One of the great benefits of Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) is that it is deer and rabbit resistant. Despite its aromatic blooms and non-toxic leaves, herbivores generally avoid this shrub. In the winter, Summersweet is deciduous, losing all its leaves and making it less likely to be damaged by deer. Summersweet does attract some animals, however…hummingbirds, birds, bees, and butterflies love it!
Despite its deer resistance, it is important to remember that deer will consume most plants when they are lacking more palatable options. Some varieties of Summersweet may be more prone to damage by deer than others. According to Rutgers University this plant is Seldom Severely Damaged on their rating scale from Rarely Damaged to Frequently Severely Damaged.
Keeping Deer Away From Summersweet
If you are finding that deer are nibbling away at Summersweet, there are a few deterrents, both physical and chemical, that can be utilized. Commercial deterrent sprays can be found in many garden centers or online. Physical barriers such as fencing or fishing line may be used as well.
One way to utilize Summersweet’s deer resistance is to use the shrub as a border plant, keeping deer away from perennials and shrubs that are more interesting to these woodland creatures.
Will Summersweet Come Back After Deer Eat Them?
Should Summersweet be on the receiving end of deer damage, its recovery may depend on the time of year. Damage early on in the growing season may be insignificant enough to where Summersweet can replace any damaged leaves or branches and produce flower buds as usual. In the summer, nibbled parts of the plant may not produce as many blooms as normal, especially if the damage occurs on new growth where flower buds grow. If damaged in the winter, Summersweet is already dormant and will likely come back in the spring without any issue.
Sources: Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station ‘Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance’ 2018
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Author Lynn Gusman - Published 1-13-2023