What deer don’t eat, so far …

It’s time for me to look at my deer-munched plantings with a glass-half-full attitude. Deer, in large numbers, are here to stay unless my little section of south-central Connecticut is suddenly cohabitated by a throng of hungry mountain lions … but that would bring another set of issues. Enough sniveling over all the greenery I’ve planted that deer now see as dinner (That’s a deer, granddaughter deer. and Do deer tweet?). Time to focus on what deer haven’t eaten … yet.

In my gardens, fuzzy, silver and fragrant seem to be off the list of deer faves. Stachys byzantina, a.k.a. Lamb’s Ear, in the common flowering form and the non-flowering variety ‘Helene von Stein’ are both ignored. Many gardeners decry common Stachys’ wild looking flower stalks – they tend to fall this way and that after heavy rains. I don’t. Bees love the flowers, I welcome the subtle purple flower color and I simply cut back unruly stalks after giving them a chance to pop back up after a rain. Remove all stalks when flowers fade to enjoy the fuzzy silver foliage long into autumn.

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Plants with similar downy coverings – common mullein (Verbascum thapsus), downy Salvias (sages), Santolina, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ grows best for me), rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) and artemesias – also avoid deer browsing.

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Deer have not touched common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) foliage, shown here in autumn and in bloom.

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Deer leave all my green- and red-foliage ground-cover sedum alone.

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Deer have yet to nibble away ornamental grasses, Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘Glauca’), any variety of thyme, and Siberian or bearded iris (though I’ve heard of deer eating iris in other gardens).

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To date, deer don’t seem interested in allium, most narcissi (except my early blooming Tete-a tete miniatures when I forget to cover newly emerging foliage), globe thistle (Echinops ritro), native ferns, boxwood (Buxus sempervirens, ‘Green Ice’, and ‘Green Mountain’), and Pieris japonica. They have not yet nibbled my newly planted Montgomery Spruce (Picea pungens glauca globosa), but time will tell.

Deer leave my rhododendron and laurel shrubs alone during late spring, summer and early autumn, but I fence rhododendron from late autumn through winter to keep deer from ‘pruning’ them into green-topped umbrellas. This year I’m also going to fence in the small laurel shrubs so deer cannot re-shape them.

Check out Elegant Silvers by Jo Ann Gardner & Karen Bussolini as a go to resource for silver foliage plants. I cannot attest that all their listed deer-resistant plants will be so in your garden, but their list is a good place to start.

Please share any truly deer-avoided plants you’ve discovered. The list is likely to be ever-changing, but it’s one I’ll be working on for the rest of my gardening-in-Connecticut days.

Garden thoughtfully …

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Joene Hendry

Gain Valuable Lessons in Organic Land Care

Registration is open for the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Organic Land Care (OLC) Accreditation Courses in MA, CT and RI. This 5-day intensive course trains land care professionals and advanced gardeners to design and maintain healthy, ecologically-sound landscapes.

I took the course last winter during cold, blustery and snowy days. The training was a welcome relief from the weather. As I posted after passing the course:

I was immersed in training that pulled my sense of gardening and my belief in natural processes together – the NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) Organic Land Care Program. This course, offered annually, covers all aspects of land care and trains you to look at the impact gardening and landscape practices have beyond the edges of individual properties. Read on … 

The OLC course brought together all the organic gardening principals I’d followed during my gardening life through its focus on three main themes … kind of the Hippocratic Oath of Land Care:

  • Do No Harm
  • Protect Local Ecosystems
  • Right Plant, Right Place

The OLC course teaches new respect for the life and diversity of soil, and the phenomenal importance it plays in plant health. Did you know that one teaspoon of soil contains millions of organisms that support plant life?

The OLC course encourages seeking design inspiration from natural landscapes and native plant communities.

The OLC course reminds that every landscape decision we make will have either a positive or negative impact. The key is to seek the positive.

Coursework delves into site analysis and design; wetlands and watercourses; native, non-native and invasive plants; wildlife, pest and disease management; soil health; water use and quality; lawn care and lawn alternatives; fertilizers, soil amendments, weeds and mulches; and planting and pruning … as individual entities and from a big picture aspect.

TnThe Massachusetts class in Worcester runs January 9-13, 2012; the Connecticut class in New Haven runs February 15-22, 2012, and Rhode Island’s class in Charlestown runs February 22 through March 2, 2012. You can take the course for personal education or, upon passing the test, for professional accreditation.

Interested? Head here for more information, or contact me through a comment below.

If you decide to take the course I’d be thrilled to be mentioned as your referrer. Not only will I know I led someone else to this valuable training but … for the sake of complete transparency … NOFA will give me a discount on my next OLC re-accreditation fee.

