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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 17, 2014

Deer-proof your garden

By JEAN THOMSON, Master Gardener | Dec 27, 2012

If you garden in Henry County, you’ve surely seen evidence of deer in your garden or heard about deer visiting a gardening friend. Vegetables, fruit trees, evergreens, bulbs, perennials — all can appear on the browsing menu of deer.

The likelihood of deer intrusions varies by area. If you garden close to woodland with well-established deer paths, consider yourself on notice. Some in-town neighborhoods are much less likely to see evidence of deer.

Seasonal conditions will play a role as well. In a mild winter with little snow cover, deer will be more likely to find plenty to eat without ‘trespassing.’ However, when spring comes, food supplies will be depleted and nutritional needs will be high.

Deer can damage plants in a number of ways. Shrubs and trees may suffer from buck rubs. Leaves of perennials will show a ragged, torn effect. Rose or tulip blooms will simply have disappeared.

One approach to saving plants is the use of physical barriers. Very tall fencing — eight to 14 feet — should be effective; however, it is expensive to install and simply not feasible in many residential areas. For some purposes, such as a large vegetable garden, two parallel four-foot fences about four feet apart will be effective. Whenever a new fence is installed, flags or ribbons should be attached immediately to signal: “stay away!”

For individual trees or shrubs or small groupings, more modest physical barriers may be helpful. Nylon netting can be used to cover shrubs; trunks may be wrapped with burlap; snow fencing can be used around trunks as well.

Another approach is the use of repellents. This is feasible mainly with perennial plantings that are not too extensive. Gardeners must be persistent, reapplying repellents after heavy rain.

If your garden consists mainly of ornamental plants, the most successful long-term solution will probably be to design with deer-resistant plants. For every plant that merits the label ‘deer candy,’ there are deer-resistant alternatives. Tulips are known to be a spring favorite, but daffodils are notably deer-resistant, as are many small bulbs such as snowdrops. Deer enjoy roses but not peonies. In mid-summer, daylilies are likely to become deer fodder, but hummingbird mint, catmint, bee balm, and salvia are likely to thrive. In shady areas, hostas will tempt deer, but astilbes, foamflower, and most ferns will be far less appealing.

As a general rule, deer dislike plants with fuzzy leaves (for example, lamb’s ears), fibrous leaves (ornamental grasses) or bristles (globe thistle or barberry). Including some of these plants may allow you also to nestle in a few hostas or daylilies that will seem less attractive because of the bad company that they keep!

Right now: Keep poinsettas watered and situated in bright spots safe from extremes of heat and cold.

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