Geraniums and their close relative pelargoniums are easy-to-grow perennials that both belong to the Geraniaceae family. There are lots of different species. Some are annuals while others are perennials, and some are more frequently damaged by deer than others.
While deer species do sometimes eat geraniums, this plant is not typically one of their preferred food sources. But deer are known to be opportunistic feeders and they can consume a wide range of plants, including flowers, shrubs, and even trees. If something is eating your geraniums, it may be deer or a much smaller culprit.
What is geranium?
Geranium is a genus of flowering plants that belongs to the family Geraniaceae. It includes a wide variety of species, with more than 400 different types of geraniums.
While true geraniums are called geraniums or cranesbills, pelargoniums are the most common type of geranium according to Kit Smith, an El Dorado County master gardener at the University of California. Pelargoniums are native to southern Africa, while other geraniums are native to temperate regions of the world including Europe, North America, and parts of Asia.
Another difference is that the flowers of the cranesbill resemble a beak, with five equal-sized petals. The flowers of pelargoniums have two petals that grow in one direction, and three in the other.
Geraniums are very popular in gardens and for professional landscaping because they have attractive flowers and foliage and are easy to care for. Their clusters of five-petaled flowers come in various colors, usually, shades of pink, purple, red, and white, while their leaves are often lobed or divided and can be aromatic.
Geraniums are valued for their versatility and are both grown outdoors and treasured as indoor plants. They are commonly used in flower beds, borders, hanging baskets, and containers.
Some varieties of geranium are also known for their ability to repel certain insects, including mosquitoes. But they don’t repel deer!
What is eating my geranium?
Geraniums are tough, robust plants that have very few predators. They are more likely to be attacked by insects rather than animals.
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach identifies the main culprits. These include aphids, cabbage loopers, fall cankerworms, scale, slugs, and the four-lined plant bug.
Another geranium eater is the tobacco budworm, a caterpillar commonly known as the geranium budworm. Jeffrey Hahn, Extension entomologist at the University of Minnesota explains that the larvae will chew deep holes into geranium buds and may eat the flower blossoms.
Cabbage loopers (another type of caterpillar) also often chew their leaves. Greenflies can damage and eat geranium leaves as well.
Slugs and snails rarely eat geraniums, but if you see irregular holes or chewed edges and slime trails, these are your culprits.
Deer don’t typically choose to eat geraniums of any sort. But if they are hungry and have easy access to them, for instance, if they are planted close to deer trails, they may eat them.
According to the Wisconsin Horticulture Division of Extension, if deer eat geraniums, they will eat the flowers. Occasionally they may eat the foliage as well.
Are geraniums deer resistant?
Deer tend not to eat plants that have thorny or prickly leaves. They also generally avoid plants with thick leathery leaves or a strong fragrance like marigolds and geraniums.
But that certainly doesn’t make geraniums 100% deer resistant. You can, though, minimize the risk of deer damage to your geraniums.
Some geranium cultivars are known to be more deer-resistant than others. So, when you buy geraniums, look for varieties that are labeled or described as deer-resistant plants.
Generally, what makes geraniums deer resistant is a strong fragrance. Also, some types are believed to have foliage that is less palatable to deer.
How to protect your geraniums against deer
There are many different types of deer in North America, so there’s no one hard and fast rule for protecting your geraniums against deer. But there are some effective strategies that you can try.
An obvious solution is to install a physical barrier around your garden using deer-proof fencing. But you will need to ensure the fence is at least 6-8 feet tall to prevent deer from jumping over it.
It is also vital to use sturdy materials like wire mesh or deer netting. And you must ensure that the fence is securely anchored to the ground to prevent deer from pushing through it.
You can also use scare tactics to deter deer from getting into your garden. Sudden movements or loud sounds can startle deer and discourage them from venturing near your geraniums.
Options include motion-activated sprinklers and noise-making devices. Alternatively, you can hang aluminum foil strips that flutter in the wind.
A deer repellent of some kind is another possibility. Commercial deer repellents usually contain ingredients with a smell, taste, or appearance that deer find unpleasant.
Fish emulsion is said to work reasonably well. Just be sure to avoid toxic products as they can kill plants, birds, and animals.
Homemade deer repellent may include ingredients like garlic, hot chili pepper, or a solution made with rotten eggs. Whatever you decide to use, apply repellents regularly, especially after rainfall, to maintain their effectiveness.
What is the most deer-resistant plant?
There are quite a lot of plants that people maintain are deer-resistant plants. But the truth is, what’s on the deer menu today may not be favored tomorrow – and vice versa.
Nevertheless, you’ll find lists of plants that are rated by deer resistance. A particularly informative one was compiled by Rutgers, the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station in collaboration with Rutgers master gardeners, and nursery and landscape professionals.
Warning that “no plant is deer proof,” they list 168 plants that are rarely damaged by deer. Their list also shows 16 plants that are frequently damaged by deer, and 344 plants that are seldom or occasionally damaged.
Here are five deer-resistant plants worth mentioning:
- Lavender is considered one of the most deer-resistant plants because of its strong fragrance of lavender. It also has aromatic foliage that deters browsing.
- Daffodils are often considered one of the most deer-resistant spring-blooming flowers. Deer tend to avoid daffodils because their bulbs and foliage are toxic.
- Lamb’s ear is a low-growing, ground-covering plant with silvery-gray foliage. Its soft, fuzzy leaves have tiny hairs that deter deer from feeding on them.
- Russian sage also has a strong scent that deer typically find unattractive. A perennial plant with gray-green leaves, it produces tall spikes of lavender-blue flowers.
- Rosemary is a popular herb that has fragrant needle-like leaves and produces small flowers. Its strong scent tends to stop deer from feeding on it.
The main question here is, Are geraniums deer resistant? Rutgers has a separate list for geraniums, none of which are rarely damaged.
Of the perennial hardy geraniums, one Geranium macrorrhizum, is rated as being seldom severely damaged. Three, Geranium clarkei, Geranium sanguineum, and Geranium x cantabrigiense are occasionally severely damaged, as is the annual geranium or Pelargonium species.
Just one perennial hardy geranium species is frequently damaged severely.
It’s important to remember that the level of deer resistance can vary depending on factors such as local deer populations, food availability, and deer behavior. Additionally, hungry or desperate deer may still nibble on geraniums if other food sources are scarce.