If you live in the southeast and mid-Atlantic parts of the United States, you are probably familiar with the two greatest threats to your landscape: deer and drought.

Deer are beautiful creatures, but they can make quick work of destroying many weeks of hard work in the yard. Drought, or an extended period of time without rain, works more slowly than your local deer population, but insufficient rain will ultimately have a similar effect.

No gardener wants to see their hard work—not to mention their financial investment—go to waste, but is it really possible to combat Mother Nature?

There is no perfect solution, but you can certainly make your landscaping less palatable to deer and more likely to survive weeks without rain. Keep reading to learn more!

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Gardens in Virginia

slightly overgrown backyardVirginia is known for its temperate climate and four distinct seasons. Because of its location on the east coast, Virginia does get its fair share of snow in the winter and heavy rain in the spring and summer, especially during tropical storm season.

The state’s agreeable temperatures mean that gardeners have a lot of choices when it comes to selecting plants. Aside from tropical species that need many hours of hot sun nearly year-round, you’d be hard pressed to find a plant that wouldn’t settle happily into a Virginia backyard.

Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a newbie, keep these few facts in mind as you plan your landscape:

  • Virginia falls into the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zones 5a through 8a. For the most part, Northern Virginia is in Zone 7b.
  • The first frost typically occurs in mid-November; the last frost occurs in mid-April.
  • Though temperatures are comfortable, the area’s soil is largely clay and will not provide plants with the necessary nutrients unless the soil is enriched. If you don’t already compost, now is the time to start!
  • To avoid creating a serious nutrient imbalance, contact your local agricultural extension for a soil test that will help you determine which amendments to use. Aim to test your soil about once every three years.

Deer-Resistant Flowers and Shrubs

deer eating plants in gardenTo an extent, deer are just part of life in the United States. In Virginia, the most common deer species is the white-tailed deer, and if you live anywhere near a wooded area or a park, chances are good that you’ve seen one or two.

Deer tend to be most active at dawn and dusk, so if you’re losing plants to these critters, you might not ever see them. If you suspect that deer are using your yard as their personal pantry, look for these signs to be sure:

  • Deer tracks—their hoof prints look much like a heart turned upside down
  • Missing foliage on the lower six feet of shrubs and bushes
  • Areas of missing bark on trees
  • Ripped leaves with no evidence of bite marks

Once you have proof of deer visiting your yard, start taking steps to encourage them to snack elsewhere. A good place to begin is by replacing your plants and shrubs with varieties that deer don’t find very tasty.

Deer-resistant plants

Most sources agree that deer love soft plants and flowers that don’t give off a strong scent, with roses being a common exception—those soft petals are just too delicious for deer to resist!

As a result, you’ll find that most of the plants reputed to be less-than-tasty to your neighborhood deer family share some common traits. In most cases, these plants will be pungently scented, a little prickly, and have tough or fuzzy leaves and stems.

Check out this list of popular deer-resistant plants, trees, and flowers to get started!

  • Boxwood
  • Forsythia
  • Common buttonbush
  • Eastern redbud
  • Bald cypress
  • Sycamore
  • Crape myrtle
  • American holly
  • Hardy geranium
  • Virginia iris
  • Snapdragon
  • Begonia
  • Marigold
  • Lupine
  • Golden rod
  • Butterfly milkweed
  • Almost any herb
  • Most ferns

There is, of course, always a chance that deer will take a liking to something that sources swear won’t be palatable, so be patient and willing to endure some trial and error as you build a landscape that critters will leave alone.

Drought-Resistant Plants

drought-resistant flowers and grassesRegardless of the season, extended periods of time without rain are a concern for any gardener. In Northern Virginia, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality is the best source for determining the actions you should take to conserve water in drought conditions.

  • In a drought watch, you are not required to take specific actions to conserve water.
  • In a drought warning, you will be notified of steps to take to conserve water, but taking action is not mandatory.
  • In a drought emergency, you will be required to take water-saving actions. You may be able to water your garden only on certain days, or you could be prohibited from watering your yard altogether.

