Deer can be a huge problem for gardeners in rural or suburban settings. We haven’t quite reached the levels of Nara, Japan, but deer in the US are certainly becoming bolder around human habitations.
As a result, gardeners have become increasingly concerned about the safety of their gardens. As a result, they are trying to grow more deer-resistant plants in regions where these creatures are commonly found.
One plant type with a somewhat mixed reputation is the begonia, a versatile genus of flowering plants often touted as being resistant to deer. But is this claim really true or not?
Do Deer Eat Begonias?
Unfortunately, deer eat begonias, but the likelihood can vary based on several factors.
Let’s look at what makes some begonias more deer-resistant than others, then explore some simple ways to reduce the odds of a deer attack.
What Does “Deer-Resistant” Mean?
One of the biggest mistakes people make is to confuse “deer resistant” with “immune to deer.”
In reality, there is no known plant on this planet that deer won’t eat if hungry enough – even if it’s toxic to them.
But there are certainly some plants deer prefer over others, which prompted Rutgers University to create a four-category scale to depict how resistant plants are to deer attacks.
The scale is:
- Rarely Damaged (A)
- Seldom Severely Damaged (B)
- Occasionally Severely Damaged (C)
- Frequently Severely Damaged (D)
A report was released that included two types of begonia.
That said, let’s next look at what makes some begonias more resistant than others.
The Truth About Begonias
Over 2,000 species of begonia can vary quite a bit from one type to another.
Despite coming from just about every continent (except for Antarctica), it’s pretty easy to create hybrids between most begonias, leading to a crazy number of cultivars on the market.
To help keep things simple, the American Begonia Society has created several categories for begonias:
Deer prefer plants with soft, smooth leaves, herbaceous stems, and little to no scent.
Plants with coarse leaves, bitter flavor, strong scent, woody stems, hardened thorns (soft, green thorns such as on a young rose shoot are still palatable), or a fuzzy texture tend to be far less attractive.
When choosing begonias, consider these factors and try to pick species or cultivars that have characteristics deer dislike.
Some Begonia Types And Their Resistance Levels
Keeping the above qualities in mind, let’s look at a few common categories of begonia and how likely it is for deer to nibble on them.
Please keep in mind that there are exceptions even within these groups, which makes it important to focus on qualities over the type itself.
With 81 species and at least 2,000 known cultivars, it’s not easy to give a resistance rating for this category.
They’re best known for having tougher, bamboo-like canes and often smooth leaves that sometimes have toothy margins.
We suggest cane begonias fit somewhere in categories B and C, depending on the particular plant, as the leaves will make all the difference. Still, the woodier canes help ensure this won’t be a deer’s first choice.
Rex Cultorum Begonias
This curious category consists of the species Begonia rex and its cultivars, which now number well over 4,000!
The large leaves of rex begonias can make them quite attractive to deer, so the safety of these plants will come down to whether you pick one with smooth leaves or hairy leaves.
Semperflorens (AKA Wax) Begonias
This is another begonia type that hovers between categories B and C and is made up entirely of hybrids and cultivars. They tend to have thick, waxy leaves that are less appealing to deer.
In fact, most of the damage to this type is caused by uprooting, where the deer might yank one from the ground while attempting to taste the plant before deciding it’s not worth eating.
However, a popular hybrid of this group, the Dragon Wing®, has much more appealing smooth and glossy leaves and definitely falls into category D.
It should be noted that the Rutgers report erroneously lists wax begonias as “Begonia semperflorens,” despite no such species (this mistake is pretty common even in botanical circles and refers to Begonia cucullata, which briefly had this as its scientific name in the 1800s).
What About The Others?
The other categories of begonia can be quite complex, and even the American Begonia Society admits it can be hard to describe what fits into these categories.
However, the examples we’ve covered should give you a good idea of what makes a begonia more or less likely a candidate for a deer’s lunch menu.
Protecting Your Begonias
Let’s end by taking a brief look at some ways to make deer less keen on sampling your begonias.
- Fencing and deer netting are two popular methods for keeping deer out of your garden, although they can be a bit problematic when you consider a deer can vault over most fences if they’re hungry enough.
- A much easier tactic is to use companion planting, a tried-and-true method where plants that have similar care needs and provide benefits to each other are planted close together.
A great example is an ornamental allium, a relative of garlic and onions with a slight scent overpowering deer.
These plants will shoot up an attractive round or egg-shaped umbals that resemble something straight out of Dr. Seuss.
Likewise, most kitchen herbs are too strongly scented for deer, and a border of rosemary, sage, mint, basil, thyme or other herbs will assault the deer like someone shoving a bunch of old gym socks at your nose.
- A third option that’s a little less attractive (but just as effective) is to plant brambles around the perimeter of your garden. Hardened thorns are frustrating to deer, who will generally decide your plants aren’t worth all the scrapes and scratches.
For the best results, try mixing things up with various plants to create a heavenly potpourri that you and your family will love but will send deer running the other way.