Due to their rumored health benefits, you might have heard of coneflowers (Echinacea spp.). Sadly, there’s no solid evidence they’re beneficial for your body, but they can be pretty helpful to your garden.
These attractive flowering plants are tolerant to both drought and heat once established. Mankind them an excellent addition to many southern gardens.
However, these areas can also be prone to hungry deer, which love having a tasty garden salad. But how vulnerable are coneflowers to deer attack, and what can you do to protect them further?
Do Deer Eat Coneflowers?
Coneflowers are considered deer-resistant plants. However, that doesn’t mean they’re immune to getting munched on by a hungry deer.
Are Coneflowers Deer-Resistant?
But wait, didn’t we say coneflowers are deer resistant?
A common mistake gardeners make is to equate being resistant to being immune.
In reality, a deer will snack on just about any plant if hungry enough.
However, what makes a plant deer resistant is how likely a deer is to turn his nose up at that plant when other options are available.
Coneflowers have a spiny core that deer find unpalatable, as well as an unpleasant (to their sensitive noses) scent.
An established coneflower is thus similar to grabbing a hamburger full of gristle instead of a tender turkey burger – both are edible. Still, one is smoother in texture and has higher quality than the other.
However, coneflowers tend to be vulnerable throughout the winter when there’s a scarcity of greens.
They can also be quite vulnerable in the spring when tender young shoots and leaves are at their richest in nitrogen.
Deer are one of Nature’s native gardeners, and they’ll target some plants over others as part of a natural failsafe against over-forestation.
Can Coneflowers Recover from a Deer Attack?
The aftermath of a deer raid can be frightening.
Stems are torn apart, plants with weaker roots may be yanked entirely out of the ground, and both foliage and flowers are horribly mangled – it can look like a war zone.
But the good news is that coneflowers usually sustain very little damage compared to more edible plants, allowing them to bounce back with a bit of help.
Begin by pruning away damaged stems or leaves so the plant can focus on healthy growth.
Next, add a little extra fertilizer or place a bit of compost on top of the soil to help feed the new growth (don’t overdo it).
Third, check the plant frequently so you can keep up with any watering or pruning needs to ensure the best possible recovery.
Finally, think about ways to protect your garden from future deer attacks further.
Ways To Protect Your Coneflowers
There are many ways to protect your garden from deer attacks, such as fencing and motion-sensing deterrents.
But perhaps the most helpful method is to use companion planting.
Companion planting (often called complementary gardening, even though the two are slightly different in their details) is a great way to protect a garden space from all sorts of problems, from weeds to pests – all while making it look great.
There are a few essential requirements when planting companions.
First, always be sure the plants share care requirements or have compatibility.
For example, a plant with shallow roots can be paired with a plant with deep roots in a smaller space, and the external plant will help prevent the deeper plant from being overwatered (but not vice versa).
Second, look at resistances and pair up so that, for example, a plant prone to aphids is protected by a plant that repels aphids or attracts natural predators.
In the case of deer, one of the best weapons is the scent.
Alliums are a great choice that adds floating, usually purple umbals to your garden display.
Depending on the species, these plants give off a scent of garlic or onion and are very good at keeping deer, rabbit, and other pests away outside of a significant food shortage.
Many kitchen herbs can also help repel deer.
Mint, thyme, rosemary, sage, basil – all of these plants give off a strong odor that deer prefer to avoid.
While they may have limited capabilities on their own, you can combine multiple strong-scented herbs to create a potpourri that smells wonderful to you but ensures deer keep you far away from your intense garden space.