Peek-a-Boo: Playing Hide & Seek with a Young, White Tailed Buck in My Neighborhood
Handsome fella, isn’t he? Of course he is. There’s no denying the beauty of this graceful, tawny, brown-eyed creature. He’s just gorgeous… Until he gets into your garden. Then, much like Dr. Jekyll, beautiful Bambi turns into Mr. Hyde. A single white tailed deer can wipe out an entire vegetable garden and denude a lush landscape, overnight. In fact, when it comes to gardening challenges, I can’t think of a more difficult or devastating problem.
Short of completely enclosing a property with a 8-10′ high fence, all deer management strategies should be considered exactly that: strategies, not fail-proof solutions. Before designing and planting a dream garden in deer country, fence construction is an absolute must. However, where fencing isn’t an option, I have discovered a few ways a gardener can make the landscape a bit less enticing to those long-legged, midnight mowers. Here are a few that I’ve found effective over the years . . .
1) Plant aromatic plants and/or species that are toxic to or repel deer and rodents at the perimeter of the garden. Daffodils and Ranunculus are both examples of plants toxic to deer. When they encounter wide drifts of these plants, they will likely move on to more edible pastures. Deer also dislike many commonly cultivated herbs; particularly Lavender, Sage, Basil, Rosemary, Thyme and Yarrow. Surrounding a potager with herbs may repel deer before they find the tasty beans and lettuce at the center of your kitchen garden.
2) Surround your property with prickly and fuzzy plants. Thorny trees and shrubs —such as Roses, Raspberries, Hawthorn, Quince— tend to be less attractive to grazing deer. They may nibble, but after a few sharp stabs, they usually wander off. Consider a hedge of prickles around your property line or potager edge. Fuzzy plants also tend to be less palatable to deer. Black-eyed Susans, Lambs Ears and other wooly plants are not the first choice on Bambi’s menu.
3) Keep deer favorites —particularly Hosta, Azalea, Daylilies, vegetable plants and fruit trees— toward the center part of your garden. Surround the more vulnerable plants with those mentioned above, and consider protecting these innermost areas with some form of additional defense (spray repellents, netting, electric fencing, etc).
White Tailed Doe at the Edge of My Forest
4) If deer are a serious ongoing and/or increasing problem in your area —and fencing isn’t an option— consider slowly adjusting and reducing the menu options in your backyard. Seek out plants that are less palatable to deer, and plant more of these in your garden. Although deer will eat anything when desperately hungry, they tend to snub gardens that are surrounded by hedges or layered plantings including some of the following trees/shrubs: Hinoki Cypress, Kousa Dogwood, Ginko, Green Ash, American Holly, Star Magnolia, Sourwood, White Spruce, Norway Spruce and Colorado Spruce, Red Pine, Black Locust, Sassafras, Boxwood, Inkberry, Spirea and Western Arborvitae. In addition, deer may nibble, but will usually walk on by the following perennial garden plants, bulbs and ground covers: Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Monkshood (Aconitum), Alyssum, Columbine (Aquilegia), Artemisia, Asters. Astilbe, Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis), Wild-Blue Indigo (Baptisia australis), Boltonia, Fairy Candles (Actaea simplex & A. racemosa), Peony, Foxglove (Digitalis), Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans) , Meadow Sage (Salvia), Hellebore, Loosestrife (Lysmachia), Beebalm (Monarda), Catmint (Nepeta), Russian Sage (Perovskia), Yucca, Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), Meadow-Rue (Thalictrum), Foamflower (Tiarella), Speedwell (Veronica), Scabiosa, Ginger (Asarum), Bearberry (Arctostaphylos), Bugle Weed (Ajuga), Lily-of-the-Valley (Convularia majalis), Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium), Dead Nettle (Lamium), Creeping Juniper, Pachysandra, Lungwort (Pulmonaria), Squill (Scilla), Summer Snowflake (Leucojum), Winter Aconite (Eranthis), Snowdrops (Galanthus), Grape Hyacinth (Muscari), Sedum, Hens-and-Chicks (Echeveria), Myrtle (Vinca), Potentilla, Lavender-Cotton (Santolina), Cotoneaster, Bergenia, Sweet Woodruff (Galium), Ferns, Daffodils (Narcissus), Allium and Barrenwort (Epimedium). This is an abbreviated list containing the more deer-resistant plants. Many more can be found in the resources listed below.
