Suitability of eight Northeastern U.S. native shrubs as replacements for invasive plants in a difficult landscape site with white-tailed deer pressure.
Nursery and landscape professionals are interested in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)-resistant native plants to replace invasive species used in difficult landscape sites, such as parking lot islands, which are dry, nutrient-poor, and exposed to sun and heat. Eight native shrubs [creeping sand cherry (Prunus pumila var. depressa), elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa), highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), round leaf dogwood (Cornus rugosa), northern spicebush (Lindera benzoin), sweetbells (Eubotrys racemosa), and virginia rose (Rosa virginiana)] were planted in a large commuter parking lot on the University of Connecticut campus to evaluate their suitability for use in difficult landscapes. The non-native, invasive shrubs 'Compactus' winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus) and 'Crimson Pygmy' japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) were also planted as controls representing non-native species typically planted in such sites. Aesthetic quality ratings for sweetbells matched the controls (rating of 4.5 out of 5.0) and plants exhibited a high level of white-tailed deer resistance. Virgina rose and creeping sand cherry had similar aesthetic quality to controls, despite light grazing of plants by white-tailed deer. Elderberry was damaged by moderate white-tailed deer grazing and snow load, but plants regenerated to 485% of initial size in one growing season with white-tailed deer exclusion. Gray dogwood, round leaf dogwood, and northern spicebush exhibited the least resistance to white-tailed deer grazing. Both dogwood species had lower aesthetic quality than the controls, and round leaf dogwood had the lowest survival rate (68%) after 2 years. However, several individuals of gray dogwood, round leaf dogwood, and northern spicebush that were less heavily damaged by white-tailed deer grew into attractive shrubs after white-tailed deer exclusion. Highbush blueberry had significantly lower aesthetic quality than controls and only 75% survival after 2 years, indicating that this species is an unsuitable replacement for invasives in difficult landscape sites. This study identified the underused native shrubs sweetbells, virginia rose, and creeping sand cherry as suitable replacements for invasives in difficult landscape sites with white-tailed deer pressure.