Deer Proof Rhododendron

The plant breeder who creates a rhododendron that deer don’t like is going to be rich, but you don’t need to wait for this golden shrub if you have large old rhodies, which I wish I had but I don’t. What I do is nag all my friends and design clients: Think tall. Think sculpture. Think of Japan.


This clump grows about 1/3 mile from where the deer below were standing. Over and over in springtime those naked stems sprout healthy new growth, which sticks out randomly here and there in unhealthy-looking tufts. Over and over, the base fills out about halfway. Over and over, just when you’re starting to root for the thing and imagine it might manage to bush back out, Wham! Eaten again.

Mercifully, the owners do not encase the whole works in a gigantic net bag, but they also fail to see the obvious, which I would illustrate right here and now if I were adept with photoshop. Meanwhile, just look at those handsome trunks and the full green canopy of bud covered foliage. Imagine pruning out all but the strongest, most graceful wood. The easy, no-waiting deer-proof rhododendron is simply a multi-trunked tree. Hungry deer will stretch on tippy-hoofs, but they’re not goats. They don’t climb.

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  • gisela Said,

    What do you know about hanging soap on the rhodies?

  • leslie Said,

    Hi Gisela

    What I know about hanging soap in the rhododendrons is what I know about hanging soap anywhere:

    yes and no.

    Strong smelling repellants do often deter deer – until the deer get hungry enough to stop caring. Chunks of soap ( Irish Spring is popular) will persuade them to eat something else: hostas, roses, arbor vitae… as long as there’s something else to eat.

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