In my last post, I lamented the deer making a meal out of my Monarda. Generally, however, it is fortunate circumstance that many of the best hummingbird plants are relatively deer resistant. Many of the best hummingbird plants, including Monarda didyma, Stachys coccinea (pictured above) and plants in the genus Salvia and Agastache are in the mint family and have fragrant foliage which deer generally avoid.
Plants in the genus Penstemon are also deer resistant, which is a good thing because the genus contains many great hummingbird plants. I’ve never had any problem with deer munching on penstemon in my garden, with one notable exception. My sand bed (subject of a future post) contains a variety of hardy species Penstemon, and is the first portion of my garden to provide substantial early color and nectar for hummingbirds, usually throughout the month of June. Once the snow melts the rosettes of leaves resume growth quickly and I eagerly await the appearance of the soon-to-follow flowering spikes. One night a couple of years ago in May when the flowering spikes were just beginning to shoot skyward, a deer visited my garden and nipped off every single flowering spike in my sand bed, greatly reducing that year’s penstemon show. Other than that single disastrous night, I’ve never had a deer so much as nibble on one leaf of any penstemon in my garden.
Oddly enough, most of my deer problems involve hummingbird plants that are native to the Upper Midwest. The deer love my native columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) as well as royal catchfly (Silene regia) as well as S. virginica. These I have to spray with deer repellant in order to have any hope of seeing them bloom.
One plant I’ve never had luck with is a native annual, orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). I once prepared a whole bed to devote to a large patch of jewelweed, and obtained seed to direct sow into the bed in the fall. The next spring I had an abundance of seedlings, but I soon discovered that deer love it, and I could never keep ahead of the marauding deer. By the time late summer rolled around, not a single plant remained to put out blooms. I still have a few seeds leftover in that bed germinate every year, but they always get eaten by deer long before they bloom. I still enjoy seeing jewelweed in bloom in the wild in the nearby Cannon River bottoms. If you find a patch of this plant blooming in the wild, it is almost guaranteed that you will see hummers battling over the blooms. Blooming seems perfectly timed with the peak of southbound hummingbird migration.