Creatures

Gardening with Deer

Gardening with deer? While doing so takes some effort, it can be done. The keys are to know your foe and, with all good gardening, choose the right plant for the right place.

Before choosing any landscape plant for an area not protected by deer, understand that deer will eat anything when hungry enough, and not all deer share the same tastes. What one or many deer avoid in one garden another individual or group may devour in another garden.

The local deer in my neighborhood tend to avoid plants with fuzzy and/or silver leaves, ornamental grasses, native ferns, most herbs, foxglove, amsonia, nepeta, Siberian iris, lychnis, nearly everything in the allium (onion/garlic) family, daffodils/narcissus/jonquils, low growing sedum, boxwood, bayberry, and some conifers such as white pine, blue spruce, and some junipers.

Perennial and shrub bed of deer-resistant plants.

Perennial and shrub bed of deer-resistant plants.

Local deer occasionally nibble new bearded iris leaves, the very first shoots of Tete-a-tete narcissi as these emerge early, crocus (even the supposed deer-resistant tommasinianus varieties, but only rarely), Lady’s Mantle, and peony foliage (generally either in early spring as they emerge or later summer into autumn), as well as young, within reach foliage of lilac, viburnum, and pee-gee hydrangea.

Read more on how I garden with deer in the heavily deer-populated region of south-central Connecticut by clicking Gardening with Deer, as recently published in the Spring 2015 issue of the Lyme Land Conservation Trust newsletter.

Browsing deer - do you see all three?

Browsing deer – do you see all three?

When gardening with deer you may not be able to plant all of your favorites, without investing in a fenced area, but you can still create beautiful gardens from mostly deer-resistant plants.

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A tale of two feeders and bluebirds

Bluebirds joined us for breakfast this morning … not at the table, but outside at the feeder … the new feeder that comes with a tale.

Bluebirds waiting their turn at the suet.

Bluebirds waiting their turn at the suet.

The pole – complete with squirrel baffle – upon which the new feeder rests, spent years in a front yard garden holding a different wooden feeder where winter birds visited for a cold-weather snack. It stood in a spot far enough from trees to keep leaping squirrels away, but too far for us to easily watch its visitors from the house. Its location made it difficult to fill during times of deep snow, and it was near an area of the yard where we found bear tracks and scat. (I’m convinced that my use of thistle seed, instead of sunflower seed, is what kept any bear from trashing the feeder.)

Last autumn I decided to move the pole feeder into the fenced back yard where we could easily watch it from a nearby breakfast nook; a spot also far enough from the house and trees to keep leaping squirrels at bay. After positioning the pole for optimal viewing from inside, I planned to remount the original wooded feeder  – which had become covered with moss and oozed old-world charm – to a new board to accommodate hanging the three suet feeders.

Much to my disappointment, moisture and moss had so softened the wood of the old feeder that it nearly fell apart when I removed it from atop the pole. Not ready to say good by to the aged feeder and its tales of winters past, of blizzards and ice storms, of generations of birds that visited to feed on its contents, I hung it in a new spot where it is less taxed by its life’s work, and is still visited by an occasional bird.

Old, weathered bird feeder

Old, weathered bird feeder

The quest began for a new wooden feeder that could begin to weather into the charming progeny of the old one … and here it rests, attracting birds to within our view.

Bluebirds sharing suet.

Bluebirds sharing suet.

It’s fresh and new, and does a great job of enticing all kinds of winter birds. So far we’ve seen pairs of downy and hairy woodpeckers, a red-bellied woodpecker and a yellow-bellied sapsucker, juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, mourning doves, a pair of cardinals, blue jays, an adorable little winter wren, and now bluebirds.

Bluebirds, woodpecker, juncos at a feeding station.

Bluebirds, woodpecker, juncos at a feeding station.

With time this feeder will weather through winter storms; its wood will darken with the dust of years gone by and age from generations of birds stopping to partake of its contents. It may even mature with the same old-world charm of its predecessor and, after years gone by, whisper a tale of the morning bluebirds stopped by for breakfast … and life goes on.

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Finally … winter snow

Snow has been rare in my south-central Connecticut garden so far this winter so I more than welcome this morning’s measly three inch snowfall. Finally … winter snow has arrived.

At this time last year we already had good snow cover and I was checking animal tracks to see which creatures were active around the house and gardens. More animal track observations may be possible if the wind remains still and the snow cover doesn’t melt away due to one of the broad temperature swings that, so far, have highlighted our 2014-2015 winter.

But, this morning’s creature watching was all about birds. A junco perched for a photo atop the branch of a white lilac and, on the main trunk, a downy woodpecker seems to be listening for insect activity.

Junco and downy woodpecker in a January 2015 snow

Junco and downy woodpecker in a January 2015 snow

Both await their turn at the nearby feeder, but the woodpecker’s actions capture more of my interest. This lilac was host to some sort of borer last year. I pruned out damaged trunks and branches, and dug out as much of the damaged root section as possible, then waited and watched for new insect holes in the woody branches. If woodpeckers remain interested in the trunk sections of this shrub I know to keep watching it closely for further borer damage.

In the meantime, activity at the feeder shows it’s time to refill the suet and thistle seed.

Juncos and downy woodpeckers on a snowy morning.

Juncos and downy woodpeckers on a snowy morning.

They’ll get their wish later, when it’s time clear the walkways. For now, I’ll just continue to enjoy the view, and hope my woodpecker friends visit the lilac as a resting spot, rather than a place for food.

 

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