Do Deer Eat Hydrangeas?

Planting hydrangeas and watching them bloom is one of life’s pleasures. Yet, you’ve found that your hydrangea plant has become a snack for a nocturnal muncher. Your suspicion is for the local Bambi but you’re wondering ‘do deer eat hydrangeas’?

Deer do eat hydrangeas especially the leaves. The main part of a deer’s diet is soft, fresh foliage which can be found on hydrangea bushes. Hydrangea species that are strongly fragranced or have fuzzy leaves can help to minimize deer damage. Young leaves and shoots on the hydrangea bush are particularly at risk from browsing deer.

You may be wondering what you can do to prevent deer from ruining your hydrangeas. The first step is to confirm that it is actually deer that are the culprits. As there is no point in putting in deer-proof strategies if they aren’t the issue. The next step is to find the best strategies for keeping the deer away from your hydrangeas.

This guide will help you through both steps. And you’ll soon be on your way to a yard full of beautiful blossoming hydrangeas.

Let’s get started.

Do Deer like hydrangeas?

Deer will eat the hydrangea leaves, shoots, and foliage first. They will then move on to the hydrangea flower heads. The green parts are the deer’s favorite as this is full of all the energy, water, and nutrients deer need to thrive and stay healthy. Hydrangea flowers can be quite fragrant which can put some deer off eating them.

Young hydrangea plants which have fresh green buds and shoots are the perfect deer food. A deer will not hesitate to completely strip most of a young hydrangea bush in one night.

Although a deer will eat a hydrangea bush at any part of its growth. That means you’ll need to provide protection for your hydrangeas if you have deer in your neighborhood. Check out this guide to find out more about what deer eat in the wild.

Is It A Deer Eating Your Hydrangeas?

Deer are nocturnal feeders that eat a herbivore diet of vegetation, plants, fruits, and vegetables. All these grow naturally in the deer habitat and provide them with the energy and nutrients they need.

Deer that live near urban areas will often wander into your backyard and use your plants as a diner. Plants like hydrangeas are an excellent source of phosphorus for deer. They need this essential mineral for strong bones and antler growth.

Although deer have a preference for the hydrangea bush over the flowers, they will eat both. Young hydrangea plants are soft and smooth which deer prefer. Yet they will also eat mature hydrangea flowers and bushes.

Deer-bitten hydrangeas are quite distinctive. Deer are not delicate when they eat. They’ll take large chunks out of a hydrangea bush. A deer will often remove all the leaves and flowers but leave the stems remaining.

A deer will first opt for the leaves and plants at their mouth level which is around 3ft (92cm) off the ground. If your hydrangea plant is smaller than this, then the deer will eat the plant from the top down.

Deer aren’t methodical in how they eat, so the damaged areas may be scattered over the top or middle of the hydrangea bush. Often the bottom of the plant will be left, but deer will occasionally eat the hydrangea bark.

deer eaten hydrengea
A hydrangea eaten by a deer. Source: Flickr

Signs you have deer in your yard are:

To determine if a deer is the animal eating your hydrangeas, there are other tell-tale signs.

  • Large, jagged bite marks in your plant leaves
  • Plants with only the stems remaining
  • Plants are eaten from the top down
  • Marble size deer droppings
  • Deer track marks

If you’ve noticed any of these in your yard, then you’re likely to have a deer problem on your hand. You’ll need to look into ways to deter deer from your yard. For help with that keep reading further down his guide.

Yet you may not have seen any of these signs. It may still be a deer coming you to your yard, but it can be tricky to say for definite. You can either give it time for them to leave some damning evidence. The risk is that they’ll ruin more of your plants.

Or to know for sure then you can use a cheap and inexpensive trail cam (like this) so you can tackle your garden pest head-on.

What Animals eat hydrangeas?

The problem is that deer may not be the only animals eating your hydrangeas. Let’s take a look at what other animals may be responsible.

Birds

Birds can be a bit of a pain for eating hydrangea blooms. Finches are usually the birds that will do this but sparrows will strip flower buds too.

Bird damage to your hydrangeas is mostly from the buds or the occasional twig to help build a nest. Any damage done by a bird is insignificant compared to what a deer will do overnight.

Insects

Depending on the species, insects can cause quite a lot of damage to your hydrangea plants in a short period of time. Although they are small, the damage they cause is due to the sheer volume of them that can eat away at your hydrangea bush.

Insects will normally cause small holes in the leaves or around the edges. Depending on how much damage is caused the leaves may have slight browning or curled edges or may die off completely.

Common insects that will attack both the leaves and flowers on your hydrangea bushes are:

  • Grasshoppers
  • Japanese Chafers
  • Rose Chafers
  • Thrips
  • Spider mites
  • Aphids

The safest way to get rid of insects off your plants is to handpick them. Don’t risk using insecticide on your hydrangea bushes as the chemicals can be harmful to the local wildlife.

Squirrels & Chipmunks

Squirrels can be the culprit that’s eating your hydrangeas. Often squirrels will climb into the hydrangea bush and eat the flower heads.

The damage from a squirrel eating a hydrangea is often missing flower heads. Squirrels have a preference for the flower over the leaves, so they will likely be left untouched.

Plus, parts of the hydrangea bush may be bent down from the weight of a squirrel climbing on it.

