Regional Picks: Deerproof Perennials – Midwest

Fine Gardening - Issue 135

Hoary skullcap

Name: Scutellaria incana

usda hardiness zones: 5 to 8

size: 2 to 3 feet tall and 18 to 24 inches wide

conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil

Think shade, electric blue, and July and you’ve got hoary skullcap. This native plant will add zing to your shade garden without adding to the deer buffet. Lax, loose-spreading stems grow to 3 feet tall in rich soils and sport eye-cooling blue flowers in the high months of summer. But don’t think this skullcap needs rich soil to do well. It thrives happily in dry, rocky soils, toughing it out along the woods’ edge.

Bluebill clematis

Name: Clematis pitcheri

Zones: 5 to 9

Size: Rambling stems to 6 feet long

Conditions: Partial to dappled shade; well-drained soil

This native, shade-tolerant clematis blooms from early spring through summer and sporadically into fall, mingling perfectly amid roses and shrubs as it twines its way upward. The flowers and foliage don’t rank high with deer or other browsing wildlife because of their thick, leathery texture—the source of its other common name: leather flower. Fluffy whorls of downy, flattened seeds add interest through the first snow until they blow away in the wind. If you need perky, cute, and vining under the dappled shade of redbuds and dogwoods, look no further.


Zigzag goldenrod

Name: Solidago flexicaulis

Zones: 3 to 9

Size: 1 to 3 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; well-drained soil

A goldenrod for dry shade? Yes, you read that correctly. This funky, fall-ending goldenrod pops into bloom in September with bright wands of flowers borne between the nodes along zigzagging stems. Unlike its rampant cousins, zigzag goldenrod spreads slowly by small rhizomes and forms an elegant clump within a few seasons.

Eastern bee balm

Name: Monarda bradburiana

Zones: 5 to 8

Size: 16 to 18 inches tall and 18 to 20 inches wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

Gardeners love bee balms. But despite their popularity, bee balms often suffer under the stress of powdery mildew at the height of humid summers. If you’re looking for a disease- and deer-resistant and altogether gorgeous perennial, try Eastern bee balm. Showy rings of magenta-dotted pink flowers dazzle the garden in early summer, well before any of its cousins. It also has some of the showiest foliage of the genus, burnished in burgundy-bronze tones throughout flowering and intensifying with cool autumn nights.

Kelly D. Norris is the farm manager at Rainbow Iris Farm in Bedford, Iowa.

Photos: Kelly D. Norris

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