When I tell people I live on a wooded 5-acre lot with a resident population of deer and that I grow hostas, they assume I’m lying. I’m not.
Just because you have a deer problem doesn’t mean you’ll have a hosta problem. Yes, those large, leafy perennials are prime rib for deer. But there are tactics to protect hostas that actually work. And no, I’m not talking about bags of discarded hair from the salon or strategically placed shavings of Irish Spring soap. Let’s be frank—most deterrents like that don’t work. Period. And while there are some products on the market that do, they usually require reapplication every time it rains or a heavy dew washes away the spray or powder. I don’t have the time or patience for all of that.
So what’s my secret to luscious hostas in deer country? Plant placement. We’re all accustomed to hearing “right plant, right place” when it comes to siting things in our gardens based on conditions. But the same is true for “hiding” hostas from deer. For example, I have a shady nook against my house foundation that is blocked on one side by a deck and on another side by a set of propane tanks. That means there’s one narrow opening into the bed, and it’s by a busy seating area. And that is where some of my hostas have lived happily for 10 years.
I realize it sounds extreme to geo-map your property to identify a golden spot for one plant. But it’s really just taking a practice you already do when planting (remember trying to find the perfect location for that pricey dwarf conifer?) and applying it a bit more intensely to hostas. I know I’m not alone in this approach. In my 15 years with Fine Gardening, I’ve met dozens of gardeners around North America who employ the same tactics. My favorite story is of a gardener in Washington who put her hostas in pots and moved them around the garden randomly, convinced that she was confusing the deer, since their dinner was never in the same place for long. Maybe she was right, maybe it was luck—who am I to decide?
The point is, if you want hostas in your garden, you can have them—but you may need to work a little harder to keep them. I think this stalwart perennial is worth the effort. If you need convincing, just look at the beautiful garden of Delphia Johnstone (How to Use Hostas in a Garden Design) and read about the strategies she takes to protect her favorite genus. If Delphia can create that gorgeous space in an area filled with hosta foes, anything is possible (although you might need to invest in a pair of slug slicers and develop a strong stomach).
—Danielle Sherry, executive editor
More on hostas