Wildlife Resistant Plants for the Southwest

Wildlife keep getting into the yard and munching my carefully nurtured plants. Grrr! Yes, they dig under or climb (or jump) over the barriers and decimate my plantings. The hungry wildlife in my corner of the Southwest include deer, javelina, raccoon, skunk, jack rabbit, cottontail rabbit, rock squirrel, ground squirrel, packrat, and mice. They are all hungry and relentless.

(Legal note – this post contains affiliate links.  If you click on them and make a purchase, the non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few cents at no additional cost to you.)

Hungry Wildlife

It is indeed upsetting when wildlife decimate your landscape. To avoid future problems, select plants that are pretty-looking but nasty-tasting. There are a number of native desert plants that are animal resistant and can help create a lush-looking colorful yard.

Honesty compels me to state that all animal resistant plants are just that — resistant. And there are many hungry animals. Picture the rabbit clan. Albert has one bite. Then Bertbert has a bite. Next Culbert hops by and takes a nibble. And Dilbert tries some too. By the time Herbert hops up for a bite, your shrub is a nub!


Perhaps you have planted your yard with rabbit resistant plants. That may be dandy until a javelina herd enters your neighborhood. My freesia and Turkish tulip bulbs have survived years of rabbit visits. Bunnies have even dug up the bulbs and left them lying beside the hole. Javelina are a different story. Close to three hundred bulbs disappeared down the hungry maws of a herd of javelina that got into my back yard. I am a tad grumpy about javelina right now. I had those bulbs for years, nursing them, dividing them, cherishing their glorious clarion of spring…..


Step 1 – Plant Resistant Plants

Enough bad news, let’s talk about solutions. Plant from the recommended “Wildlife Resistant” list posted under “Zones &More” on this site.

But don’t stop with planting. Compared to a tough, dry plant of the same species that has been growing in the desert for years, that lush plant from the nursery is delicious. It will get, at the very least, sampled.

Protect plants with cages until they become established. Your yard may be a sea of cages for a while, but that will change. Get your plants established. Then harden them off by letting them live on rainfall alone for a year. Then, when you take the cages off, they may get eaten. But! When the plant regrows, it will regrow with a double dose of wildlife resistant chemicals. Plant only make these chemicals if they have to. Chemicals are expensive for a plant to make. They would rather use their energy to make more branches, leaves, and flowers. Thus plant only make animal deterring compounds if they have to.


Add-ons to deter Wildlife

For very persistent javelina, deer, rabbits and ground squirrels, there are repellents you can apply to your landscaping. Liquid Fence is one brand. Based on garlic oil, it is very strongly scented when wet, but dries to odorless for humans. Pesky wildlife can still smell it however, and will learn to avoid your yard. It can be expensive because with time as it does wash away. But in some neighborhoods you only need it in spring and summer when the babies are hungry.  Coyote urine granules do not seem to work in my yard. 

A lower tech solution (pardon the pun) for repelling wildlife is chili peppers. I buy pounds of dried hot chilies. I get them in bulk and scatter them around the plants the critters bother. Side benefit – the peppers also keep the neighbors dogs off my landscape. Birds eat the pepper however, so you must renew them every so often.

The Arizona grape ivy is one example of a wildlife resistant plant. Photo courtesy of W. Anderson.

Good news.  With some careful planning, some wise planting, and some due diligence, we can share the space with our native wildlife neighbors.

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soule-southwest-gardenMore about gardening with wildlife in this book: Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press).  This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.

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