5) Experiment with organic, commercial spray repellents or homemade hanging repellents. I find some of these are more effective than others. Plantskydd, and Bonide Repels-All —both organic— have worked for me when strategically sprayed and repeat applied after rain. There are two downsides to these products: they stink and they can be expensive to use in the long-run. Bars of soap and baggies filled with pet or human hair can be effective within a narrow range of space, and for a short time. Hanging these at the perimeter of a vegetable garden can be a bit of a deterrent, but I wouldn’t gamble my harvest on it!
6) Walk your dog, or invite neighbors to walk their pooches at the perimeter of you garden on a regular basis. Deer fear the canine scent, and regular urine marks will lead them to believe danger lies within your garden. The key here is consistency. Bottled coyote urine can also be used if no dogs are available, but again these spray-application deterrents can be both expensive and unpleasant to use.
7) Fencing. Yes, I will say it again. Although the initial cost is high, fencing is the most effective method for controlling deer. A fence must be 8-10 feet or taller, in order to protect a garden from deer. If not solid, the fence should have wire mesh or netting between the posts to keep deer from climbing through cross bars. Electric fencing —including solar-powered electric— can be an excellent barrier option for smaller plots —particularly vegetable gardens and small fruit groves— if properly installed and maintained. Some gardeners have had success with motion-detection fences. These devices usually trigger a sound/light combination or blast of water. I have not tried motion detection devices for deterring deer, and clearly, there’s a limit on where and when they can be used.
Some helpful guide books for gardeners challenged by deer:
Gardening in Deer Country (contains a recipe for homemade deer repellent), Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden, Outwitting Deer and Deer in My Garden.
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A tumbling jumble of nasturtiums creates a warm welcome for people and pollinators alike
Sweet seats! In June, the potager becomes my outdoor living/dining room
Wide pathways and mounded-earth beds give me plenty of room to work and maneuver about with carts and wheelbarrows
Winter is a wonderful season —I’m still having fun snowshoeing and enjoying quiet time indoors— but I have to admit that there’s one thing I’m really starting to miss about summer: leisure time in the vegetable garden. I love hanging out in my pretty little potager, and every morning —spring through fall— I head outside with a big cup of coffee to do a bit of weeding, watering and harvesting before work. My pets usually join me —rolling around in the warm, golden straw pathways— while I garden. Later on in the day, I often return to the potager and settle into my comfy wicker chair with a glass of wine to enjoy the sunset hour. On warm evenings, I sometimes eat my dinner in the garden; surrounded by the fragrance of sun-warmed herbs and the sound of summertime birds. Vegetable plots always grow best when they are frequently visited by the gardener’s shadow, and to me, this is no trouble at all —it’s pure bliss…
I like to try different varieties of vegetables and fruits every year. But some old-favorites make it into the potager every year. My favorite tomatoes include Early Girl, Orange Blossom, Lemon Boy, Brandywine, San Marzanos. I also love cherry tomatoes; particularly Sungold and Sweet 100s
Home grown hot peppers are both beautiful and tasty. I like to experiment with this crop too, but I always grow plenty of jalapeño, ancho and serrano chile peppers.
My diet is mainly vegetarian, and one of my favorite things about summer, is that I can completely avoid the grocery store for months (I buy my eggs and dairy products from a nearby farm stand). Growing basics, like potatoes, makes it easy to create impromptu, garden-fresh meals every day.
Now that I’ve begun sowing some early crops —herbs and onions indoors & arugula, spinach and lettuce in the unheated hoophouses— I’m really starting to get excited about the growing season ahead. I’ve ordered most of my vegetable seed —packages have already begun to arrive— and I just sent in my seed potato orders to Ronnigers and The Maine Potato Lady yesterday afternoon. Mid-late winter is a good time to begin planning and plotting out your vegetable garden on paper (1/4″ square grid paper works great for this purpose, with each standard box equalling one square foot of garden space), and to finish purchasing seed if you haven’t done so yet. Back in December, I mentioned that I enjoy the process of keeping an annual gardening journal and calendar. Not only is it fun to look back on my successes —and important to analyze failures— but my garden calendar & notes also remind me of things I want to plant (more potatoes and berries!), improvements I want to make (more vertical supports for peas, beans, melons and cucumbers, a new set of compost bins, and a garden shed!), and things I need to re-stock (like fish emulsion, twine and other supplies). Keeping a copy of what I planted —and where I planted it last year— is key to crop rotation (and avoiding pests and diseases). Drawing up a plan and listing everything out also prevents over-ordering or forgotten crops!
