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Diggin' In: Dealing with deer

February 23, 2015

Oh, dear, the deer are doing it again ĖĖ eating everything in sight in your lovely yard.

Late winter can be your worst deer-related nightmare because itís when their natural food supply of acorns, grasses and tender foliage is pretty much gone.

 When that happens, deer look for other goodies to devour, and those treats are usually located in yards filled with evergreen shrubs and trees.  Those same deer often come back for more and better stuff in spring and summer when your prettiest plants are putting on their seasonal shows.

A call out to gardeners, asking for deer-deterrent gardening tips, yields no lack of response.

Jim Orband gardens with some of the greatest deer pressure anyone can experience, thanks to the herds that roam the battlefields that surround his home in Yorktown, Va.  

 "There are multiple herds that live, shelter and feed in my subdivision," says Orband, a retired Virginia Cooperative Extension agent.

"Deer are not in my garden during the day, but I find deer tracks in the garden the next day ... in any season. There is not much to nibble on in the winter but they are scouting and looking. I have some fencing up but deer are able to find a way into the garden."

 More than 20 years ago, Orband knew that if he wanted to garden, he had to focus on plants that deer dislike. First, he started with shady plants and then got into fern and fern allies.

 "I have lots of other plants in the garden also," he says.

 "I have found that deer will walk by fernsó although last winter was so bad that I saw nibbling on the autumn fern, an evergreen fern, but not a complete feed."

 Although he preferred to avoid netting plants to protect them, Orband has done just that, including aucuba, Solomonís seal, camellia, maples, chindo viburnum and hostas.

 "I thought that I would never do that but if you want to enjoy the plant, you will look through the net," he says.

 Like many gardeners, Orband tried many different deer repellents over the years, including the popular Liquid Fence that is made to repel deer and rabbits.  Nothing is 100 percent reliable, he admits.

 "In 2014, I was using one deterrent religiously and thought that this might be the one, but one day after I sprayed that night, the deer ravaged the garden that evening," he says. "If they are hungry, it does not matter."

 Joanne Chapman, a gardener who also lives in Yorktown, agrees.

 "We use a combination of Liquid Fence and granular Deer Scram," she says.

 "The two together keep browsing to a minimum, but does not eliminate it entirely."

 Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends a deer-resistant plant list that includes American holly, barberry, boxwood, daffodil, butterfly bush, mahonia, river birch, ferns, rose of Sharon, spurges, herbs, hyacinth, iris, lambís ear, marigold, dusty miller, false cypress, peony, poppy, rhubarb and hellebore. Vegetables require fencing, which must be tall enough Ė think eight feet ó to prevent deer jumping over it.

 "Generally speaking, exclusion is always the best option," says Dan Nortman, York County, Va., extension agent. "Whether through legal harvesting, fencing or protection of individual plants of high monetary or sentimental value, exclusion is the only way that works every time.

 "Repellents are generally ineffective, and are rendered next to useless when used on a highly palatable plant or during a drought. During a drought, wild food sources are gone or quickly depleted and our landscapes are often the only source of food. In these instances, deer wonít even blink in the presence of a repellent."

 In Williamsburg, Va., master gardeners like Sally Sissel conducted a survey of area residents to identify the shrubs, perennials, bulbs and annuals that are often or sometimes browsed by deer. The list also includes plants that deer tend to ignore.

 But, as the report points out and experienced gardeners know, hungry deer eat just about anything and everything.

While deer do not harm backyard chickens, they can disturb the gardens that most chicken-keepers also grow. 

"Some people in our chicken group use motion-activated sprinklers to deter animals, including chickens, from getting into gardens and to keep predators from approaching coops," says Carol Bartram of Yorktown, found of PeCK, or Peninsula Chicken Keepers.

"They are also sold as deer deterrents."

In Williamsburg, gardener Joanne Roberts says she finds that deer dislike ferns, walking stick, forsythia, nandina, iris, liriope, mondo grass, lambís ear, columbine, goldenrod and verbena.

In Hampton, Va., Greg Hajos says deer problems are a perennial topic of discussion among members of the Langley Garden Club. Experimentation has taught them that fencing smaller plots instead of fencing one big area works best.

"Deer donít seem to like jumping into small spaces," he says. "Theoretically deer donít have good depth perception ó eyes on sides of their heads rather than binocular vision with two eyes on the front ó so a fence leaning in or out at about 45 degrees will fluster them." 

 In Yorktown, Jan Wiener suggests a solution that should be done only under the privacy of darkness.   After watching a vineyard eaten to nubs and hundreds of hostas devoured, Wiener had her husband and male friends urinate all over different parts of the yard.  Online, human and animal urine is suggested as a deterrent; sources suggest collecting urine and using a spray bottle to spray around plants.

 "We havenít seen deer since," says Wiener.

 

 




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