I live in Cedaredge where ravenous deer are a year-round problem. I'm wondering if a particular plant is particularly attractive to deer. I would love to plant some peegee hydrangea, but we have deer that will walk along an 8-foot-high wall to get to my flowers and, if this plant is particularly attractive to them, I shouldn't even bother.
We do manage to grow chrysanthemums, zinnias and dahlias (with difficulty) and tons of herbs and cosmos, but I'm always looking to try something new.
Hydrangea isn't usually on a deer's menu of favorites, but the plant can occasionally be severely damaged by deer feeding. The reality is if the deer are hungry enough, they will eat almost anything.
I've seen cases where a thousand deer will walk by a particular plant, and the one thousand and first deer will decide to take a nibble. It seems that most of the time when this happens, the others that walked by the plant look back and say to themselves, "gee, I wonder if that would taste good?" (Although, I must admit I've never heard deer talk to themselves.)
There are a million deer- resistant plant lists on the internet, but I take them with a grain of salt. Deer aren't all the same, and while a plant might not be attractive to some, it might be delicious to others.
In addition, food availability affects deer browsing damage. Deer tend to have their favorite plants; however, their tastes can change depending on food availability.
Having said that, one of the better deer-resistant lists is put out by Rutgers University. You can find it at njaes.rutgers.edu/deer-resistant-plants/.
They have a rating system of "A" through "D" with "A" list plants being rarely damaged by deer and "D" list plants being frequently severely damaged. The plant you're thinking about, peegee hydrangea (or panicle pydrangea—pydrangea paniculata) is a "C" plant, which is occasionally severely damaged.
Most of the damage seen on hydrangea is during the winter when food is most scarce. Deer will eat the soft succulent bark of the plant to keep going.
If you want to help prevent hydrangeas from becoming a deer snack during the winter, you could try covering the stalks during the late fall with a big pile of leaves or some light mulch. This also will help insulate the stalks. Protecting your plants with fences, deer netting and burlap work well but can be more time-consuming and pricey.
Another thing you can do that we've had pretty good success with is deer-repellent products. The best ones have "putrefied egg solids" as the active ingredient. They're not perfect, but they work better than anything else I've seen.
Spray it on the plant two or three times at one-week intervals, concentrating on the areas deer would most likely browse.
The repellent will need to be reapplied about once a month if the weather stays dry, more often if it gets wet. There is some smell when you're applying it, but it disappears when it's dry.
I don't know if all this hassle is worth it for you. I love hydrangea and have two varieties in my yard: pinky winky and limelight. They provide stunning flowers in the summer and interest in the winter when their flower clusters dry out.