by | Mar 20, 2023

by Rob Myers  |
photos by Zach Smith   |

Planting a mailbox garden can be a fun way to add some color to the front of your property. The challenge can be selecting plants that provide low-maintenance flowering from spring through fall but are not likely to be eaten by deer.

In planning a mailbox garden, or any flower garden that accents your driveway entrance and the front of your property, it’s best to pick a combination of perennials that provide a variety of colors, bloom times, foliage patterns and heights. The garden described here includes about 60 plants representing two dozen varieties from 15 species.

Most of the perennial flowers listed will bloom for at least a month and some considerably longer. By utilizing a mix of early-, mid- and late-season perennials, it’s possible to get color from mid-spring through mid-fall. Even earlier spring color can be added by incorporating a few daffodil varieties, which deer and rabbits won’t touch.

Dave Trinklein, a University of Missouri horticulture expert, suggests “for a splash of continuous color throughout the summer, consider including a few low-maintenance annuals such as the Profusion or Zahara series of zinnia, or dwarf marigolds.”

When shopping at local nurseries, perennials listed here can often be found as 1-gallon containers, which will be big enough to provide a good first year color show. Similar plants can also be mail ordered, but usually mail-order plants will be smaller and take an extra year or two to reach impact size in the garden.

It’s good to give the perennials plenty of time to get their roots established, so an early planting in April is appropriate for Missouri gardens. Perennial flowers can tolerate a light frost. In fact, this planting survived a mid-April snowfall with no ill effect.

Perennial flowers and grasses don’t need much in the way of supplemental fertilizer unless your soil is nutrient deficient, but they will benefit by having some compost added, preferably rototilled in or mixed in with a shovel. During the first year, be sure to water regularly until the plants get established. In subsequent years, these perennials will be well-rooted and shouldn’t need much watering unless there is a prolonged dry spell. Dave adds, “The greater the distance the mailbox garden is from a water source, the more important is the selection of drought-tolerant plant species.”

On the day of planting, after initial watering all flowers were sprayed with Liquid Fence deer repellent. This was done to reduce the likelihood curious deer would try sampling the newly installed plants; the repellent will likely be needed only once or twice for these deer-resistant plants.

To create greater visual impact, some flowers can be grouped, such as a clump of three flowers of a given variety. For this garden, the salvia and dianthus were placed in groupings of three plants. For most of the other flowers, two plants of each variety were used, one to either side of the mailbox, usually several feet apart. This provided some balance to the garden when viewing it from the mailbox. However, for an informal garden appearance, try to avoid making the planting arrangement too symmetrical.

Salvias, dianthus, penstemon, veronica and phlox are available in a variety of pink, purple and blue colors. Those colors can be complemented by white phlox and daisies, yellow yarrow and gold coreopsis. In this garden, a red-orange-gold Cheyenne Spirit coneflower and the yellow-orange abelia provided some additional contrast. Neon sedum was selected to provide intense fall color. Shorter plants were placed closest to the pavement areas with taller plants to the back, but all plants are best kept at least a foot or more from the pavement areas to help them avoid being trampled.

Ornamental grass can provide a strong backdrop for a mailbox garden. Avalanche feather reed grass is an upright grass that doesn’t crowd the flowers while being tall enough and flowering early enough to add visual impact. Karl Foerster is another variety of feather reed grass that works well for the back edge of a mailbox garden. If using ornamental grasses as a backdrop, planting them along a well-spaced arc can provide some architectural structure to the garden. In this garden, the line of feather reed grass plants is anchored at either end by shorter Hameln fountain grass plants, providing a contrast in size and form while also allowing for better driver sight lines.

Though deer are unlikely to bother the types of plants listed here, it can still be a good idea to spray a deer repellent on each plant the same day they are planted. Deer can be curious about new plants in their browsing vicinity and may decide to try a bite; the deer repellent will discourage their interest right away. After the first few weeks, the deer will learn to pass the plants by and find other vegetation more to their liking. That will leave the flowers for you, your neighbors and your mail carrier to enjoy.

Rob is an adjunct plant science faculty member at the University of Missouri. He and his wife, Amy, are members of Boone Electric Cooperative.

List of plants and varieties in the mailbox garden:

Abelia (Kaleidescope)

Black-eyed Susan (Goldstrum)

Coneflower (Magnus)

Coneflower (Cheyenne Spirit)

Coreopsis (Zagreb)

Creeping Phlox (Eye Shadow)

Daisy (Becky)

Dianthus (Electric Red)

Dianthus (Paint the Town Fuchsia)

Dianthus (Paint the Town Red)

Feather reed grass (Avalanche)

Fountain grass (Hameln)

Hyssop (Rosie Posie)

Penstemon (Blackbeard Tongue)

Phlox (Uptown Girl)

Phlox (Glamour Girl Pink)

Phlox (Fashionably Early Crystal)

Salvia (Bumbleberry)

Salvia (Bumblesky)

Sedum (Neon)

Veronica (Magic Show)

Veronica (Royal Candles)

Yarrow (Rozanne)

Yarrow (Sunny Seduction)

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