Saturday, March 17, 2012


            Well, you’ve surprised me again. The page-view statistics on the deer posts—despite all the pictures—are depressingly low. So I’m going to give you the fast take on the rest of the plants deer eat only if desperate, and move on. If the clamor for more illustrated deer-resistant plants becomes unbearable, I may oblige. I'm not, however, holding my breath.

            But first, some breaking news for St. Paddy's Day.

     ·         If you’ve been on an extended trip to Outer Mongolia or the Falkland Islands, you may not have heard that the USDA published its revised cold-hardiness zone map last month. To view it, click on the highlighted text. Take heart, global-warming catastrophists: the US isn’t really all that warmer—this go-round, the boys at Agriculture just crunched twice as many years of temperature data than the mere 15 they used to develop the original map. They included readings from lots more reporting stations as well, resulting in a more accurate picture of average winter temperatures. The map is just a tool anyway, advisory in nature. No one knows better than you what winter is like in your yard.

·      Attention, citizen-astronomers! Globe at Night is running its third observation period of 2012 from March 13th to the 22nd. This time, Northern Hemisphere viewers can opt for either Leo or Orion: Sky-Guy recommends looking at Leo for people in dark-sky areas. Bright red star Regulus makes him easy to locate. Making the great lion even easier to spot, Mars is cruising through the constellation this month. So get out there and do your bit to help map global light pollution.

·       The vernal equinox occurs on Tuesday, March 20th, as the sun passes over the celestial equator from south to north at 1:14 am EDT.

    ·       The World Wildlife Federation is holding its sixth annual Earth Hour, a climate-change awareness vigil, on March 31 beginning at 8:30 pm local time. Originating in Australia in 2006, the idea is shut off your lights and other electricity-sucking devices for at least an hour “…in a collective display of commitment to a better future for the planet,” says the website (linked above). Many places turn the evening into an outdoor, candle-lit social event, to spread awareness of sustainability issues. Personally, I’m dubious about the prospects of people coming together to save the planet; but what harm to savor an almost-April evening outside in the dark?


               Okay, let’s wrap up Bambi.

(Click on these photos to make them larger)
            Deer don’t eat grass. Any grass. This is one characteristic that makes them not-cows. Here’s a picture of an ornamental grasses garden Tim and I designed on the edge of a swamp. It’s full of Leymus, various Miscanthus, Acorus, and Panicum: so full, in fact, that we were able to slip in a few Knock Out roses that the deer, discouraged by all that yucky grass, never ventured in to find. That’s one for our side.

               Following the same path of deception, here’s a planting that surrounds a deer-candy daylily with less-tasty perennials: (clockwise from bottom left) ‘Icicles’ veronica; ‘Blue Midnight’ penstemon, Siberian iris, seashore mallow, butterfly weed, stokes asters, and ‘Pretoria’ canna lily. It’s pretty, and the daylily blooms are shielded from depredations.
            Non-starving deer also give palm trees a pass. I have to say I agree with them here: most palms are notoriously difficult to site in non-tropical landscapes so that they don’t jar with everything else. I find most of them rather ugly and/or ungainly, but that’s a topic for another day.

            In fact, most trees hold little attraction as forage for Bambi. Bucks in rut, however, can damage bark or uproot young deciduous specimens as they rub the velvet off their antlers.

Veg garden temptation
            The bad news is that, with rare exceptions (rhubarb, for example, or grassy crops like wheat), anything we grow to eat ourselves also pleases deer. Vegetable gardens in areas under pressure from local herds require sturdy fencing and/or continual patrol by large dogs. Another option is to grow edibles in containers in places deer can be excluded from—like hanging baskets or on gated decks.


            As my list of deer-resistant plants kept (keeps) growing, I realized that deer-browsed landscapes result from a) a herd that’s out-populated its habitat; and/or b) a serious lack of imagination on the part of the gardener. There’s not much you can do about a), but b) is entirely within your control.

The garden in March
      By way of example, consider the evolution of the property of our friends, Gen and Ed. Gen believes wholeheartedly in co-existing peaceably with nature. Ed believes wholeheartedly in co-existing peaceably with Gen. Their park-like yard includes several deer trails, to which their gnawed original ornamental plantings bore witness. Over the years, however, we’ve worked together to gently encourage Bambi to dine elsewhere. Here is a picture of the garden at one terminus of the trail in March, full of poisonous daffodils, prickly foliaged ‘Baths Pink’ dianthus and other plants safely off deer menus.

Same garden in August
    And here is the same garden in August, home to ornamental grasses, ‘Goldsturm’ black-eyed Susans, Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), coleus, and pentas. The deer just walk on by.

Rock garden

       Here’s the periphery of the same property. The tricky footing caused by the granite rip-rap strewn throughout the garden works with a lovely and low-maintenance planting of ‘Blue Pacific’ juniper, more ‘Baths Pink’ dianthus, coleus, society garlic and yaupon holly to make browsing uncommon.

    We even found a way for Ed to have some of the roses he loves, even though the flowers act like deer magnets: planting standards in pots did the trick.

'New Dawn' rose, unchewed

          If you find you can’t live without deer-candy, get around Bambi by growing his favorite noshes out of his reach. I’m training a ‘Zéphrine Drouhin’ rose to swag across our front porch, and jury-rigged a fantastically ugly chicken-wire arch for ‘New Dawn’ to grow over.

