By now, it is no longer news that deer love classic hedging evergreens such as arborvitae, hemlock, and yew. Gardeners are routinely advised to choose deer-resistant plants instead. But what if you already have the hedge, and deer have already eaten it? What if your newly purchased home grounds are ringed by 20-foot trees that look like lopsided lollipops?
If space is severely limited, you may have to cut them down and start over with something else, but if you have a strip at least 12 feet wide to devote to the area, you can build a better hedge on the bones of what you have.
After all, it’s only the lower regions that need help. Everything above 6 to 8 feet is no doubt fine, and it will only grow lovelier over time. The trick is to go for depth: plant a shorter hedge in front, and you’ll screen the naked area from view while adding textural interest, just as you do when you plant a baptisia in front of rust-prone hollyhocks.
For best results, think in three layers: hurt hedge at the back; good-size shrubs or small trees like holly, lilac, and pieris in the middle; short, full items like mugo pine, boxwood, and barberry toward the front.
The most pleasing hedges have rhythm and rest, which cannot be achieved by a hodgepodge of “one of these and one of those,” so it will pay to limit your selections and plant multiples of each. But if the deer pressure is extreme, don’t do it right away. Instead, plant a test garden of likely candidates and wait a year to see just how deer resistant they actually are. (Deer vary considerably in their tastes, and a plant that escapes unscathed in one place may well get lunched in another.) It’s frustrating not to plunge right in, but waiting is worth it when you’ll be buying — and planting — large numbers of new shrubs.
Deerproofing the Hedges
There are a number of low-tech, low-cost repellents, including human hair, soap, hot pepper, and garlic, all of which have some deterrent effect, but none of these household items are as effective as commercial spray-on products, especially the ones with bitter components, which have been formulated to be long-lasting.
These once-a-winter formulations are expensive compared to sweepings from the barber shop, but they cost a lot less than fencing or replacement trees.