Ask the Master Gardener: How you can keep animals from grazing on your garden

No plant or fencing can be said to be completely animal proof, but there are varieties and barriers that can help keep them at bay.

Dianthus (pinks) is one plant the deer leave alone in the author's gardens. Photo by Jennifer Knutson

Dear Master Gardener: In your experience, are there any perennials in your gardens that have proven to be deer resistant?

Answer: There have been many instances where I have stated that a plant is deer resistant, then the deer proved me wrong. Needless to say, I hesitate to declare a plant “deer resistant or deer proof.” With that said, there are a few plants that the deer have left alone in my gardens, while eating everything around them. Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle) has proven to be a plant in my gardens the deer and rabbits avoid. This plant is a great addition to the perennial garden because it has lovely, scallop-edged, pleated, light green leaves. After a rain beads of water accumulate on the leaves, which is a unique ornamental feature of the plant. Tiny chartreuse, star-shaped flowers appear mid-summer in loose, spreading clusters and last for several weeks. Green is a color that unifies the rest of the colors in a garden, so lady’s mantle is often used in garden designs. It has a tendency to aggressively reseed. Dianthus (pinks) is another plant the deer leave alone in my gardens. Dianthus are blooming now and make a real statement in the front of the border. They are very fragrant. Nepeta (catmint) is another plant that has been safe from deer and rabbit browsing. It has lovely blue-violet flowers that accent aromatic gray-green foliage. It has a very long season of bloom. With both Dianthus and Nepeta, if you shear them back when they are done blooming you will get a sporadic rebloom throughout the summer.

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Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle) has proven to be a plant deer and rabbits avoid in the author's garden. Photo by Jennifer Knutson

Dear Master Gardener: An animal is eating my cabbage plants and only the cabbage. It’s not an insect because there are no holes in the leaves. I have a 2-foot fence around the garden to keep out rabbits and nothing has burrowed under the fence. What animal could be eating my cabbage plants and bypassing the peas and other vegetables?


Answer: The fact that only the cabbage is getting eaten is quite mysterious! Squirrels could get over the fence and they will eat anything they can get their little paws on, including cabbage. Deer love cabbage — are the cabbage plants within their reach? Woodchucks find all vegetables in the cabbage family delectable. They especially like peas, so it’s strange they aren’t eating your peas. According to Professor Leonard Perry at the University of Vermont, the best way to keep out woodchucks (aka groundhogs) is to place heavy gauge rabbit fencing 3 feet above ground and bury the lower edge 1 foot in the ground to prevent burrowing. Bend the lower 6 inches outward in an L-shape. You may also bend the top foot or so of wire mesh outward at a 45-degree angle to inhibit climbing.

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Dear Master Gardener: Some of my snake plant leaves are flopping over. Why?

Answer: Sansevieria (snake plant) is a low-maintenance, popular houseplant that can reach 5 feet tall. Sometimes some of the leaves fall over. It could be caused by overwatering, not enough light, or incorrect repotting. It’s a succulent so it is imperative that it doesn’t get overwatered. I only water mine about once a month. Although it can tolerate low light levels, prolonged absence from bright light or exposure to direct sunlight may cause leaves to fall over. Sansevieria like being root-bound, so if you have to repot it, do so in a container that is only 1 inch (2 at the most) larger than its current one. If you repot your plant, check the roots. They should be firm. If they are mushy or blackish-brown in color they probably have rot. If the entire root system is mushy, you should throw away the plant. Sterilize the tools and pot afterwards. If there are still living roots, wash the roots, then cut away the infected parts of the roots with a sterilized pruner, and repot in fresh soil.

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Dear Master Gardener: We have a home in Minneapolis and our front yard is extremely shady. Do you have any recommendations for easy to maintain plants that don’t need much sun?

Answer: It depends on the amount of sunlight the area gets. Since it is for the front yard, I am assuming that you would like recommendations for foundation plantings and/or plantings under trees, so you would like shorter options versus taller. Microbiota (Russian cypress) gets 1 foot in height by 6 feet in width at maturity. It would make a good foundation shrub or ground cover under a shade tree. Just make sure they are planted about 3-1/2 feet out from the house if you are using them as a foundation planting. Dwarf yew can also tolerate heavy shade and can be pruned to keep them the size and shape you want. Again, check the mature width so you have it out far enough from your house. You don’t want shrubs touching the siding of your house. If you want a low-growing shrub for under trees, wintergreen is a native plant that can grow in full shade. It has white, bell-shaped flowers that bloom in early summer, then give way to edible bright red berries that last through winter. The leaves and fruit have the aroma and taste of wintergreen. Perennials that will grow in full shade include: ferns, hostas, Virginia bluebells, and Tiarella (foamflower). You could plant large or giant hostas as foundation plantings. There are many from which to choose. Check plant tags for the size hosta you would like. Blue colored hostas are your best hostas for full shade. If you need a groundcover for under trees, Galium odoratum (Sweet Woodruff) is a great choice for zone 4.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Can potted lilies be planted in the garden?

You may get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A master gardener will return your call. Or, emailing me at and I will answer you in the column if space allows.
University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. Information given in this column is based on university research.


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