There are a lot of plants that bear the name rose without being related to actual roses. A great example is the Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), a wonderful addition to gardens as far north as zone 5.
These plants, also referred to as Althea bushes, are attractive and non-toxic to pets (and the flowers are edible). Yet there can often be some confusion regarding these plants due in no small part to their name.
A major example is how different plants in the Hibiscus and Rosa genera are about pest resistance. That said, let’s take a look at how this species (and its cultivars) handle one of the most frustrating garden pests out there.
Is The Rose Of Sharon Deer Resistant?
Rose of Sharon is considered highly resistant to deer attacks, although this doesn’t mean it’s immune.
Understanding resistance can help ensure that your prized rose of Sharon remains safe.
What Does “Deer Resistant” REALLY Mean?
When we say that a plant is resistant to a pest, that doesn’t equate to immunity.
In fact, a hungry enough deer will even eat plants that it knows can kill it.
Rutgers University developed a 4-category system to determine how likely deer will attack a plant.
The categories are as follows:
- Rarely Damaged
- Seldom Severely Damaged
- Occasionally Severely Damaged
- Frequently Severely Damaged
Note how there’s no category for “never damaged.” Rose of Sharon falls under the category of Seldom Severely Damaged.
The reasons it’s not very attractive to deer are actually the same reason these plants are attractive to us.
For example, deer prefer tender, herbaceous plants, but the Rose of Sharon is a woody plant.
The fragrance of their blooms is pleasant to us but overwhelming to deer with a much more sensitive sense of smell.
While these may seem minor details to you or me, it’s like having someone offer you a gourmet salad instead of wiping essential oils under your nostrils, then handing you a bunch of raw, uncooked, dried-out vegetables.
Why Deer Might Attack Your Rose Of Sharon?
But wait, if deer don’t like the Rose of Sharon, why would they still attack it?
The most common reason is a lack of alternatives, especially in later fall or winter when the more herbaceous plants have died back.
At this point, it’s a matter of “eat what’s on the plate or starve.” However, spring is another time when your bush may be at risk.
During this time, the plant is sending out plenty of new, tender shoots, and there are no pungent blooms to put up with.
In most cases, a deer will have a nibble or two but focus on other, more interesting plants nearby.
However, when options are limited or other, tastier plants are more difficult to get to, a deer will begin to eye your rose of Sharon as a valid option.
Will Rose of Sharon Recover from a Deer Attack?
In most cases, yes.
These plants are quite hardy and can usually begin to form new growth soon after the attack – often even after blooming has begun.
If it’s already late in the year, you might not see new growth until the plant comes out of hibernation the following spring.
However, mature plants have the best chances of a full recovery, and whole young plants bear the highest risk if severely damaged.
Ways To Protect Your Rose Of Sharons From Deer
By far, the most effective defense is often the least practical – a fence.
Deer can jump quite high, meaning the necessary fence height may violate local ordinances in many urban or rural areas.
Additionally, a single fence needs to lean outwards, either at the top or (preferably) for its entire height, which can mess with a deer’s ability to judge the fence size but also means the fence may be an eyesore.
However, a hall, sturdy wire fence with an angled top can be the best option for your property if you can add one.
You can also use repellents such as urine crystals or pepper sprays, but these have limited use and must be reapplied every few days or after it rains.
But a good alternative to repellents is to use companion planting.
This is the practice of taking plants with similar care needs but providing benefits to each other and planting them together.
Some good companion options for the Rose of Sharon that help repel deer include thorny bushes, groundcovers (like many types of rose), or strong-scented plants.
Most kitchen herbs can be too smelly for deer, rabbits, and other pests. These include:
Ornamental alliums are another great option, as these plants (of which garlic and onions are edible species) have a garlic or onion scent that we barely notice but are highly pungent to deer.
Meanwhile, their whimsical Seuss-like umbals add to just about any garden setting, making them as attractive as they are effective.