Do Deer Eat Hostas? Will They Attract Deer to My Garden?

Are you thinking of planting some hostas this season, but want to make sure they won't end up as deer chow before you start? In this article, certified master gardener and hosta enthusiast Laura Elsner walks through what you can expect from your local deer population if you decide to start adding hostas to your garden this season.

Deer Hostas

Hostas are leafy garden marvels. They fill up shady areas with their large luscious leaves in every shade of green. They are also incredibly easy to care for as they basically manage themselves. Hostas also grow quickly, which is great for gardeners who like almost instant gratification.

Deer are majestic creatures, I always stop to marvel at their beauty and grace when I see them. However, there is one place I never like to see them. In gardens! These cute creatures can wreak havoc on our beloved outdoor spaces. 

But, are hostas considered a free “deer buffet” that they can come eat anytime they like? Are they considered a deer resistant perennial, or will hostas actually attract deer to your garden? There’s a short answer and a long answer to this question, and we are going to explore both in more detail. Let’s jump in!

The Short Answer

The short answer is that yes, deer love to eat hostas. In fact, hostas are often referred to as “deer chow” in many gardening circles and online gardening communities. But don’t let that deter you from planting them! There are ways to plant them in your garden, and keep deer away from them. Typical deer prevention methods include fencing, deer deterrents, and having pets regularly roam your garden.

 

About Hostas 

Beautiful Hostas in Shade Garden
Hostas are popular as low growing perennials in shaded areas.

First, let’s talk hostas. Hostas are a staple in many gardens. They grow in zones 3-8 making them an option for many American gardeners. They are a foliage plant. While they do flower in late summer, usually light lavender flowers, they are mostly grown for their beautiful foliage.  

They come in so many patterns and shades of greens. You can have a garden filled with only hostas and it will be anything but boring! In fact, hostas come in many different varieties, with over 3,000 for gardeners to choose from to be exact!

Another benefit of hostas is that they do not spread. They stay neatly in their space. Growing large in size (until they reach their full maturity), but never creeping or spreading, making them a great low-maintenance plant. 

Hostas are also very edible. When the new shoots poke out of the ground you can trim some of them off and steam them and fry them in butter for a delicious spring vegetable. Their leaves are also perfectly edible. They have thick leaves so it is kind of like eating kale.  

Most people wouldn’t be interested in eating the leaves. Grow lettuce, it’s more delicious (of course deer will gladly eat lettuce too!). But deer, they think hostas are delicious. They will eat hostas down to stumps before they even start to unfurl. I’ve seen it many times and in many gardens. The hostas will regrow, but it is annoying nonetheless. 

The Long Answer: Deer & Hostas

Young Fawn in a Meadow
Since hostas are edible, many deer like to munch on them.

Deer prefer to eat young hostas. They prefer to eat the more tender leaf green varieties’. They are less likely to eat the thicker leaf varieties like the blue hosta variety ‘blue angel’. This is not always a guarantee though, a hungry deer will eat almost anything. Deer are one of the most common problems hosta gardeners will face depending on your location.

If your hostas have been munched by deer in the early spring when they are the most delicious, don’t worry, they’ll grow back. Cut off the damaged leaves and give the hosta a good drink.  

Then apply fertilizer. I like a natural soil conditioner derived from fish as opposed to a chemical one. This will boost your hosta and it should send up new shoots. After that, I would employ some deer deterrent strategies that I’ve listed below. 

Unfortunately, if a deer munches a hosta late in the season it won’t regrow. Give it a good watering and add fertilizer so it can recover and grow back next season (it will). 

How to Deter Deer 

So now that I’ve answered the question that deer will eat hostas, they love to eat hostas, and they will come to your garden specifically to eat your hostas. But you love the hostas! Where do we go from there?  

There are various ways to deter deer from entering your garden and eating your plants. Some methods work better than others. Sometimes you will have to combine methods and change up the methods. Look through and see what is a manageable solution for you and start trying things out. 

Fencing & Hedges

Deer Foraging in a Garden
When installing a fence around your garden, make sure it is tall enough to actually keep deer out.

I’m going to start with one of the most effective methods. But also one of the most costly and drastic methods. Getting a fence with a gate around the perimeter of your garden will keep the deer out

Another option for fencing would be to grow a hedge. This will take some time and patience, but the results are beautiful. Try using cotoneaster, boxwood, ninebark, or Lilacs. These are all shrubs that deer don’t really like to munch and are easily turned into hedges. 

I have also seen log fences with gaps in them that a deer could technically fit through, but planted with an inner perimeter of monkshood. Monkshood is a toxic perennial that deer will not sample. They are tall and look good along a fence line. 

Deterrent Sprays 

Gardener Spraying Hosta Plants
There are a number of deterrent sprays you can purchase to keep deer away from your hostas.

