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Oh Deer!

Here's a List of the Plants They'll Eat Last --AND 7 Ways to TRYand Keep Them at Bay

Q. Mike: I recently moved back to the Midwest and bought a houseon two acres. It's great, as we have many deer that come around. However, I want to landscape the yard.  What can I plantthat the deer won't eat or be harmful to them?
           ---Melanie; College of Fine Arts, Ohio University

I recently moved to Southampton, NJ, on the edge of the Pine Barrens,and find that many of my plants are cafeteria items for the local deer.I love Bambi as much as anyone, but can you recommend foundation plantingsand shrubs that are not attractive to deer?
           ---William; formerly of Cherry Hill, NJ

A. Sure—but first I have to make fun of you both.

Melanie—you're think it's GREAT that dastardly deer are casing yourhorticultural offerings? And you're afraid the poor little deeries mighteat something that'll give them an upset tummy?! All of our other listenersin deer territory are asking what they can plant that WILL upset thosetummies—preferably permanently!

And William—don't "love Bambi"! Yes, these giant stomachs with legshave big eyes and cute lashes, but they also eat six to ten pounds of arborvitaeand rhododendron a day, kill hundred and fifty people a year in car accidents,and are threatening many wild plants and animals with extinction. You twoneed to think more Darwin and less Disney or your landscapes will soonlook like Mount St. Helens on Day Two.

Anyway—plants. The Mohonk Mountain House in upstate New York (wherethey got more deer than trees—and they got a LOT of trees) has produceda detailed record of the annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs on whichdeer have declined to dine over an 18-year period at the lushly landscapedresort. Now a word of warning—once deer have finished off their preferredplants in an area, they won't stop eating; they'll move on to less-likedlovelies, like these. But filling a besieged garden with plants that deerwill eat LAST is a great tactic.

Ageratum, begonias,cleome,foxglove,snapdragons,vincasand fouro'clocks are among the more than 70 annual bedding flowers on the list,along with Baby's breath, StrawFlower, Lantana, phlox,salvia,marigolds,Sweet Alyssum, scented geraniums, Love-in-a-mist, verbena,and zinnias.

Perennials? 70 of them too, including Yarrow(whose daisy-like flowers attract lots of beneficial insects), Lily-of-the-Valley,Bleedingheart, Japaneseand SiberianIris, Evening Primrose,Peonies,Obedient plant, and Veronica.

And if you're tired of seeing your precious arborvitae and azaleas eatento the ground, consider replacing them with some of the more than 75 treesand shrubs found to be UNdelicious to the beasts—like Serviceberry, ButterflyBush, English Hawthorne, Mountain Laurel, Boxwood, Blue Spruce, Spirea,Snowberry and wisteria.

Here's the complete list via Cornell:

…and another great list—from Rutgers:

…one from Maryland:


…and West Virginia!:

Q. Mike: For the last six years, I would fill a cut-off pantyhose leg with hair from the barber shop, spray it with "Hinder" and hangit on my six foot fence; no problem with deer or rabbits. This year nothingwould stop them. I know that deer could easily jump over a six-foot fence,but they didn't before. They have taken off all the leaves of my plantsfrom six foot down. How many years can trees survive this?
           ---Joe in Voluntown, CT

A. That depends largely on how late in the season the trees aredefoliated. The later the better, as those leaves collect and store mostof their energy when fairly young. But the sooner you shut down the beasts'buffet, the better. Here are seven of your best options:
1) Erect a fence eleven inches taller than Shaquille O'Neal. The expertsat Cornell University's Cayuga Heights Deer Project warn that for a fenceto be an "absolute barrier" it must be a full eight feet tall. All professionaldeer fence is this height.

2) An alternative they call "not guaranteed but suitable": Install threefoot high animal fencing, then run a series of three single wires overtopat foot and a half intervals; this will keep most deer off your propertywith a lot less fence visible.

3) The Cornell researchers say your best non-fence bet is a dog. Deerfear dogs, and dogs like to chase deer. Studies have found that dogs keptinside deer-plagued property lines by an invisible fencing system are avery effective deterrent.

