15 April 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
Is it the deer, the voles? Are grub-searching skunks digging up the rose bed? Do moles make mazes in your garden? Have bunnies lost their charm? They all seem to know when buds are fresh and full, lettuces sweet, roots and shoots tender.
Deer browse with the nose because pungent odors alert them to potential harm. If they are not deterred by a powerful smell, then the off-limits foliage may signal danger with a bitter taste.
Still not deterred? Leathery, prickly leaves, sharp spines, thorny stems or caustic, milky, sticky sap will stop them. Regardless, there are no deer-proof plants. Hunger will bring a deer to taste the most noxious leaf.
In spring, deer easily pluck vulnerable shoots from amongst the pliant thorns that eventually harden as the season progresses. The equally persistent gardener creates a perennial spring with succession plantings of new seedlings for the vegetable garden, along with over-fertilized, lush foliage. This is what I call out-of-season deer salad.
Liquid and granular repellants, physical barriers, and deer-defiant plants will work together to provide the best multi-layered defense system.
As you scout garden centers and catalogs, use any of the lists of deer-resistant plants found on the Internet. Commercial enterprises as well as state universities have generated reliable inventories. Check for the round red circle with a slash through the leaping deer.
If you cannot resist what deer are sure to chomp, then know that your next line of defense will be some sort of stinking powder, spray, pellets, hair or hanging lump of citrusey soap. Know, also, that the stink must be changed periodically, as deer learn that the odor is only a deterrent.
The next level of defense is black plastic netting. One either extends a fence around those precious plants or drapes the netting. Remember to lift the drape frequently, as new growth will poke through. Neglecting to raise the net will lead to tangled buds and leaves.
Take your defense further with either an 8 to 12-foot fence or two concentric rings of four-foot fences, four feet apart. This barrier visually confuses the deers depth perception. The ultimate obstacle is a seven-strand, five-foot, highly tensile, electrically charged, outward-slant fence.
Try first your own homemade concoction of malodorous mist. The crucial ingredients are rotten eggs and sour milk. A popular recipe recommends a putrefied, three-day-old mix of one egg and four ounces of milk in a gallon container. Add a half-tablespoon of light cooking oil, like canola and a half-tablespoon of dishwashing liquid.
Dissolve it all, in enough water to fill the jug. For extra punch, add a tablespoon of crushed hot pepper (cayenne). Apply with your favorite sprayer; repeat after the rain.
You can change the deers early springtime line-of-commute away from your garden if you diligently lay down this trail of rotting stench. Integrated pest management is your goal with gentle barriers and deer-resistant plants.
Tip of the Week
We are nearing springs average last killing frost of April 20-30. You could seed this week or next: cucumbers, muskmelons, pumpkin, summer and winter squash, sweet corn, sweet potato and watermelon; transplant eggplant, pepper, and tomato seedlings. For frosty nights, protect tender plants with a filmy fabric or individual cloches.