You can purchase sprays from your local garden center that can keep deer away from your hostas. You simply spray on the hostas and it will deter deer from going near. The problem with this method is you will have to keep reapplying the spray after it rains or after a certain amount of time when it wears off.  

Sprinklers 

Sprinkler System in a Garden
Sprinklers are a great way to keep deer away from your garden, especially if they have a motion detector.

You can purchase automated sprinklers that are motion-activated. A deer comes by for a munch and gets sprayed with a shot of water. This will usually spook a deer. But, a hungry deer that has figured out your sprinkler trick may not be deterred by a bit of water. 

Animals 

Bernie Dog Next to Hosta Plant
Dogs can work excellently as the protector of your garden plants.

More specifically, a dog, even a small one. A barking dog that can scare and chase the deer away. They will also mark their territory which naturally deters prey animals. Your neighbors may not like it, but your hostas will look great. 

Home Remedies  

Human Hair
Spreading human hair clippings is one home remedy you can use to deter deer.

There are so many of these home remedies. I’ve decided to group them into one category. These remedies do work to varying degrees. But if you have the ingredients and the time, it’s worth a try to keep the deer off your garden. 

Human Hair

This may seem like a weird one. But it is true: human hair will deter deer. So save any hair clippings and sprinkle them around your hostas.

Blood Meal

Blood meal can be purchased from your local garden center. It is used as a fertilizer. I will dip bulbs in it before planting them to deter rabbits and give them a boost of energy. Sprinkle it in and around your hostas. It will have to be reapplied after rain or irrigation/watering, etc.

Garlic, Onions, Peppers, Herbs 

You can boil up a concoction of all sorts of stinky things and bottle it into a spray bottle. Deer do not like strong odors and will avoid them. However, these remedies will have to be reapplied often. There are many various recipes you can find for homemade stinky sprays.

Hosta Alternatives

Unfortunately, sometimes it becomes a losing battle. Especially if you live in an area where there are lots of deer present. If you are constantly dealing with them munching your garden, and you are sick of it, try planting some alternatives to hostas. These will still feed the need for beautiful foliage, but the deer will be more likely to leave alone. 

Lungwort 

Lungwort Flowers
These lovely flowers have a texture that is unappealing to deer, so they are safe in the garden.
Scientific Name: Pulmonaria  
  • Plant Type: Herbaceous perennials
  • Geographic Origin: Europe and western Asia
  • Plant Size: 6-12 inches tall
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Shade
  • Hardiness Zone: 3-8

Lungwort is an early spring blooming perennial. It has small, bell-shaped flowers in pink and purple. After it finishes its spring blossoms its leaves fill in. They are large and green like hosta leaves, with lighter colored spots on them giving them interest. This shade-loving perennial has fuzzy leaves that deer find unpalatable and will leave it alone. 

Bergenia 

Bergenia Flowers
The tough texture of bergenia foliage is unfavorable to deer.
Scientific Name: Bergenia  
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Asia
  • Plant Size: 1-3 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun, partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 5-8

Bergenia is an evergreen perennial that thrives in the shade. It is commonly known as elephant ear because of its large glossy ear-shaped leaves. It blooms in large spikes of pink flowers in early spring. Then it is a lovely foliage marvel, much like a hosta, for the rest of the season. Deer dislike its tough and leathery foliage. 

Coral Bells 

Coral Bells Red Foliage
Coral Bells are a colorful and beautiful alternative to planting hostas.
Scientific Name: Heuchera  
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: North America
  • Plant Size: 18″
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade
  • Hardiness Zone: 3 to 9

I have often said that coral bells are a hosta’s best friend. This shady leafy marvel comes in a variety of colors. Green, purple, red, and yellow to name a few. They have beautiful ruffled foliage that adds texture and interest to a garden, much like a hosta. But unlike a hosta, coral bells are not chosen by deer as a snack as often. They are drought tolerant perennials that thrive in shady areas.

Rhubarb 

Rhubarb Leaves in Garden
Though it is a vegetable, rhubarb can be grown ornamentally in the garden.
Scientific Name: Rheum rhubarbarum  
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: North America
  • Plant Size: 3 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade
  • Hardiness Zone: 2 to 6

This one might be more unexpected, but I have been known to call rhubarb poor man’s hosta. It is cheap, prolific, and grows giant green leaves that appear very hosta-like. Deer might sample rhubarb in the early spring when it first emerges. But once it matures the leaves become unpalatable to deer. Rhubarb is better for colder climate gardens, and can be grown in shady areas.

Final Thoughts  

As gardeners, we spend countless hours tending to our gardens. Pests are always something we have to deal with. Bugs, slugs, squirrels, and rabbits, there’s always something eating our gardens. It is a balancing act to keep things thriving. When deer come and devour our hard work it is disheartening.  

Finding ways to deter deer from eating our hostas may or may not work depending on how hungry they are and what other food sources are available. You may need to try a few methods or a combination of them listed above to successfully save your hostas. Good luck! 

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