Building a pretty potager need not be expensive! My garden fence —pictured above— was built from saplings harvested on-site. And the wicker furniture in my garden was found —wearing a “free” sign— on the side of the road.
When laying out your garden, remember to include space for companion flowers and herbs. Although companion planting has become one of the more hotly debated horticultural topics —with some gardeners believing in its value, and others questioning the scientific proof of success— there is no doubt that flowering plants attract and support pollinating insects —like bees and butterflies— to your vegetable garden. And no matter where you stand on the companion planting issue, it’s pretty hard to argue with the horticultural value of pollinating insects and the beauty of flowers in the vegetable garden. Zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, shasta daisies, calendula (particularly the French marigold) and nasturtiums are easy-to-grow, and all make gorgeous vegetable garden additions. In addition to planting flowers in and around my vegetables, I grow extra blooms in my potager —just for cutting. Climbers are also pretty in the vegetable garden, especially if you have a rustic fence or trellis (vertical supports are particularly useful if you have limited space). Old-time, deliciously fragrant sweet peas are best sown directly outdoors as soon as the ground can be worked, but many flowers —including climbers like morning glories— can be started indoors for earlier bloom. And if you like to decorate with dried flowers in late summer and fall —or want to make wreaths— consider growing globe amaranth (Gomphrena), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis), statice (Limonium sinuatum), and other everlasting blooms in your cutting garden.
I love flowers in the vegetable garden, and fresh-cut bouquets in my house. So I grow plenty of beautiful bloomers in my potager.
I can’t imagine life without a vegetable garden. I grew up with horticulture —my family raised and sold organically grown strawberries and other produce— and teaching me how to grow my own food —and more importantly, the joy and value of gardening— is one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me. If you have children of your own, I encourage you to involve them in as much of the gardening process as possible. When planning your spring garden, order a few extra seed packets —both flowers and vegetables if you can make the room— just for your kids. Children will always remember early gardening experiences like sowing seed, and harvesting their first crop of peas. Even the smallest task —like carrying the harvest basket or looking for bugs— teaches children that their contributions matter to the family. With kids, it’s important to focus on the process of gardening —not so much the product— so that the entire experience is rewarding.
Sunflowers are a fun, easy-to-grow crop for children
Here, my friends Myriah and her daughter, Dharma, moisten seed their starting mix together
Make Gardening Come to Life: Sow Seeds, and Watch them Germinate
I plant my vegetable garden in 3′ x 8′, raised, earth-mounded beds. I try to keep enough space between the beds to comfortably maneuver around with a weeding basket and to pass through with a wheelbarrow or garden cart. This system works well for me, but I have seen many other successful vegetable growing methods. Urban gardeners may grow in pots or planters, and some suburban gardeners like to build wooden boxes to contain vegetables in the square-foot garden style, and many country gardeners simply till soil and hoe rows. There is no right or wrong way to set up your vegetable garden: experiment, do what works best for you, and enjoy the process. If you are new to gardening, it is a good idea to start small and grow your space as your confidence increases. Over the years, as I’ve become more interested in cooking and baking, my vegetable garden has doubled in size. It’s such a pleasure to create meals with beautiful, ripe, organic vegetables, grown and harvested fresh in my own backyard. This year, I plan on adding more hard-to-get, gourmet produce in my potager. I’ll be planting crops that store well in winter (like gourmet potatoes and onions, garlic, squash, carrots and beets), as well as seasonal, enjoy-at-the-moment produce like heirloom tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, and other unusual fruits and vegetables from around the world. I love eating fresh food all summer long, and by adding row-covers and unheated hoophouses to the garden, I’ve been able to extend my growing season; harvesting some produce —like root vegetables and leafy greens— year-round. I can’t wait to dig back in! This week, I’ll be posting more details about my spring garden plans, and I look forward to hearing about yours both here, and on Facebook and Twitter!
Remember fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes?
Helianthus annus ‘Autumn Beauty’ – Sunflower in my Potager
Remember the smell of the earth? It’s coming… Soon!
Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his fantastic seed starting photos. Visit Tim’s site here.
Article and potager photos ⓒ Michaela at TGE
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