As an avid gardener and nature lover, I’m always looking to learn more about deer behavior and how to protect my garden from hungry wildlife. So when it comes to the popular flowering plant, petunias, one of the most common questions is: do deer eat petunias?
Deer will occasionally eat petunias, especially when the flowers are young and tender in the spring. However, petunias are not a preferred food source and deer will likely opt for tastier options if available. Damage tends to be minimal unless the deer are very hungry. With some preventative measures, you can grow petunias while minimizing deer browsing.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about deer and petunias, including whether they like to eat them, how much damage they can cause, and most importantly – how to keep these pesky animals from destroying your beautiful flowers.
Table Of Contents
Do Deer Eat Petunias?
While deer aren’t attracted specifically to petunias, they are known to eat a wide variety of garden plants. As browsers, deer eat tender new growth whenever they can find it.
During spring when petunia plants are young and fresh, deer may take a small nibble. However, petunias are not a preferred deer food. According to research from Cornell University examining deer-resistant plants, petunias fall near the middle of the spectrum, with a “moderate” likelihood of being damaged.
There are a few reasons why petunias aren’t a deer favorite:
- Their natural diet does not provide the necessary nutritional content that deer require.
- The flowers don’t have a strong, enticing scent that attracts deer.
- The foliage and stems are not as tender and moist as other deer favorites.
So in most cases, deer will pass over petunias in favor of tastier options like daylilies, hostas, roses, or yew shrubs.
However, petunias may still be nibbled on occasionally, especially by young deer who are testing new plants. Extremely hungry deer during harsh winters may also overlook their lack of appeal.
What Kinds of Damage Can Deer Cause?
When deer do opt to munch on petunias, the most likely damage will be:
- Removal of buds and flowers – Deer seem to prefer blossoms over foliage, so you may notice missing or half-eaten buds.
- Holes in leaves – Occasionally deer will take bites out of the leaves, leaving behind ragged edges.
- Broken stems – Excessive damage can cause entire sections of the plant to break off.
Usually nibbling is minor and sporadic. But if hungry deer make repeated visits, petunias can appear severely ravaged. Entire sections may be eaten leaving sparse, diminished plants.
Will Petunias Recover From Deer Damage?
As long as the root system remains intact, petunias can bounce back after deer pruning. Removing damaged foliage encourages new growth. Fertilizing after damage can provide an extra boost.
If deer ate entire sections of the plant, recovery depends on how much greenery remains. With no leaves left, it’s unlikely the petunia will regrow. But they are resilient plants, so even heavy browsing early on may only delay blooms rather than prevent them.
When Are Petunias Most Vulnerable?
Your petunias face the highest risk of deer damage at two key times:
- Spring – Young tender growth right after planting is most appealing. Deer may sample new plants out of curiosity.
- Winter – Food scarcity may lead deer to eat less palatable options like petunias.
During these high-risk seasons, be vigilant about repellents, fencing, and other deterrents.
How to Keep Deer From Eating Petunias
If deer are an issue in your area, don’t avoid growing petunias. With some simple precautions, you can foil the deer and enjoy gorgeous blooms all season:
1. Use Deer Repellent Sprays
Applying smelly or offensive-tasting repellents directly on and around petunias is an effective deterrent. Commercial repellents are available, but homemade versions like hot pepper spray or garlic oil work too.
- Spray new plants liberally at planting time.
- Reapply after rainfall or every 2-3 weeks.
- Switch repellents occasionally so deer don’t become accustomed.
Natural Homemade Deer Repellents
Commercial repellents can be pricey, and some homeowners prefer to use natural options:
- Mix eggs, hot peppers, garlic, and water into a spray.
- Hang mesh bags of human hair and soap near plants.
- Spray plants with vinegar or chili oil mixtures.
- Sprinkle blood meal around the garden perimeter.
- Spray plants with predator urine like coyote, fox, or bobcat.
The keys are using strong scents deer dislike and reapplying frequently, especially after rain. Home remedies work best for small gardens.
2. Add Physical Barriers
Fencing off your entire garden keeps deer totally away. For just petunias, try small cages or netting.
- Use tall fencing (8 feet minimum) as deer are adept jumpers.
- For plant cages, make sure they are anchored well so deer don’t knock them over.
- Check netting often to remove any openings from damage.
3. Scare or Startle Them
Deer spook easily, so making your garden unwelcoming can provide protection.
- Place noisy wind chimes, aluminum pie pans, or old CDs around plants.
- Turn on motion-activated sprinklers or lights when deer are active.
