Garden corner: Landscaping with deer-resistant flowers and plants |
There are many old and well-known sayings about time and place. Some biblical, some humorous, and always fond memories of the progress of our day. With that in mind, it’s time for the annual “What to do? A deer ate my plants! “
And this is where it happens.
The deer that happily dance through our landscape are the mule deer, the whitish trunk, the black-tipped tail and the huge ears. From May to June you will see deer mummies with possibly two calves. According to a Cornell University Extension publication, a nursing deer needs 4,500 calories a day. Another source states that the food needed every day is 7-10 pounds. If you think of these calories as buds, leaves, tender shoots, and flower parts, it adds up to too much foraging.
I am convinced that our drought conditions of over a year have caused the deer to eat anything far beyond what they have seen in the past. The “loyal five” had never touched my lavender, my partridge feather, my Tanacetum densum or my woolly thyme until spring 2020. Some might say it might have been another animal. No, I watched them eat so I know who did the deed. You can identify deer damage by the jagged or torn edges on the stems that have been left behind. There is no way it will be a neat cut. These are strong landscape plants so I know they will recover but are not as lush as they were two years ago.
Plants that thrive in public plantings are good indicators of plants that deer can easily search through or, hopefully, give up altogether. Pay special attention to the area surrounding the Old Mill District. We are fortunate that our local nurseries have knowledgeable and deer-resistant plant materials.
Fuzzy leaf plants are hard for deer to swallow – think dusty millers and how often it’s used in public plantings. Lamb’s ear, the Artemisia family, fern leaf yarrow, liatris, and iris beds are popular. You will also find that there are no large hosta plantings (in general). I tried but it was like a three month Thanksgiving dinner. I finally gave up and dug them up last summer.
Deer tend to shy away from plants with strong odors. Hot herbs with a lemony, minty and salty taste make a good choice. Chives, garlic, and the allies are often mixed up with annuals.
We want to be good gardeners by fertilizing our plants in the spring to give them a good start. We may be a little too persistent and we become part of the problem by encouraging the lush green, delicate growth that deer are waiting for. Wouldn’t it be better to naturally improve soil fertility than rely on chemicals to be applied once a month?
Time flies by and before you know it it’s July and the time when the deer are most interested in the vegetables is just beginning to be planted.
This means that we have to reach the extreme level of “exclusion”. Exclusion doesn’t just mean a wooden or 6 foot wire fence. A deer will not go over a barrier if it cannot see a free landing spot on the other side. If your food harvest is important to you, create a tire planting area. The tires can be PVC tubing or bent metal covered with a bird net or row cover.
Deer are creatures of habit. They develop a movement habit by using the same path for an approaching direction and a second path for a departure direction. You can break this traffic pattern by using a heavy monofilament fishing line that extends across the approach and starts about 18 inches above the ground and is tied to either a tree or a pole. I used this technique to fence a corn field for a year. Three standout books are: “Creating a Deer & Rabbit Proof Garden” by Peter Derano; “50 Beautiful Deer Resistant Plants” by Alan L. Detrick and “Deer Resistant Design” by Karen Chapman.