Chipmunks are similar to squirrels but they tend to go for the foliage rather than the flower. Most chipmunk damage to your hydrangeas is usually caused by them digging under the plants and destroying the roots. This can cause the whole or even part of your hydrangea bush to die off.

Caterpillars and Bees

Pollinators such as butterflies and bees normally do not cause much damage to your hydrangea plants. They use the flower nectar as a food source and move on without little impact.

The problem is that moths and butterflies can use your hydrangea bush as a host plant for their eggs. That means that when eggs hatch into hungry caterpillars, they will use the hydrangea bush as a food source. For a caterpillar, any part of the plant can be eaten.

Leafcutter bees are another species that can cause damage to your hydrangeas. You’ll notice distinctive semi-circle shaped holes in the edge of the leaves. Although, extensive damage from leafcutter bees can look like an animal has been chomping at the hydrangea leaves.

Slugs and Snails

Slugs and snails love eating hydrangea plants. They will eat mostly new shoots or growth from the plant.

Like deer, the slugs and snails are nocturnal and will do most of their damage overnight. If there is enough of them then the damage can be quite extensive to your hydrangea bush.

Slugs and snails will normally leave their silvery trail all around your plant so it’s often obvious what’s causing issues. Unlike deer, they will make lots of small, ragged holes all over the leaf.

Will Hydrangeas Grow Back if Eaten by Deer?

Hydrangeas are very resilient plants and can grow back after being eaten by a deer. The top and middle parts of the plant are most favored by browsing deer. Hydrangeas have backup blooms which will then flower to help the plant recover after the initial damage by the deer.

Deer can be persistent and come back to the same plant until it’s completely bare. In this case, it’s unlikely the hydrangea would recover. That means a hydrangea plant will survive one deer attack but is unlikely to grow back after two or more attacks from a deer.

Once your hydrangea has been eaten by a deer it’s important to put deterrents in place to stop them coming back to your yard for this easy food source.

How to Protect Hydrangea from Deer

The best way to stop deer from eating your hydrangea is to stop them from wanting to come into your yard. The trick is to make your yard as uncomfortable for them as possible. Do this by making them feel unsafe or too irritated to stay and eat. Check out my guide on 14 easy ways to keep deer out of your garden.

If you don’t mind deer wandering in your yard, you can try to stop them from eating specific plants. Deter them with strong irritating scents like Irish soap, spices, or overly fragranced plants.

You may need to use many different deterrents to keep the deer away from your hydrangeas.

One trick you can use is to plant only particular species of hydrangeas that appear to be a little more deer-resistant than others.

Which hydrangea is deer resistant?

Hydrangeas are not deer-resistant plants. Whilst they are not a favorite, deer will still eat them given the chance. Yet gardeners have noticed that some hydrangea are a lot more deer deterring than others.

Annabelle Hydrangea

Annabelle hydrangea appear to be the best variety to plant for keeping deer away. These hydrangeas have a lovely soft white flower that will come to bloom around June and July.

Limelight Hydrangea

Limelight hydrangeas are another favorite of gardeners for keeping deer at bay. These hydrangeas grow a soft green bloom which usually appears between July and early October.

Endless Summer Hydrangea

Endless summer varieties are popular with gardeners. They have that lovely ombre pink, purple-blue appearance. Deer will still have a go at this variety, but it can be a bit hit and a miss with them really. Endless summer hydrangeas will bloom from May through September.

Oakleaf Hydrangeas

Deer don’t avoid eating oakleaf hydrangeas but they can be a bit choosy about when they eat them. It’s not uncommon for deer to leave the plants to bloom in the summer, but they completely decimate them in the autumn and winter. This can help the plant as oakleaf hydrangeas grow on new branches each year. When deer eat them in winter it helps to naturally prune the plant.

It’s unclear if these gardeners have success keeping deer away due to the hydrangea varieties or if they had other deer deterrents in place. This advice is very much anecdotal and you may find some gardeners who say deer are more attracted to these hydrangea varieties.

Yet if you are looking for hydrangeas to grow with the possibility of deterring deer then these are the ones to try first. If they still come around munching then you can try your other deterrent methods.

Final thoughts

Deer do like to eat hydrangeas. Although they won’t make a beeline for them they will happily nibble away on them if they see them as a tasty and easy food source.

Deer are distinctive in the way they eat plants. They leave a lot of damage and usually a few other tell-tale signs. Make sure it’s a deer problem you have before putting deterrents in place.

You can start off on the right foot by planting some hydrangea varieties such as Annabelle or limelight. Yet you can put barriers in place to prevent once eaten hydrangeas which will likely recover.

Having a variety of deterrents in your yard will keep the deer out for good. That way you don’t need to deter them for individual plants but can get them to avoid your garden altogether.

4 thoughts on “Do Deer Eat Hydrangeas?”

  1. We planted 12 “Little Lime” hydrangeas last fall. They bloomed nicely and we left all the dried blossoms on the plant – not cutting a one. It seems that recently they all were stripped clean of ALL the dried blossoms.
    This happened right outside our kitchen window without our noticing. It appears there are some tiny buds on most-
    What to do ???
    I appreciate your help.
    Molly Diesbach

    Reply
  2. Just planted our limelight hydrangea yesterday afternoon and they were found just with stems this morning! So disappointed!
    What to do??

    Reply

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