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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Invasives can sneak into any garden

Three of the most prolific invasive plants in Connecticut – Japanese barberry, Oriental bittersweet, and multiflora rose – can sneak into any garden, making it very important to learn how to identify and manage them.

Learn to identify Connecticut’s invasives by studying the information at the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group, seeking the advice of gardener or garden coach experienced in identifying the most prolific garden invasives in your area, and/or taking small samples to a trusted, local garden center for identification.

During this time of year, when invasive shrubs and vines are leafing out, I search for young Japanese barberry, Oriental bittersweet, and multiflora rose sprouting in and around bird-popular shrubs and trees. Birds eat the berries produced by more mature specimens of these invasives growing on neighboring properties, then spread undigested seeds via droppings. So … just below where birds like to roost is a good place to watch for emerging invasives.

What I found this week under a bird-popular winterberry shrub growing at the edge of our driveway is a perfect example.

Invasive Japanese barberry, Oriental bittersweet, and multiflora rose sprouted under a winterberry shrub

Invasive Japanese barberry, Oriental bittersweet, and multiflora rose sprouted under a winterberry shrub

You might not expect this to be the scene of an invasion … but it was. Among young winterberry shoots, different types of sedum, violets, an iris, ornamental grasses, and a dandelion grew three very unwanted plants.

The young Japanese barberry caught my eye first.

Young Japanese barberry

Young Japanese barberry

Then a closer look revealed a multiflora rose and young Oriental bittersweet shoots.

Young Oriental bittersweet and multiflora rose

Young Oriental bittersweet and multiflora rose

Without a keen eye and knowing what is what, it’s easy to pass over the bittersweet as emerging winterberry shoots, but closer examination reveals the difference in the leaves.

Now that I’ve found the three invasives growing under this winterberry, I will recheck the area throughout the growing season to be sure no other bird-dropped seeds have sprouted.

Once one becomes adept in how these three young invasives look, finding them becomes easier. Familiarize yourself with the look of young Japanese barberry; note the thorny stems. Moreover, the interior roots are yellow-green.

Young Japanese barberry, Oriental bittersweet, and multiflora rose pulled  and left to dry and die.

Young Japanese barberry, Oriental bittersweet, and multiflora rose pulled and left to dry and die.

The multiflora rose has a typical-looking rose leaf and the stems sport classic rose thorns.

Oriental bittersweet can be sneaky, but once you familiarize yourself with the various stages of growth, you’ll become quite adept at -spotting this invasive vine. Leaves on young vines are light green, the stems – with leaves at the very end – usually stand straight up reaching toward the light and the roots are orange.

Do not put these plants in the compost pile. Leave them on a hot surface to dry and die before disposing of them in the trash.

By finding these three invasives early, you can usually pull them out of the ground with roots intact. Once they become larger it becomes more difficult to get all the roots out of the ground, which allows re-sprouting. Still, any location where one of these young invasives has been found and pulled must be re-visited through the growing season to check for re-growth which, of course, requires re-pulling and continued re-checking.

Why bother with all this? All three are highly invasive and crowd out other, often native, vegetation. Japanese barberry is particularly noxious and creates a perfect habitat for disease-bearing ticks. Oriental bittersweet is a vine that will wind around and smother anything. Multiflora rose is thorny and not the nicest looking rose,  grows quickly, and crowds out other vegetation. Plus, these invasives are much easier to eradicate when young, with small root systems. Once any of the three become established they are a whole lot more difficult to eradicate.

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Weeds in the cracks?

Here’s an option for dealing with weeds in the cracks of paver walkways and patios that does not require hours of bending and pulling, or resorting to potentially harmful weed killers.

Tea kettle weed killer

Tea kettle weed killer

Try boiling water.

Now, keep in mind that this advice is for areas NOT in drought conditions.

Every spring the cracks between our now 16-year-old paver walkway and bluestone patio fill with weeds. As an organic land care professional the last thing I choose to reach for is a toxic weed-killer. Instead, I reach for the tea kettle.

Boiling water means death to newly emerging weeds.

With a long walkway and a good-sized patio, my boiling water attack takes some time, but not as much as it would if I tried to pull the weeds by hand.

To break up the chore, I do a section each morning until all emerging weeds have been boiled.

Standard caution is called for, such as carefully carrying the hot kettle of boiling water to the treatment area and using extra care to not burn your feet while pouring the water … but you were going to be careful anyway … right?

Here’s a section of untreated weeds.

walkway weeds, untreated

walkway weeds, untreated

Here’s a section a few days after the boiling water treatment.

weeds treated with boiling water

weeds treated with boiling water

Weeds treated with boiling water will be mostly brown the day after treatment. If, after a couple of days, some parts remain green, they are easily retreated. After a few days the brown foliage will dry and can be swept away.

Newly emerging weeds can be similarly treated throughout the growing season. Dandelions and any wayward violets you want to eradicate will require repeated boiling water treatments to keep them in check. However, boiling water treatments may not kill such deeply rooted plants. Still, it’s better than pouring toxic chemicals into your environment.

Let me know if you try this method, and if it works for you.


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