Originally Published: May 4, 2012 9:55 p.m.
Many gardeners new to the area have never experienced the destruction that javelinas and bunnies on steroids (aka jackrabbits), can inflict on a garden. Gardeners with gardens targeted by these hungry vermin must take care in what they plant or the critters will decimate even the best gardening efforts.
To test for "animal-proofness" of plants, an entire section of our nursery's perennial house was dedicated to finding flowering plants that animals would be least likely to eat. The test results were so enlightening that we found plants that animals definitely would not touch! So here we go with my top 10 plant choices that local animals prefer to keep off their menus. I'll start with six of my favorite perennial bloomers and follow up with four great shrubs that vermin hate.
#1 Pink Cloud gaura - Red-tinged foliage grows like a hardy ground cover with masses of deep pink flowers fluttering 2 feet above the plants. Pink Cloud is sturdy with an upright habit that doesn't fall over like lesser gaura varieties. It is a showstopper at street level and in raised beds, and could live for years in a container garden.
#2 Moonshine yarrow - This easy to grow perennial is beautiful with upright, canary-yellow flower clusters. An outstanding Mediterranean aromatic, it is a sure bet for everlasting color in flowerbeds and cut or dried bouquets. It works nicely in dryland xeriscapes where its demands match those of arid western natives.
#3 Red Rum daylily - Animals in the yard or not, every landscape should have at least one of these vivid red flowers in the summer garden. Flowers of this prolific bloomer are held well above the grassy foliage so it is easily spotted in beds and borders. With its strap-shaped leaves complementing eye-catching flowers on long wand-like stems, this daylily offers dramatic relief against building foundations or between other shrubs.
#4 Winter bee lavender - The most exotic of lavenders, this plant produces super-sized deep purple flowers that fill the landscape with that distinctive lavender scent. Looks great as a container accent, but is rugged enough to serve as a mailbox sentinel. An indispensable plant in the herb garden, animals absolutely, positively will not eat or bother it.
#5 Walker's low catmint - This 2007 Perennial of the Year bears showy periwinkle blue flower spikes that adorn the fragrant mounds of blue tinged foliage. Excellent for cascading off walls or container edges and as a ground cover that loves drip irrigation. Neighborhood hummingbirds and butterflies will love you for planting this one!
#6 Siskiyou evening primrose - It is surprising that a plant with such delicate, light pink flowers can thrive with little or no care. It is the perfect ground cover for dry slopes and other low-maintenance areas. Contrary to its cousins, this evening primrose blooms best during blisteringly hot days.
Now on to four shrubs that are equally animal-proof. Leading off are two very xeric, native-looking shrubs well suited to those gardens abutting forest service lands.
#7 Louis Hamilton mallow - This native perennial has a relaxed, sprawling form that mixes well in desert landscapes with yucca, agave and cactus. Although extremely drought tolerant, thriving in full sun and hot reflected heat, it bears large watermelon red blossoms.
#8 Fruitland silverberry - Use this tough, drought-resistant shrub in hot dry spaces. Its dense foliage serves as a fast growing screen and is good as a native hedge. It fits naturally into wild desert gardens and can be used to block unattractive views. The fragrance from its spring blooms is more intoxicating than those of lilacs and roses combined!
#9 Purple Emperor butterfly bush - Roughly a third the size of other butterfly bushes, this one is extra bushy and loaded with fragrant purple flowers with pink highlights. This known butterfly and hummingbird attractant thrives on lack of care; the more it is neglected, the more flowers it produces.
#10 Miss Kim lilac - This dwarf version is even tougher than its common lilac relative. Consistently blooming after our last frost, there's no worry about the cold taking the season's final flowering. A spreading lilac, its reddish-purple buds open to very fragrant flowers. For gardeners having problems with lilacs, especially a lack of consistent spring blooms, try this hardy shrub.
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I would not call this week's featured plant animal-proof, but it comes very close to qualifying as such.
The Knock Out rose enjoys the longest bloom cycle of any rose, is ultra hardy, long lived, and disease free. It's available with varied colored blooms with striking foliage in waves of green with blue highlights that turn burgundy in fall. With no special care this rose blooms over and over again. The gardener in me knows that cutting roses are nice, but this Knock Out series is really pretty. Some with fire-engine-red flowers just came into bloom at the garden center.
One of these stunners would make a welcome Mother's Day gift. It could be planted for Mom on her special day and enjoyed for years. Definitely longer lasting than a bouquet of cut roses.
Until next week, I'll see you at the garden center.
Throughout the week, Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, and can be contacted through www.wattersonline.com.