For the last ten days, spring has played tag with winter here, and it’s snowed four times, between 70-degree days. Yet, garden centers are brimming with bedding plants, and the calendar says I should be planting. Hopefully, next week I can load up the cart at the nursery and get into the garden. Meanwhile, I’m evaluating the plants available and drawing a planting map.
I have critter problems. Deer, rabbits, chipmunks and wild turkeys roam free, as I’m out in the country. They do damage to everything green. The trick is finding plants they avoid. I like flowers that I don’t have to deadhead, too. A confession: I’m really a lazy gardener!
Below is my list of perennials and annuals that solve my problems—ones that I hope to be planting in a week or two.
Critter-Proof Plants List
Most munchers usually avoid plants with thorny or fuzzy foliage and those with strong aromas like lavender. To save your most valued flowers, situate them in the center of beds closest to the house or against the house. Why? Deer and rabbits  nibble on the outside edges of plantings furthest away from buildings.
Rabbits avoid calendulas, chrysanthemums, columbines, four o’clocks, foxglove, gladiolas, hollyhocks, impatiens, iris, larkspur, morning glories, nicotiana, snapdragons, sweet peas and verbena.
Deer steer clear of ageratum, begonias, chrysanthemums, columbines, coreopsis, cosmos, foxglove, iris, lavender, monarda, purple coneflower, rudbeckia, salvia, Shasta daisies, verbena, vinca, yarrow, zinnias.
Surround your favorite blooms with ones deer and rabbits hate to protect them. Photo courtesy of the National Garden Bureau.
No or Low Maintenance Plants
Begonia, ageratum, lobelia, coleus and alyssum need no deadheading. Neither do Flower Carpet and Knock-Out roses.
"Pow Wow" echinacea or coneflower is a tough, reliable bloomer in almost every climate. Photo courtesty of Ball Seed Co.
Plants That Grow in Any Climate
Cleome, impatiens, petunias, marigolds and zinnias are annuals that perform well everywhere. Perennials that are guaranteed to bloom all over the country include ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum, coneflowers, coreopsis, rudbeckia and yarrow.
Two of my favorite flowers also grow everywhere and are tough. ‘Silver Tidal Wave’ petunia is one of the first in the Tidal Waves series. Its lavender-white flowers deadhead themselves, they need no pinching to grow lushly and the plants spread or more. Stems grow a couple of inches each day, creating three-foot-tall hedges ablaze with blooms.
My favorite perennial is ‘Mardi Gras’ helenium, a plant-and-forget perennial covered with orange flowers from July until frost. Hummingbirds, butterflies and yellow finch love this punch of powerful color.
I’m on my way to my favorite garden center to buy. Tell me what you are planting this spring.
Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.
In stores now!
Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including amazon.com .