It might be your garden, but it's a smorgasboard for deer
Most people’s gardens are under a nice, insulating blanket of snow right now. But Jana Lamboy, assistant professor of horticulture at Finger Lakes Community College, told an audience Wednesday night that it’s never too early to think about strategies for protecting their precious flowers, vegetables and trees from being nibbled or otherwise damaged by deer.
Lamboy’s first take-home message for the audience at the Mueller Field Station was that a starving deer will eat any plant, no matter how toxic or bad-tasting. That being said, there are a number of plants deer generally steer clear of. Non-toxic deer-repellent plants include catnip, catmint, chives, onions, garlic, lavender, marigolds, goldenrod, sage, Russian sage and thyme. Equally deer-repellent, poisonous plants include daffodils, castor bean, narcissus, foxglove, delphinium, larkspur and monk’s hood.
Because overpopulation makes food scarce, deer will cause more of a problem to home gardeners in areas where there are few predators and limited hunting, said Lamboy.
In addition to thinking strategically about the types of plants in a garden, green thumbs should think about the placement of those plants, Lamboy said. Flowers that are more attractive to deer can be mixed in with deterrent flowers, and attractive plants are less likely to be nibbled if they’re placed right by a house, where people are frequently entering and exiting.
Anything with a human smell serves as a deer deterrent, Lamboy explained. Some gardeners have had success repelling deer by stringing their trees and garden posts with sachets of human hair, and Lamboy has known people who urinate on and around plants they want to protect.
At her own cut-flower garden, Lamboy has had success growing flowers that are highly attractive to deer — like tulips, sunflowers, lilies, hosta, phlox and roses — by using a variety of fences. The secret to effective fencing is to put the fence up before deer have the chance to taste what’s inside, she said. Fences need not be elaborate; Lamboy often uses rabbit fencing and bird netting, both of which are readily available at hardware stores. Any fence needs to be sturdy at the base, as deer tend to push their noses underneath to get at what’s inside, she said.
Plants suffering the worst deer damage in the fall and winter include arborvitae and yews. In the early fall, young bucks inflict their worst damage on young trees, rubbing against them to remove the velvet from their budding antlers; the rubbing damages the tissue that conducts water and nutrients between roots and leaves. Lamboy suggests wrapping young trees with commercially available protection wraps to prevent rubbing, and pruning trees to a smaller size if they have already been damaged. Another trick Lamboy suggested to dissuade rubbing was to pile brush around the base of the tree, because deer don’t like anything that could snag their feet.
In the spring, deer inflict the most damage on tulips and wildflowers, which bloom before the grass begins to grow. In times of summer drought, deer will search out whatever flowers have been fertilized and irrigated, she said.
If repellents or scents are used, gardeners should change them often in order to keep deer guessing. Deer also are turned off by objects that move or flap in the wind.
Lamboy’s conclusion: Tolerate some degree of deer damage, and think strategically to protect the plants one cares about the most.
Contact Hilary Smith at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 343 or at email@example.com.