Fothergilla is a genus of shrubs that provides four seasons of interest in the landscape. Known as witch-alder, these plants are in the witch hazel family, native to parts of the southeastern United States. Deer will eat fothergilla when food is scarce. This is especially a concern in spring. Since fothergilla blooms early in the season, it may attract deer that are eager to feed on the sweet-scented blossoms. Younger, smaller plants may also be more susceptible to deer damage.
According to Rutgers University, this plant is Seldom Severely Damaged on their rating scale from Rarely Damaged to Frequently Severely Damaged. In addition to being relatively deer resistant, fothergilla is not a favored food for rabbits, although they may occasionally nibble on low-growing stems.
Keeping Deer Away From Fothergilla
While deer will seldom eat fothergilla, protection may be needed when the plants are in bloom. Fothergilla blooms for roughly three weeks in April or May. During this time, apply an organic, liquid deer repellent around the shrub. Deer repellents are most effective during dry conditions, as water can dilute the product. Reapply the repellent after rain, when the foliage and ground are dry. Once blooming is finished, deer will likely leave fothergilla alone. If desired, wrap small, unestablished fothergilla with plastic netting to discourage damage from hungry deer or rabbits.
Will Fothergilla Come Back After Deer Eat Them?
Fothergilla will recover from deer browsing. Prune out any damaged leaves or branches immediately after the plants are done blooming, since fothergilla blooms on the previous year’s growth. If deer consume the buds later in the season, flowering may be sparse or absent the following spring. However, this is unlikely to occur, as deer tend to feed on fothergilla in spring before next year’s flower buds appear. Regardless, fothergilla will recover and bloom in subsequent seasons with proper pruning and damage prevention.
Sources: Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station ‘Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance’ 2018
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