While the threat of severe drought isn’t as present in Northern Virginia as it is in other parts of country, planning a drought-tolerant landscape is a good way to follow through on a commitment to lessening your environmental impact.

And really, who’s going to complain about a low water bill, right?

Low-water landscaping

You may know low-water landscaping by its more official name: xeriscaping. This type of landscaping is popular in areas where droughts are not unusual, but it’s becoming more common in all parts of the country as concerns about water usage become more pressing.

An advantage to low-water landscaping is that the plants you choose will already be adapted to thriving in dry soil without the need for supplemental watering—and you’ll have plenty of options beyond succulents!

If you’re partial to native flowers, shrubs, and grasses, low-water landscaping is right up your alley. And if you’re not as concerned about landscaping with solely native plants, not to worry—you’ll have an even larger selection of drought-tolerant plants to choose from.

Use the following list as a starting point, and be sure to follow recommendations on planting depth, soil type, and sunlight tolerance for each plant.

  • Arborvitae
  • Bradford pear
  • Leyland cypress
  • Star magnolia
  • Serviceberry
  • Juniper bush
  • Nandina
  • Butterfly bush
  • Hosta (though any deer in the area will be pleased with this selection!)
  • Peony
  • Iris
  • Hydrangea
  • Wild indigo
  • Yarrow
  • Bee balm
  • Lantana
  • Purple love grass
  • Bluestem grass

Just like any other garden-related venture, crafting a drought-tolerant landscape will take time. Take advantage of the resources available at your local garden center—the employees there most likely love to work in their own yards and will have plenty of recommendations for plants that won’t require supplemental watering.

Tips for Surviving Deer and Drought

wood privacy fenceLooking for additional ways to deter deer and prevent your hard work from going to waste in dry weather? Check out this list for tips worth trying:

1. Install a fence.

Unfortunately, deer are expert jumpers, so you’ll need to plan for a fence that is six to eight feet tall. Contact a Best Pick fence contractor to talk materials and design.

2. Cover rows of vegetables.

DIY garden row coverCheck your local garden supply store for garden row covers. Row covers can also be a good DIY project if you have the time (and energy). Unfortunately, any tall or difficult-to-cover plants will run the risk of being a snack.

3. Try deer repellant products.

While you’ll want to keep these products away from edible plants, deer repellants do work—especially those that are strongly scented. If you’d rather stay away from smelly stuff, try hanging CDs, strips of white fabric, or metallic party streamers around your garden. Deer will spook and run off at motion they don’t recognize.

4. Water at the right time and in the right amounts.

garden hose coiled on groundIf you’re not already an early riser, you’ll need to fake it to help your yard survive a drought. Water your lawn or garden in the morning between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. to ensure the water has time to penetrate the ground before it evaporates. A good rule of thumb is to give your lawn an inch of water per week.

5. Fight drought with greywater.

Greywater is used water collected from your sinks, showers, bathtubs, and washing machine. You can’t use this water on root vegetables or the edible parts of fruits and veggies, but it’s perfectly safe for use in watering your lawn, any inedible landscaping, and the roots of edible plants like tomatoes, squash, and peppers.

The Bottom Line

Designing and cultivating a yard that will withstand both herds of deer and periods of drought takes time and planning, but it is doable—and incredibly rewarding.

  • Make a list of plants that will thrive in your yard, taking into account especially sunny or shady spots.
  • If you’ve seen deer in your yard before, decide on the deer-deterrent methods you’d like to try, and have them on hand as you start planting.
  • If time gets away from you in the morning, consider using drip irrigation hoses attached to a simple timer to ensure that your yard gets the water it needs at the right time. If it fits your budget, have a sprinkler system installed.

If DIY landscaping isn’t your thing, don’t fret! Landscaping professionals in your area will be able to handle your entire project—from putting a design together to sourcing the right plants to getting those plants in the ground.

Whether you do it yourself or hire someone else, a beautiful, resilient lawn is well within your reach!

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