin

Zones: 4 to 9

Size: 8 to 15 feet tall, 6 to 15 feet wide

Conditions: Full to partial shade; moist to wet soil

Spicebush heralds spring with sweetly fragrant April flowers, a welcome treat for winter-weary northern gardeners. This nicely shaped shrub also has radiant yellow fall foliage, which is the plant’s way of alerting migrating songbirds to the valuable fuel source it offers: bright red, high-fat fruits. Deer avoid foraging mature plants but may nibble on young stems, so provide protection when plants are small. Be sure to plant male and female plants if you want your spicebush to produce fruit.


4. Anise Hyssop

Anise Hyssop

Name: Agastache foeniculum

Zones: 3 to 9

Size: 3 to 5 feet tall, 2 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist to dry well-drained soil

This prairie native with licorice-scented foliage is well adapted to northeast soils. Blue-purple late-summer flower spikes are an outstanding nectar source for hummingbirds and attract a diverse array of beneficial insects. Anise hyssop grows fast and reseeds heavily, so it can be used to quickly fill a meadowlike area to support pollinators. Deadheading can reduce self-seeding, but leave some stems standing to feed hungry winter goldfinches and juncos.


Ellen Sousa is a garden coach and designer who runs a small native-plant nursery at Turkey Hill Brook Farm in Spencer, Massachusetts.

Photos: millettephotomedia.com; Paul Henjum/courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org; courtesy of Ellen Sousa; R.A. Nonenmacher/courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org 

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