Saturday, April 28, 2012

Are Deer Eating Your Plants?


Like people, deer love the new growth plants put out in spring.  Unlike us, they love eating the foliage instead of looking at it, bringing howls of dismay from gardeners who just spent a lot of money on plants at the garden center that are now nibbled to stubs.

After trying soap, hair, and various repellants, I gave up and my husband and I installed an electric fence around about an acre of our property.  We use three strands of wire on metal posts, and we have a gate that folds back unobtrusively into the woods where the fence crosses the driveway.  Electric fences are easy to install and to maintain, as long as you buy a t-post driver (about $30) to get the metal posts in the ground.  Consider driving the posts your workout for a couple of days; it’s great for upper-arm strength, and after you install the t-posts, you can use the tool to drive garden stakes.  Stores like Tractor Supply sell the necessary supplies.  Electric fences are not dangerous if properly installed, and they give a harmless, although unpleasant, shock.

If you have close neighbors who might object to the electrification of your property, although the fence will keep neighborhood dogs from using your yard as a toilet, try commercially produced deer repellants.  Deer Scram® is the most effective product I have found.  It contains dried deer blood, pepper, garlic, and cloves.  Sprinklers activated by motion detectors scare the deer away, too.  Just make sure you turn them off before guests arrive.

Another way to minimize deer damage is to compose your garden of plants deer dislike, although they will eat almost anything if they are hungry enough.  Deer usually dislike strange tastes and textures, with the exception of roses, which they love.  Herbs, mints, and their relatives have unusual tastes and smells.  Deer do not usually like mints, but be careful with them because they can become invasive.  Plant them in a pot sunk in the ground to contain their roots. 

Upright rosemary makes a great small evergreen shrub for hot, dry places and I have never known them to eat it.  Deer avoid the mint relatives Agastache and salvia.  They don’t usually eat foxgloves, larkspur, or coneflowers.  For spring bulbs, plant daffodils instead of tulips, daffodils do better here anyway.  Deer avoid hollies, boxwood, and loropetalum.  They also dislike conifers. 

Some of the deer’s favorite plants are azaleas, roses, camellias, hydrangeas, Indian hawthorns, Hostas, pansies, and tulips.  Sometimes you can hide these favorite plants among or behind less favored plants; plant your tulips and pansies among some mint and rosemary plants. Plant favorite plants close to the house instead of at the edge of the woods; deer generally do not venture close to the house, unless there is a lot of “deer pressure,” which means that there are a lot of hungry deer and not much food. 

Don’t even try to plant a vegetable garden in deer country without protection in the form of a fence; deer love beans, peas, and lettuce, and they have been known to watch the tomatoes ripening, just as you do, and to pluck the one you were planning to harvest the next day from the vine during the night.

Before you purchase plants, find out whether or not you have deer; your neighbors will know if you do not.  In the Blythewood area, if you have any woods nearby, you probably have deer.  Garden centers, books like “The Southern Living Garden Book,” and online sites like www.deerresistantplants.com and www.bluestoneperennials.com offer lists of plants that deer dislike.  Plan ahead to purchase plants deer dislike to save yourself the pain of walking out to admire your garden to find all the blossoms stripped from your roses and your shrubs defoliated.    

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