Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Deer and My Garden ~ ~ ~ and Deer-resistant Cut Flowers

I am not a hunter, but when I see deer grazing in my perennial gardens I find myself thinking unkind thoughts about the graceful creatures.

A good fence or a gun are really the only two surefire ways to keep deer out of your gardens. I’ve tried human hair, blood meal, soap bars, urine of all sorts, and all kinds of sprays.

The best product I have used is called Tree Guard. It has Bitrex in it, a bitter compound that has been used to stop children from sucking their thumbs, and also has a latex to adhere to the leaves. Unfortunately the latex gummed up my sprayers and perhaps the company has now fixed this problem. This spray does last a few months with one application, but of course it wouldn’t effect new growth. In my case I have too many plants in too many places to maintain the sprays.

A few years ago the deer were so plentiful that while we slept they were walking up and down the benches of plants for sale, munching whatever appealed to them: a Bambi buffet. And so we constructed a fence around the shade display garden and another fence around the area where we keep hostas and surplus plants.

We forgot to close the door one night and a bear wandered into the enclosure, realized s/he was fenced in, and completely tore down one side of the fence to escape.

Deer are hungriest in the early spring when the first shoots in a garden must look extremely appetizing. One year a friend and I decided to fill our village shopping area with spring flowers. Twenty window boxes crowded with tulips poking out of the soil were ready to move. I put them by the driveway to be picked up. The next morning it looked as if a herd of elephants had attacked the boxes. Half of them were knocked over and every tulip was destroyed. The answer, for spring flowers, is daffodils.

If the deer are hungry enough, they will munch on just about anything, but there are certain plants they generally find unappealing. They’d rather not eat fuzzy leaves like lambs’ ears or foliage with aromatic leaves such as ornamental oregano or most herbs. I have no idea why they gobble my roses, thorns and all, and seem to like tomatoes as well. Supposedly they don’t eat poisonous plants, but they munch on my smaller delphiniums.

From my 20 plus years of donating plants to the deer, I have found they usually leave certain plants alone, and using that knowledge I am planning a deer resistant garden just for cut flowers with the following plants:


Aconitum (monkshood)
Achillea (yarrow)
Baptesia (false indigo)
Digitalis ambigua (a true perennial foxglove)
Echinacea (cone flower)
Monarda (bee balm)
Nepata (cat mint)

Annuals -
Blue salvia
Cutting marigolds
Snap Dragons

There is a nursery in Michigan that only sells deer resistant plants, so you can look up www.deerresistantplants.com to see what they recommend. And keep your fingers crossed.

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