Are Black-Eyed Susans Deer Resistant in the Garden?

Black-Eyed Susans are some of the most popular flowers across the United States. But when you plant them in your garden, can you expect deer to come and eat them? Garden and flower expert Taylor Sievers walks through what to expect from deer when you plant rudbeckia in your garden.

Deer Eating Flowers

While some people may delight at the sight of a handful of deer traipsing around their backyard, don’t be surprised when you see your zealous gardener friend being thrown into a frenzy at the sight of a mere hoofprint next to their beloved garden. Deer can wreak havoc not only in a vegetable garden, but they can also graze on your flowers, trees, and even potted plants!

A popular flower in many native plant or xeriscape gardens is the beloved black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia species). Not many gardens exist without these iconic yellow perennial flowers with dark centers that are pollinator magnets.

If you’re a new gardener, then these beauties are worth a try–but are these flowers going to stand up to the challenge of the munching jaws of Bambi? In this article you’ll get to find out!

Are Black Eyed Susans Deer Resistant?

Let’s just start this off by saying that, Yes, Black-eyed susans are deer resistant. Unlike rabbits who will eat them, Rudbeckia is considered a deer resistant perennial in the garden due to their typically rough leaves and stems. This makes them unpalatable for deer and other critters.

Unpalatable means unsavory or inedible. In a nutshell, the foliage is just not that tasty. However, never rule out the fact that if deer are hungry enough, they’ll try to munch on anything they can. For the most part, if you’re planting a Rudbeckia species, then you’ll plants will likely be unbothered by these wild ruminant animals.

About Black-Eyed Susans

Black Eyed Susans
These beautiful flowers add a splash of color to gardens all across the United States.

Black-eyed susans are members of the Rudbeckia genus. Most often the common name of “black-eyed susan” refers to the flower species Rudbeckia hirta. In some instances, you may find other species within the genus also being referred to as black-eyed susan as well. Whatever the case, Rudbeckia flowers typically have prominent brown or black center disks with single or double rows of petals (ray flowers) in shades of yellow, orange, mahogany, and more.

The stems and leaves of R. hirta are typically pubescent, meaning they’re covered in small hairs. This makes the plant very rough to touch if you were to brush up against it in the garden. So, you can imagine why a deer may find it less than desirable to munch on.

Black-eyed susans prefer full sun and well-drained soil. They benefit from early sowing. This means that you can sow them in the ground about two weeks prior to your expected last frost date (or more). When I start my black-eyed susan seeds inside, I will pop the seed in the freezer for at least two weeks before planting them in a cell tray. The seeds are small, so make sure to sow on the surface or no deeper than ¼ inch. If you are direct sowing into the garden, plant the seeds in a shallow furrow or lightly rake broadcasted seeds into the soil. Raking the seeds into the soil when broadcasting will ensure the seeds aren’t carried off by wind or surface water.

These plants are tough once established because they are drought and heat tolerant. They’re a staple in native plant gardens in much of the United States. The flowers are not only beautiful in the landscape, but they make excellent cut flowers, too.

Factors that Affect Deer Feeding

Animal in Garden

Deer feeding habits are affected by several factors. Most gardeners and commercial growers employ several methods in order to prevent deer feeding. This can be particularly challenging because of the changing of eating habits throughout the season or due to a deer’s natural ability to jump tall fences. Deer can jump remarkably high. This means a normal fence just won’t cut it if you wish to keep them out of your garden!

Below are a few factors that may affect deer feeding in the garden.

Seasonal Plant Availability

Animal Eating Spring Flowers
Deer will expand their palettes depending on seasonally availability.

Think about the seasons in temperate climates for a moment. It’s a natural reaction that any animal going hungry will eat a plant that’s not in their typical diet. This is usually due to the scarcity of plants they typically feed on, especially in the Winter time.

Black-eyed susans are typically not much more than dead plant material in the winter. However, it’s still possible that a group of hungry deer may try to feed on them in the late Fall or early Spring when a lot of other plant material is scarce.

Also, less desirable plants may have more of an opportunity of being fed on in the Spring when fresh, succulent new plant growth begins to emerge. This new growth is often particularly enticing because of its high sugar and low fiber content.

Palatability of the Plant

Black Eyed Susans in Garden
These flowers, along with other spiny or aromatic plants, should keep the deer away.

As mentioned before, black-eyed susans are not typically part of a deer’s natural diet. This is due to the rough texture of the leaves and stems of this plant. Rough-textured plants, plants with spines, and aromatic plants are often proposed as deer resistant plants in the garden. Deer don’t typically find these plants as “tasty”.

Aromatic plants are those that produce aromatic compounds. Think of the many herbs grown in gardens like mint, sage, and lavender. It’s easy for even a human to smell the aromatic compounds produced by these plants just by simply walking by a bed of one of these herbs. While these scents may be pleasing to our noses, they may not be as enticing for an animal.

