It seems as if it’s been raining forever. I have plants, purchased on a warm, sunny day, waiting to be planted, but it’s just too wet and muddy to get them in the ground. If I’m not complaining about the rain and my flooded backyard, it’s the trees shading the garden, not allowing the much-needed sun to make everything grow. If it’s not the lack of sun, it’s too much sun, scorching the plants and bringing out the insects. As if these worries were not enough to keep anyone from gardening, it’s the deer who love to feed on the plants I love as much as they do. But wait, it’s not all bad; with the rain comes the verdant beauty of our Catskills. With the sun, the cascades of wildflowers, and perennials and vegetables grow and attract the birds and bees that propagate more growth.
What can we do about the damage caused by hungry deer? Discourage them from your garden by not planting what they love to eat or surround your plants with things they don’t like, such as hanging strong smelling soap from their branches. That’s my favorite trick. The soap, like Dial or Irish Spring, placed in an old nylon stocking or sock, tied and hung from a branch, will last a long time and deter deer.
Of course, the wise thing would be to plant only what the deer don’t have an appetite for. There’s a wonderful book, beautifully illustrated, that was given to me by a dear (not deer) friend, called 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants by Ruth Rogers Clausen which I am reading. When I’ve finished it, I will give it to the library so you can all read it. I was surprised at how easily a garden could be landscaped using only deer-resistant plants. For instance, I may not be able to plant tulips, but daffodils and snowdrops are fine, with a border of grape hyacinths that will not tempt deer. Although they find most rose bushes tasty, for some reason, rosa rugosa is not to their taste. If you really must have tulips, lightweight netting should protect them if covered just before bloom.
There are commercial repellents that are good, but they wash off in heavy rain. Fish emulsion, which is an excellent fertilizer, also offends deer noses, but, according to the book, if you over-fertilize, it will result in the soft, succulent vegetative growth that deer love. Half the recommended dosage will leave the odor but not over-stimulate the plants. I’ve heard of sprinkling predator’s, or even human urine, around the beds. Cat or dog hair is another idea if you’re wondering what to do with all that pet hair. All of these repellents must be applied routinely since heavy rains will wash them away.
Many culinary herbs are not browsed by deer, such as the sages, rosemary, thymes and alliums. Flowers like lilacs, sweet alyssum and lily-of-the-valley are also not to deer’s taste. Ferns, ornamental grasses and pachysandra, peonies and Siberian iris will not attract deer, nor will thorny or spiky plants.
Tall trellises with climbing vines such as honeysuckle, Dutchman’s pipe, trumpet vine and high fences will also keep deer from entering your garden. Deer are uncomfortable navigating changing levels. Steps or steep or sloping areas will not be attractive to them.
Water early in the morning. If leaves remain wet in the evening, they are not only susceptible to fungal diseases but are targets for deer browsing. If you must have plants in your garden that deer love, plant them in containers close to the house, or in hanging baskets, too high for them to browse.
The book, mentioned above, shows 50 plants that are deer-resistant, which I will not list in this article. But I do highly recommend that you borrow it from the library for great landscaping ideas. I’ve learned, however, that each garden is unique. What will grow as suggested in the book in her garden, may not grow in yours, so, although suggestions are helpful, try what you love. If it doesn’t work, it’s no great loss, but you’ll find many good ideas.
I wish I had the energy to do all that I’d like to do in my garden, but I know my limits and try not to plant more than I can care for and let nature fill in the rest! ~