As a nature lover, I’ve always been fascinated by deer. But as much as I love seeing deer wander through my backyard, I dread the damage they can do to my garden. For example, do deer eat hydrangeas?
Yes, deer do eat hydrangeas. While no plant is completely “deer-proof”, hydrangeas are especially vulnerable to grazing by deer. The tender shoots, leaves, and flower buds are highly attractive to them.
Hydrangeas are among the most popular flowering shrubs in gardens today. With huge, showy blooms that last all summer long and well into fall, it’s no wonder they have captured the hearts of so many gardeners. Unfortunately, deer seem to love hydrangeas just as much as we do!
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Why Deer Love Hydrangeas So Much
To understand why deer target hydrangeas, we first need to understand a bit about deer behavior and feeding preferences.
As herbivores, deer primarily consume plant material for sustenance. They are “concentrate selectors”, choosing to eat specific plant parts that are highly nutritious. Tender new growth, shoots, leaves, buds, and flowers top their list.
Compared to woody stems and older leaves, these plant parts are very low in fiber but high in soluble nutrients like sugars, starches, proteins, and minerals. This makes plant material highly digestible for deer, serving as an excellent source of energy.
Hydrangeas happen to produce an abundance of the prime plant parts that deer desire. The young shoots and large flower heads are packed with the nutrients and moisture that deer crave.
Additionally, the majority of popular hydrangea varieties grow in a mounded form close to the ground. This makes them very easy for deer to access and feed on.
Some key reasons why deer target hydrangeas:
- Tender, nutritious new shoots, and leaves
- High-moisture flower buds and open blooms
- Short – provides easy access
Hydrangeas offer deer a convenient, delicious meal. It’s no wonder they go straight for these showy shrubs!
Which Types of Hydrangeas Do Deer Prefer?
While deer will feed on most types of hydrangeas, some varieties seem to be more vulnerable to damage than others.
Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea Macrophylla)
These popular hydrangeas produce the classic, lush blue or pink mophead flowers. They bloom on old wood, meaning the flower buds form on branches from the previous year. If deer feed on these buds, it can prevent flowering for the whole season.
Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea Quercifolia)
Oakleaf hydrangeas are prized for their cone-shaped blooms and gorgeous fall foliage. According to many gardeners, the flowers appear to be irresistible to deer. Damage is most noticeable in spring when the buds first emerge.
PeeGee or Panicle Hydrangea (Hydrangea Paniculata)
These hydrangeas produce huge, cone-shaped flower clusters on new wood each year. While less susceptible than other types, the tender new growth is still vulnerable to deer browsing in spring.
Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea Arborescens)
Smooth hydrangeas, like the popular ‘Annabelle’ cultivar, produce rounded white flowers. They tend to grow 3-5 feet tall. While moderately deer resistant, they can still suffer damage, especially to new growth and flower buds.
Are Certain Hydrangea Varieties Deer Resistant?
No hydrangea variety is completely 100% deer proof. However, some selections are less palatable and may escape severe damage.
Limelight Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’)
This panicle hydrangea has sturdy stems and flowers later than other hydrangeas, making it less tempting to deer. The lime green flowers may also be less enticing.
Little Lime Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lime’)
Like Limelight, this compact panicle hydrangea seems to be moderately deer resistant. Its small size of 3-5 feet may also make it less accessible.
Endless Summer Hydrangeas
The reblooming Endless Summer series, which includes ‘Bloomstruck’ and ‘Twist-n-Shout’, produces flowers on both old and new wood. While not deer proof, this dual blooming ability may make them less vulnerable.
These panicle hydrangea cultivars have sturdy stems and are touted as being deer resistant. ‘Cityline Vienna’ and ‘Cityline Paris’ are two popular options.
8 Tips to Protect Hydrangeas from Deer
If deer are munching their way through your hydrangeas, here are some strategies to discourage them:
1. Use repellents
Spraying smelly, bad-tasting repellents on plants can deter deer from feeding. Reapply frequently.
2. Physical barriers
Wrap flower buds in mesh bags or cheesecloth to create a physical deterrent.
3. Motion-activated sprinklers
These will scare deer away from the area.
4. Plant thick hedges around hydrangeas
Prickly hedges like boxwood can obstruct deer access.
5. Hang bars of strongly scented soap
Deer dislike the smell of Irish Spring and other soaps.
6. Use scare tactics
Place fake predators, plastic owls, or wind chimes to frighten deer. But the best ones are ultrasonic devices. They can be very effective.
7. Allow dogs access to the yard
Deer will avoid areas with dogs present.
8. Apply Milorganite fertilizer
The smell of this organic fertilizer repels deer.
Be diligent about reapplying repellents and altering tactics. Consistency is key in deterring deer from making your hydrangeas their salad bar.
Should You Give Up on Hydrangeas?
Even with the best deer prevention methods, some damage is likely over time. But don’t give up on growing gorgeous hydrangeas just yet!
Focus on planting the more deer-resistant hydrangea varieties. Add protection methods like fencing, repellents, and scare tactics. Be vigilant about reapplying them as needed.
Plant your hydrangeas in groups rather than isolated specimens. It’s easier to protect a hydrangea “buffet line” from deer than single serving dishes scattered about.
Finally, enjoy the hydrangeas you do get! Appreciate them as brief, beautiful blooms rather than perfect specimens. A few nibbles from nature’s free-roaming livestock is a small price to pay for their beauty.
Do deer eat hydrangeas? Unfortunately, the answer is a definite yes. The tasty shoots, leaves, and flowers are a deer delicacy.
Certain hydrangea species and cultivars are more vulnerable to deer damage, especially oakleaf, bigleaf, and panicle types.
Consistency is key when using repellents, fencing, and other deterrents. And don’t give up on growing hydrangeas, but rather take pride in the blooms you do achieve!
With knowledge and persistence, you can have gorgeous hydrangeas AND deer wandering through your garden. It simply takes commitment to consistent protection methods. But the beauty of hydrangeas is well worth the effort.
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