4) 'Spray on' repellants. The researchers at Cornell say to begin usingthem NOW—in the Fall, before deer start feeding in earnest. Reapply thesprays at least every four weeks; and ROTATE back and forth between severaldifferent types over the course of a deer-dining season. An alternativeto spraying every leaf is to string a clothesline at a height of 30 inchesin front of the plants you wish to protect and soak the rope with repellant.Products felt to work the best include: Deer Away, a 37% solution of classicallystinky putrescent egg solids; Deer-Off,a combination of stinky egg smell with hot pepper and garlic; Liquid Fence,which combines eggs and garlic; and Hinder, an ammonia-based repellantthat can also be painted on trees to prevent rabbits nibbling the bark.
PLEASE! Do NOT use mothballs (highly toxic to you) or coyote, fox orother predator urines (harvested in a very cruel manner). Neither controlseems very effective either.

5) I've personally had very good results with the "Wireless Deer Fence".Available directly from the manufacturer via the web (,these stakes use scent pellets to attract deer to the electrodes on top,which convey quite a shock via a capacitor powered by two double AA batteries.As with an electric fence, shocked deer remember their bad experience atyour place and eat someone else's tulips and azaleas.

6) Lay heavy metal fencing or sheets of corrugated metal on the groundcompletely around the area you wish to protect. Deer are reluctant to crossover such a barrier; it's a great way to protect an area where straight-upfencing is not an option due to looks or solid rock where you'd pound theposts.

7) Try the "Swedish cure"; a blood meal and ammonia-based repellantdeveloped to protect the ultimate deer delicacy—tulip flowers—from themerciless creatures in Sweden's famed Rosendal Gardens. Yes, deer are aproblem in SWEDEN; doesn't that make you feel a little bit better? Here's the details:

You'll need some blood meal, a dry, all-natural, high-nitrogen fertilizer,available—generally in five-pound bags—at almost all nurseries and gardencenters. It has been used for decades to scare marauding mammals—especiallywascally wabbits—away from gardens. (For rabbits, don't use this recipe—justsprinkle some of the powder on the ground around the plants you wish toprotect.  If it's lettuce, spinach or other non-flowering 'greens',use lots—those nitrogen-hungry plants LOVE it as a fertilizer too!)

You'll also need some 'florist block'; the green foam material usedto hold cut flowers in place in arrangements.  Its 'real' name is"Oasis" and you can buy it from florists (d'uh!), or at craft stores orbigger garden supply centers.

The final ingredient is ammonia, which I'm not especially fond of, butwe're not using it directly on plants, we're diluting it quite a bit, and—perhapsmost importantly—we're using it to repel deer, for which I believe thereare exclusions in most nuclear arms treaties.  To be safe, mix everythingup outdoors where the fumes will be able to dissipate rapidly. If you havestrong objections to using harsh stuff like ammonia, you can try skippingthat part and see if it still works.

Or if you're the real All-Natural Kid, you might consider peeing inthe bucket instead. You'll provide the same eau d'ammonia to the mixture,and some gardeners already reuse this personal material when they 'marktheir territory' to try and ward off local deer. (Have 'Standards and Practices'caught up with us yet?)   Anyway:

The Swedish Anti-Deer Recipe:
 Mix 2 ½ pounds of bloodmeal (half of a 5 lb. bag) intoa normal size bucket that's about half to 2/3 full of water.  Stirwell, add 1 cup of ammonia (or, you know…), and keep stirring.  Cutthe florist block into big cubes and place each cube on a three-foot tallstake (just the right height for the cubes to end up about 28" (browsingheight) off the ground after you stake 'em into the ground).  Dipthe staked cubes into the bucket and let 'em sit there for awhile and getreally saturated.  Then place the stakes about six feet apart aroundplants you wish to protect.  Re-saturate the cubes every couple ofweeks or after a really heavy rain.

And for even more info:
The Cornell Department of Natural Resources has lots of recommendationsfor deer control strategies, including even MORE lists of deer-resistantplants and reviews and sources for fencing, repellents and the like:
THIS IS A GREAT LINK: Multiple plant lists, VERY detailed fencing advice,great comparisons on a huge number of repellant formulas and links to many,many other sites.

You Bet Your Garden   Question of the Week  ©2005Mike McGrath

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