Peonies are a lovely old-fashioned garden favorite. Whether you have herbaceous Peonies, Itoh, or tree Peonies, deer tend to stay away from them due to the fragrance of the flowers and the flavor and stickiness of the stems. However, if deer are hungry enough when food is scarce, they will be less selective.
The great news is Peonies are beautiful perennials that the local deer population usually avoids and are considered highly deer resistant. According to Rutgers University, this plant is rarely damaged on their rating scale from Rarely Damaged to Frequently Severely Damaged.
Keeping Deer Away From Peonies
Try planting visually complementary and strongly fragranced plants near Peonies such as Russian Sage, Lavender, and Rosemary, which are known to keep deer at bay. Even though Peonies are rarely eaten by deer, plenty of products are available to successfully deter them from eating your plants, and plenty of homemade deer-repellent recipes can be found online. Deer have a highly developed sense of smell, so once you apply the repellent, deer can detect the odor for weeks but the odor is less noticeable to humans. Some products smell sulfuric, like rotten eggs or garlic, some have blood meal ingredients, and many contain mint and hot pepper oils that are unpalatable to deer. If you notice deer have been nibbling on your Peonies, it's good practice to rotate repellents so they will not become accustomed to a particular taste or scent.
Will Peonies Come Back After Deer Eat Them?
If deer nibbled on your Peony foliage or flowers, the plants will come back next spring. In the fall, cut the foliage of Herbaceous and Itoh Peonies to nearly ground level as part of their regular maintenance. The leaves of Peony plants are naturally susceptible to mildew from high humidity and rain in summer, so by the end of summer, the foliage may be looking a bit lackluster. If deer browsed your Peonies and they are a bit tattered, trim all foliage back to the ground near late autumn and your plants will return next spring.
Sources: Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station ‘Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance’ 2018
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