Despite the well-known appetites of deer during the spring, there are some ornamental grasses deer won’t eat. Yes, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources reminds us that they will adapt--and eat anything if there is nothing else to eat--but the University of Minnesota Extension points out that deer won’t eat some plants because of the plant’s smell, texture or toxicity level. Even if you are not all that interested in growing flowers, you can have a beautiful landscape by planting ornamental grasses deer won’t eat.
Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum), one of the ornamental grasses deer won’t eat, is a perennial with a spreading, clumping growth habit. It can grow up to 6-feet tall with a similar spread, depending on variety. The rhizomes form dense sod and the roots can reach a depth of 10 feet. It produces panicles of little pinkish-purple flowers. This deer-resistant ornamental grass readily adapts to different soil types. It thrives in full sun but tolerates some shade. There are several cultivars of these ornamental grasses deer won’t eat that you can choose from, offering a range of foliage and flower colors. The foliage of ‘Dallas Blues’ has a bluish tinge, ‘Shenandoah’ turns burgundy in the fall and ‘Heavy Metal’ has metallic blue-lavender foliage with waxy, white flowers. These are just a few of the cultivars of these deer-resistant ornamental grasses that you can choose from, so check with your local nursery to see what they carry. There is evidence that switch grass is toxic to animals, so watch your pets. You really don’t want deer or other wildlife to eat the toxic foliage. Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station claims switch grass is rarely damaged by deer.
Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica) is also known as cranberry grass, cogongrass, blady grass, satintail and kunai. It can grow up to 4-feet tall and form a thick stand. It is invasive and will suffocate other plants. You can grow these ornamental grasses deer won’t eat in a large container above ground or sink the container into the ground. Some varieties of this deer-resistant ornamental grass have rhizomes that will reach a depth of 6 feet. The blades have saw-toothed edges, sharp tips and have off-center midribs.The 16-inch flower spikes are white and silky. They flower year round in tropical regions and in late winter or fall in more temperate areas. The red cultivars, or rubra cultivars, of this deer-resistant ornamental grass grow to 1-foot tall and are cold tolerant. The cold is responsible for the red coloring. These ornamental grasses deer won’t eat do well in soils that are not fertile and have a pH level around 4.7. Grow the red varieities in shaded areas with moist soil. Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station claims Japanese blood grass is rarely damaged by deer.
Japanese Blood Grass
Giant Reed (Arundo donax), also known as carrizo, has thick culms (stems) that can grow up to 20-feet tall. The stems of this deer-resistant ornamental grass can even be used as garden stakes once the plant has died back in the fall and dried out. The 2-inch leaves can grow up to 24-inches in length. This growth habit gives the overall appearance of a corn plant. These might look innocent enough, but the leaves are surprisingly sharp and can cut hands, legs and forearms if you aren’t careful handling this deer-resistant ornamental grass. No wonder this is one of the ornamental grasses deer won’t eat! They have a 1-2 foot long purple plume that fades to silver as the plant ages. While it tolerates most garden soils-and can tolerate drought, it thrives in moist soil and can even survive periods of standing water. It is one of the ornamental grasses deer won’t eat that might not flower in areas with long, cold winters, but the foliage will come back. Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station claims giant reed is rarely damaged by deer.
Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) is also known as Chinese fountain grass, Chinese pennisetum and swamp foxtail. There are several varieties of these ornamental grasses deer won’t eat. Fountain grass grows in clumps that slowly expand. This deere-resistant ornamental grass grows to a height ranging from 2-4 feet. The flowering spikelets are approximately 8-inches long and resemble bottle brushes. The spikelets color ranges from a washed-out yellow to purple. There are a number of cultivars of these ornamental grasses deer won’t eat to choose from. ‘Little Bunny” only grows up to 1-foot tall. ‘Little Honey” is also short and has leaves with white stripes. ‘Moudry’ produces exceptionally dark purple flowers that appear almost black. ‘Paul’s Giant’ can grow up to 5-feet tall and has tan flowers. Grow this deer-resistant ornamental grass deer in a sunny location. They can tolerate some shade but do best in full sun. They tolerate short periods of drought once they become established. Plant Fountain grass in masses for eye-popping results. Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station claims fountain grass is rarely damaged by deer.
Blue fescue (Festuca glauca) is also known as garden fescue or gray fescue. This deer-resistant ornamental grass grows in clumps up to 12-inches tall and has a similar width. The arching leaves roll back towards the ground. During summer, spikelets of uninteresting flowers appear on stems that grow higher than the blue-gray foliage of this deer-resistant ornamental grass. After a few years, blue fescue tends to die out in the middle of the plant. When this happens, simply dig it up, divide the clump and replant. It can tolerate some shade but develops richer color when grown in full sun. If you live in an area that is especially hot, grow it in an area that receives some afternoon shade. These ornamental grasses that deer won’t eat grow best in well-draining, poor sandy soil. They don’t like moist soil or high humidity levels. You can choose from a number of cultivars. Some choices are ‘Blue Finch’, ‘Sea Urchin’, ‘Caesia’ and ‘Harz’. ‘Blue Finch’ has dull bluish leaves and only grows up to 6-inches tall. ‘Sea Urchin’ has very thin foliage, ‘Caesia’ has exceptionally vivivid blue leaves and ‘Harz’ has deep olive green foliage with purple tinged edges. Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station claims blue fescue is one of the ornamental grasses deer won’t eat that are rarely damaged by deer.