- Let dogs roam in your garden to leave behind scents.
4. Use Strategic Planting
Certain plants naturally repel deer with toxicity, spines, or strong scent.
- Plant alliums, daffodils, foxgloves or monkshood around the perimeter.
- Place pungent herbs like sages or lavender among your flowers.
- Mix in thorny plants like barberries, hollies, or yucca.
5. Companion Plants
Certain plants can help mask and protect petunias when planted nearby. Consider adding these deer-resistant companions:
- Daffodils – Toxic bulbs deer won’t eat.
- Alliums – Ornamental onions with a strong scent.
- Salvia – Aromatic foliage drives deer away.
- Lavender – Deer dislike the odor and spiky texture.
- Poppies – Most varieties are avoided except the California poppy.
- Yarrow – Feathery foliage with unappealing texture.
- Sage – Culinary and ornamental sages are pungent.
Plant deer favorites like roses, hostas, or lilies surrounded by these deterrents. Just be sure to leave an opening for pollinators to access your petunias.
6. Garden in Containers
Hanging baskets or pots elevate vulnerable plants out of reach of deer.
- Site them in protected areas like porches or patios.
- For in-ground plantings, position containers at least 3 feet off the ground.
- Ensure pots are securely mounted so deer don’t knock them over.
Petunia Varieties Deer Tend to Avoid
Some species and cultivars are more susceptible to deer than others. Here are a few types of petunias that anecdotal evidence suggests deer steer clear of:
|Calliope||Vigorous mounding plants with large ruffled blooms.|
|Madness||Upright plants with flowers in every shade of the rainbow.|
|Easy Wave||Large, spreading plants ideal for hanging baskets.|
|Primetime||Tall, compact plants with masses of trumpet-shaped flowers.|
|Dreams||Mid-size, drought tolerant plants with flowers in solids or patterns.|
|Supertunia||Award-winning, vigorous trailing plants perfect for containers.|
Keep in mind that no plants are 100% deer-proof. But these petunias seem to be less enticing based on their growth habit and flower characteristics.
Other Flowering Plants Deer Avoid
If you want to fill your garden with color but petunias make you nervous, here are 10 other annuals and perennials that deer generally steer clear of:
- Marigolds – All marigold varieties are pungent smelling.
- Zinnias – Lots of color and variety; may attract butterflies over deer.
- Cosmos – Tall plants with delicate foliage deer don’t prefer.
- Verbena – Tiny flowers on slim stalks with tough stems.
- Salvia – Deer dislike the strong fragrant foliage.
- Lavender – Another aromatic that helps disguise vulnerable plants.
- Lantana – Not a deer favorite; thrives in heat and drought.
- Geraniums – Rarely bothered by deer or rabbits.
- Russian Sage – Silvery foliage has a pungent scent.
- Yarrow – Fern-like foliage and nectar-rich flowers.
Do deer eat petunias? Although petunias aren’t a preferred food source, deer will give them a taste if hungry enough. But with some basic protections – repellents, barriers, companion planting – you can foil Bambi and keep those petunias safely blooming all season long.
The key is being proactive, especially during spring and winter when deer pressure is highest. Observe deer activity patterns in your area so you know when to be on high alert.
Petunias are easy to grow, reliable performers that add vibrant color for months in beds, borders, containers, and hanging baskets. Don’t let concerns about deer stop you from growing them. A bit of knowledge about deer behavior goes a long way in learning how to outsmart them.
With the right prevention approaches, you can have the best of both worlds – gorgeous petunias and a deer-free garden!
What flowers will deer absolutely not eat?
There are a few flowers that deer almost never eat including daffodils, foxgloves, lavender, salvia, and marigolds. The toxicity or strong fragrance of these plants seems to deter deer.
What plants do deer hate the most?
Deer hate the scent and taste of pungent herbs like mints, oregano, dill, and chives. Spiky or prickly plants like cacti, barberry, roses, and flowering quince also deter them. Plants with grey foliage like lamb’s ear or dusty miller are other options deer dislike.
Do deer eat marigolds or petunias?
Deer tend to avoid marigolds because of their strong scent. Petunias however are moderately vulnerable to deer damage, especially the flowers and tender new growth which deer may nibble on occasionally.
Will petunias grow back after being eaten by deer?
If only a small amount of foliage is nibbled, petunias will likely recover and continue growing. But if deer eat all the above-ground plant parts, the petunia will probably not regrow from the roots. As long as some greenery remains, new growth is possible with proper care.
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