Weather Patterns

Animal Outdoors in Winter
Changes in weather can affect deer feeding.

Weather can be unpredictable. Gardeners may expect that when the Winter is long or cold, a late or early snow causes shock and dieback to growing plants. But it’s also worth taking note if a drought occurs that affects plant production. Any of these weather events can change the feeding habits of deer to be different than normal.

Specific Nutritional Needs of the Animal

Multiple Animals Grazing
If deer population increases, your garden may be at risk.

Nutritional needs are often related to weather patterns or seasonal plant availability. Again, if an animal is hungry enough, plants that they may not have been considered as a part of a deer’s diet may become more enticing due to food scarcity.

Also, overgrazing can be a concern in areas where populations of wildlife are above or close to the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. If deer population goes up to the point where desirable plants are overgrazed, then their diet may change to include less palatable or less desirable plants. This is how deer adapt to achieve adequate nutrition for survival.

How to Repel Deer From the Garden

Deer Behind Fence
With a little forethought, you should be able to protect your garden.

While black-eyed susans may not be the favorite of deer, in certain areas of high population or reduced plant availability due to weather or overgrazing, gardeners may still have problems with deer munching on their beloved plants. Here’s some tips on repelling deer from the garden to reduce the chances of loss due to feeding by deer.

Placement and Selection of Plants

Flowers Surround Vegetables
Surround your garden with less palatable plants to protect your vegetables and favorite flowers.

Plant susceptible species of plants either close to your house. This way, they can be monitored or inside areas that are more difficult to get to like inside a fence. Also, choose species that are less palatable to deer and plant them around susceptible plants in order to reduce temptation.

Deer Repellants

Deer Repellant in Tree
Purchase repellants from stores or make your own at home.

Deer repellants can be contact or area repellants. Contact repellents are applied directly to the plant. Area repellents are placed in the general area of the susceptible plants. Repellents can be purchased from garden centers or plant nurseries (such as predator urine) or home remedies can be used as well.

Some examples of repellents are bar soap hung from trees, small mesh bags filled with human hair, or spraying a mixture of eggs and water on plants directly. Mint oils that are combined with other spices or herbs (like garlic, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and citrus) can be used in and around the garden as well to reduce deer feeding.

Netting or Fencing for Physical Barriers

Wire Fence
Make sure your fencing is easy to see to avoid entanglement or injuries.

You can purchase UV-resistant netting to place over the top of small plants or fence in your garden. Deer fencing must be at least 8 foot tall. Typically the fence is made out of woven wire. In some instances, electrified fencing may be used. But it’s important to make the fence visible so deer see it and do not run right through it. If using electric fencing, variable heights and depths may be used to prevent deer from crossing the fence.

Plant Highly Aromatic Plants

Herbs in Garden
Plant aromatic herbs like mint, dill and oregano as a deterant.

The most widely used aromatic plants are typically perennial or culinary herbs. Aromatic plants are those that produce compounds that are heavily-scented or that produce offensive scents to deer. Some examples of aromatic plants that can be planted around or throughout the garden to repel deer are artemisia, tansy, yarrow, mint, thyme, tarragon, dill, oregano, and chives.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does deer resistant mean?

A plant is deer resistant when it is not desirable for the deer to consume, and therefore the plant is usually not bothered by deer. There are many factors that can go into the reason for deer resistance.

The most common reason deer would find a plant undesirable is due to the rough-textured nature of a plant with many hairs or spines or because the plant produces offensive or strong-smelling aromatic compounds.

What are some examples of deer resistant plants?

Most aromatic herbs like dill, tansy, yarrow, mint, and thyme are considered deer resistant. However, there are several lists that have been compiled that include perennial herbaceous plants, woody plants, and other herbaceous annuals that are deer resistant.

Some of the most popular plants for the garden or landscape that are considered deer resistant are common boxwood, dahlias, marigolds, purple coneflower, black-eyed susans, butterfly bush, lavender, Shasta daisies, and poppies to name a few.

What is the best deer repellent?

A study from W.F. Andelt et al. tested various repellents on captive mule deer and ranked them according to their repellent efficacy. The following repellents were listed as having “high” repellent capabilities for mule deer:

  • 6.2% Hot Sauce.
  • 20/80% mixture of eggs and water.
  • Deer Away.
  • Big Game Repellent.
  • 100% coyote urine.

It should be noted that one of the most effective ways of “repelling” deer is installing deer fencing around your garden using woven wire at a height of at least 8 feet tall.

Final Thoughts

Although wildlife can be a welcome sight in the backyard for some people, there are times when a garden may not be able to exist due to excessive feeding by wildlife like deer. If this is the case where you live, you may first consider planting deer resistant plants like the black-eyed susan!

While resistant plants aren’t always safe from these pesky critters, you’ll find that you’ll have less damage to your garden if you’re choosing the correct plants. You should also utilize fencing, and experimenting with different deer repellents.

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