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Keeping deer at bay, extending flowers through fall

October 27, 2014

Mary Canny used to garden like most people, buying colorful impatiens and petunias to plant in beds around her small home in Baldwin Township. Then deer and turkey persuaded her to try another way — by eating them all.

"Researching, I found that zinnias and cannas were safe choices," she wrote in a recent garden contest.. "I plant multicolored zinnias of varying heights. In the back row, I add cannas. … I include elephant ear plants beside both edges of the sidewalk. The golds, reds, yellows and rusts are eye-catching. They remain in bloom until late October."

She’s not the only one who’s discovered the wonder of growing flowers from seed, beating the deer and extending summer color into the fall. I received an email in June with an offer to try a product called Live Mulch www.livemulch.com/ ).

The Lebanon, Conn.-based company offers seed from deer-resistant flowers ranging in size from sweet alyssum (2-6 inches) to zinnias (8-48 inches, depending on the type). Gardeners create perforations in bark mulch with a pitchfork or device the company sells. The slits give the seed good soil contact, while the mulch blocks most weeds. I chose the alyssum (‘Itsy Bitsy Wicked White’) and Candyland, a mix of white, pink and red cosmos.

I had always appreciated alyssum’s habit of self-seeding. Two years ago, I planted a six-pack of seedlings around a few "Hidcote: English lavender plants at the base of a silver weeping pear tree. Each year, I found more of the pretty little white flowers, which our local deer disdain as much as the lavender. I planted some of the alyssum seed from Living Mulch in bare spots in that bed and the rest in a backyard bed among some dark purple Sungelonias. Everything is still blooming, although the alyssum has begun to fade.

And the cosmos? The label said it was a dwarf variety that tops out at 20 inches, but mine reached 4 feet! Although the double petunias and dianthus I planted nearby have browned, I think the cosmos would keep blooming atop their pretty ferny foliage into November if I kept dead-heading.

But they’ll never get the chance. Because the cosmos have begun to flop across our front walk, I’ve started pulling them out, marveling at the thick stems and large clumps of roots. Next year, I’ll plant these pretty monsters in the back among some gangly white cleome that comes back every year along with purple ageratum, another deer-resistant self-seeder.

Frank Catalano, who sold an organic landscaping business in 2009 to market the Grass Stitcher (for seeding bare spots in lawns) and Live Mulch, said he was surprised how easy it was to grow flowers in bark mulch.

"If you do it early enough in spring and don’t disturb the soil beneath the mulch, there are very few weeds," he said in a phone interview.

He packs the seed in plastic canisters filled with sawdust, vermiculite and limestone. The different-sized particles keep the seed in suspension and well-spaced when sprinkled, he said. Next year, he plans to add creeping daisy, yellow and orange calendula and purply blue bachelor buttons to the Live Mulch line, which sells a 43-ounce container for $14.99.

That’s a bargain for all that long-lasting color, much cheaper than buying packs of little seedlings. Canny also knows that seeds are the frugal way to a colorful and low-maintenance flower garden. The registered nurse estimates she spends only $20 a season on zinnia seed, top soil and peat moss. She digs up the canna and elephant ear tubers and reuses them each year. Passers-by often stop to compliment her on her beautiful garden. These comments uplift her almost as much as planning her garden in February when she buys her zinnia seeds at a dollar store.

"I have the whole winter to think about it." She said. "The seed reminds me that winter will come to an end."

 

 

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