Won’t you join me and more than 500 like-trained individuals accredited in Organic Land Care? You’ll gain knowledge that you’ll carry for the rest of your gardening days. If you are part of a business or organization that sends students in a group of three or more, NOFA will cut 15% off the price of the course.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Joene Hendry

Preventing deer damage

White-tailed deer are beautiful creatures but there are simply too many trying to survive in Connecticut woodlands. My south-central Connecticut town is listed in Connecticut hunting zone 12 which includes shoreline towns from Milford to Stonington and Connecticut River towns of Lyme and East Haddam. Zone 12, along with zone 11 towns in southwestern Connecticut, has extended white-tail deer hunting seasons because of high deer density – as many as 60 to 70 deer per square mile in studied areas of these zones. Considering that deer eat 5 to 10 pounds of plant material per day, deer density exceeding 20 per square mile is enough to significantly alter forest undergrowth.

I’ve observed a rapid rise in deer numbers in my small section of Zone 12. Prior to 2009 winter deer herds contained about 3 to 5 deer on average. During winters of 2009 and 2010 – years of heavy acorn crops – herd size averaged 8 to 10 and 15 to 17, respectively. Photos from this January 2010 post show local deer activity.

When you do the math – 5 to 10 pounds of plant material per day times the groups of 15 to 17 deer frequenting nearby woods – it becomes clear why deer seek more food from gardens right now. There’s nearly no acorn crop this autumn so the 75 to 170 pounds of plant material deer need each day to survive must come from somewhere.

Deer-browsed amsonia-3No wonder they’ve been eating plantings they never used to touch in my yard … a topic I’ve whined about frequently this year (That’s a deer, granddaughter dear and Do Deer tweet?)

I’m on a constant search for information from others regarding deer resistant plantings and deer repelling activities. Over the years I’ve added the books Deer Proofing Your Yard & Garden by Rhonda Massingham Hart and Gardening in Deer Country by Vincent Drzewucki, Jr. to my library. Both give basic deer habits, deer repellent and deer fencing information for beginning gardeners but I’ve found deer eat many of the plantings each book lists as deer resistant.

I’ve read many articles from reputable publications about deer resistant landscaping like:

  • Deer? Oh, Deer … Try Herbs written by a gardener in Texas who suggests both basil and parsley as plants deer will avoid – not so in my experience – or planting barberry (Berberis vulgaris), a shrub that is highly invasive in Connecticut.
  • Damn You, My Deer which suggests trying many commonly used tactics like motion activated sprinklers, deer repellent sprays, keeping a dog, or installing fencing … nothing new … and also suggests invasive barberry as a resistant shrub.
  • A Practical Program for Combatting Deer which reviews generally useful deer-deterring seasonal tactics but also suggests spreading sewage sludge-derived Milorganite, a product I do not recommend and will not use because of it’s source.

I’d love to report any of the books or articles I’ve found as a definitive source, but the reality is that deer have individual tastes and display region- or even herd-specific differences. Even conferring with educated and experienced staff at your local garden center can reveal differences in useful repellent tactics. For example, I’ve used diluted salmon or fish emulsion spray to keep deer from munching echinacea buds, but a local garden center owner found fish emulsion spray an ineffective deer repellent.

I’ve tried many tactics that work for other gardeners:

  • surrounding deer faves with deer repelling plants, but deer simply trample the plants they don’t like to get to the plants they do.
  • covering plants with netting, but hungry deer will push through netting to access leaves.
  • hanging stinky soap, stinky sprays, bags of human or dog hair, and shiny objects or wind chimes. Some worked temporarily. None, even alternating between these tactics, work permanently.

The only true deterrent I’ve tried is fencing. I’ve resorted to circling welded wire cages around newly planted trees until branches rest higher than deer can reach. Even newly planted deer resistant shrubs like Blue Point Juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Blue Point’) get caged for the first few years. Any deer-candy plants I want to grow live inside the 5-foot ornamental fence surrounding our back yard. Deer have yet to try jumping this fence because I have it’s outer and inner edges heavily planted. Supposedly deer hesitate to jump into closed in spaces if they don’t perceive ample landing room. So far … knock on wood … this has been the case.

And, before the ground freezes each autumn, I surround mature rhododendron shrubs with wire fencing and protect azaleas with wire cages.

Two repellent tactics I’ve not yet tried is placing welded or chicken wire on the ground in front of planted beds and surrounding planting beds, or even the yard, with a trap rock filled swaths. Supposedly deer don’t like to walk on surfaces that might catch their hooves or on highly uneven surfaces. I’d love to hear from anyone who has tried either of these means, or any other deer repelling tactics that may work.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Joene Hendry