'Majestic Beauty' Indian hawthorn

       Plants trained or top-grafted into tree-forms (called “standards” in the trade) are another way to have your deer-cake and Bambi not eat it too. Here is a standardized ‘Majestic Beauty’ Indian hawthorn…

'Tardiva' standard hydrangea

…and a pee-gee ‘Tardiva’ hydrangea growing above the chewing-level of our scrubby little coast deer.

Take that, Bambi!

              Also consider containers hung out of reach, or kept in deer-proof enclosures.

A group of azaleas protected 
by nearly invisible fishing line
         If your yard’s full of hawthorns, pittosporums, euonymus, daylilies, roses, hostas, tulips and Oriental lilies, you can try the standard repellent methods—stinky sprays, grated Irish Spring soap, netting, bags of human hair or garlic-oil "pens" tied to susceptible shrubs, predator-urine stakes and fencing. Tim and I know some folks who mounted motion-activated dog-whistle-like devices in strategic spots around their yard one spring to good initial effect. Alas, the deer took to wearing earplugs or something, because by midsummer the devastation had resumed. You can keep deer out by stringing fishing line from tree to tree—or stake to stake—at chest height (theirs, not yours) around susceptible vignettes. The ultimate deterrent is, of course, a large dog.

"Cool Cola" defending the yard
(thanks to Labrador Retriever Pictures)
All these things work, but each has its trade-offs. Sprays can be expensive and must be reapplied regularly; soap’s cheaper, but you still have to be out there, grating away. Plants grow up through netting, failing to protect the tender new growth deer like best. Bushes festooned with bags of hair are soooo unattractive. Garlic pens and predator-urine stakes need replacing, although you probably won’t notice until the morning after the deer return. Fences work great but are a) expensive, b) ugly, or c) both. The sound devices, powered by four C-cell batteries, need frequent battery checks and replacements, and then the deer become accustomed to the sound anyway. Nearly invisible fishing line can cause tripping, and, in our litigious society, possible lawsuits. For those not inclined toward pet ownership, deer depredations may seem less harrowing than the rigors of life with Fido. 

In the March 2008 issue of The Avant Gardener, editor Thomas Powell wrote of experiments conducted by the USDA National Wildlife Research Center using hydrolyzed milk protein, called casein, to render plants unpalatable to Bambi. Apparently, casein is a common component of baby powder. The down side of this economical deer repellant (there’s always a down side) lies in how it’s applied. You have to mix the powder with some kind of adherent to make it stick to the leaves before spraying it on your plants. The article mentions commercial agricultural latex or—I’m not kidding—Elmer’s Glue-All. The mental picture I get of what baby powder, glue and water look like when applied to foliage is not pretty.
          The main goal of all repellents is to induce Bambi to change restaurants. Do keep in mind that hungry deer will eat anything. They also become inured to any one deterrent technique after a while. That’s why Tim and I advocate for planting things deer don’t particularly like in the first place. In the long run, it’s easier. 
        Don’t let the bastards get you down. And thanks for dropping by.


P.S.—For the seven readers who found the plants lists mildly interesting, there’s a supplemental post of the entire thing (sans pictures) following this one.


  1. Love the pics but love the love you have for flowers and plants even more.
    Have been looking for Japanese grasses and delphiniums and somehow I get stuck looking at pics and reading info so sidetracked as I get, I do enjoy.
    This is the first time I have ever seen or heard of potato grow bags and I love this.
    I get frustrated with sites that show pics then what you went in to look at either isn't there or way down at the bottom; like trying to shop at walmarts anymore. I get so mad I don't get anything from them.
    I look for sites that have info from bottom to top concerning the plants I am interested in as well as pics of even the seed pods. Yes, I know I am wierd but I hate having to do the mexican hat dance over a miriad of sites to get info for one plant at a time :( Do you do seed and plant swaps? I know Daves Garden does. I have been looking for hours now for info on Japanese Forest Grasses and I would have better success if I just typed in dog pooh! Brain is saturated with info about every thing in tiny little sound bites so finding your site is VERY refreshing. I Love it.
    Gracie in Phenix City AL area.

    1. Gracie--
      Thank you so much for your comment! And you're not weird at all. I share your frustrations with finding information on the Internet. The problem is that key-word labels are affixed by the site's writer, and very often have more to do with directing traffic to the site than helping people find what they're looking for. Sad but true. I am also prone to wander off and get lost in cyberspace, so I try to remember I have a perfectly good library of actual paper-and-ink books 25 feet away, if I would just remove my butt from the chair.
      I'm loving my grow-bags so far: got the tomatoes and peppers planted last weekend. Will include a picture for you at the end of the next post.
      Did you ever find Japanese forest grass? The botanical name is Hakonechloa macra, if that helps. (It's certainly more targeted than "dog pooh.")
      If you have anything in particular you'd like me to address, let me know. Suggestions and constructive criticisms are always welcome.

      Warm regards, Kathy

    2. Sorry to intrude, but if by any chance you know of a way to contact Tom Powell of the Avant Gardener (other than via mail or his NYC phone number), kindly respond to nofeerentalsatgmail. It's an emergency of sorts. Thank you.