Pieris Japonica--Stay Away Deer
By Gaius Robinson, Master Gardener
For fifteen years I had a garden that had been a favorite midnight snacking area for the local deer. Although I didn't begrudge Bambi and friends a good diet, I got tired of planting beautiful and often expensive plants only to have little sticks left in the morning. I found reading lists of deer resistant plants helpful, but certainly not foolproof.
If you have deer raiding parties in your garden, you know how exasperating it can be. One trick is to not plant your new specimen until you have given the plant a "sleep-over test". You just leave the plant where you intend to plant it, and see if it survives several nights without becoming a midnight deer snack.
Another hint is to observe plants doing well in your unfenced neighbor's yards. Not only are they likely to have similar soil conditions, but the local deer family is likely not interested in their garden buffet either. It seems deer have regional taste preferences. One deer's favorite is another neighborhood's bane.
Pieris japonica is a plant you may have noticed in gardens that deer seem to reject universally. This compact growing evergreen shrub often has two colorful expressions each year. In February or March, clusters of creamy white or pink tiny flowers beautify the plant. P. Japonica "Blush" or the more intense "Flamingo" have delicate pink flowers. In late summer the tender new foliage can be a brilliant scarlet or salmon on some varieties. Pieris formaosa "Forest Flame" or "Firecrest" give an illuminating foliage flash to the garden. There are also varieties that have variegated foliage. They tend to be slower growing than the solid green counterparts, but well worth the wait.
A common name for the Pieris is "Lily of the Valley Plant". Although the blossoms do not have the same scent as that garden treasure, it is very sweet scented. The blooms usually last 2 or 3 weeks on the plant, and will make a nice cut flower for several days inside.
Some varieties can reach a height of 10 feet, and grow just as wide. That size, however, is attained after thirty years or more. Many of the Pieris you can purchase are about 2 feet tall, and grow no more than a few inches a year.
In most of Sonoma County, with our hot summers, Pieris perform well in partial shade in moist, rich, well-drained, acidic soil. They are a welcome addition for your pleasure, and thankfully less welcoming to the deer.