Garden Plot: The plants that deer might not eat

Taken in 2005, this photo shows a deer eating someone\'s garden near the Nicholson Street NW neighborhood by Rock Creek Park. (Courtesy of Linda Crichlow White)
Keeping deer from chomping away

Mike McGrath | November 14, 2014 7:07 pm

Oh, deer! Those stomachs on legs will eat almost any plant

WASHINGTON – Nancy in Silver Spring writes: “Our property backs up to parkland and we get a lot of deer. What can I plant that’s deer-resistant, colorful, and easy to maintain?”

Well, Nancy, the Mohonk Mountain House in upstate New York (where they have a lot of deer) has created a nice list of annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs that deer have mostly declined to dine on at the lushly landscaped resort.

But they also add that really hungry deer will eat almost anything, especially when the plants are young and tender. So even the most “deer-resistant” plants need to be caged or sprayed frequently with deer repellent during their first few years of life.

That’s why you were right on the money when you used the term “deer-resistant,” because very few plants could ever be called “deer-proof.”

The best deer protection is a multi-pronged approach

Despite installing the most deer-resistant plants known to exist, the Mohonk Mountain House adds that they also use a lot of deer repellent in their unfenced areas. They rotate repellents and spray them frequently to keep them effective, especially during the active growing season when the new growth that’s especially appealing and unsprayed is appearing rapidly.

They warn that the only areas guaranteed to be unmolested are the ones that are protected by professional deer fencing that’s 11 inches taller than Shaquille O’Neal.

And that’s my real advice to Nancy in Silver Spring: In situations like yours, most people eventually pay for a professional deer fence to be installed. These fences are 8 feet tall, made from a mesh that’s virtually invisible from most angles and – unlike repellents – are a one-shot deal. Don’t forget to have cattle guards or similar devices installed in the driveway or deer will walk right up and eat your doorbell.

A much less expensive option for protection of dedicated areas is a motion- activated sprinkler (the best-known brand is called “The Scarecrow” from Contech) that throws cold water on any deer (or cats, dogs, geese, etc.) that wander into the protected area. They provide excellent protection, cover as big an area as 1,200 square feet and only cost around 50 or 60 bucks. (Get it? “Bucks”? C’mon, people – don’t make me tell the Beer Nut joke!)

Biggest disadvantage: They must be turned off and drained in the winter. Water freezing up inside would damage the device.

List of plants that deer eat last

Here’s a short sample of plants that the Mohonk Mountain House in upstate New York reports that deer have (mostly) declined to dine on over an 18-year period at the lushly landscaped resort. Again, a word of warning: Once deer have finished off their preferred plants in an area, they won’t stop eating – they’ll move on to less-liked lovelies, like these. But filling a besieged garden with plants that deer will choose to eat last is a great tactic.

Ageratum, begonias, cleome, foxglove, snapdragons, vincas and four o’clocks are among the more than 70 annual bedding flowers on the list, along with strawflowers, lantana, salvia, marigolds, sweet alyssum, scented geraniums, love- in-a-mist, verbena and zinnias.

Perennials? 70 of them are on the list as well, including yarrow (whose daisy-like flowers attract lots of beneficial insects), lily of the valley, bleeding heart, Japanese and Siberian iris, evening primrose, peonies and veronica.

And if you’re tired of seeing your precious arborvitae and azaleas eaten to the ground, consider replacing them with some of the more than 75 trees and shrubs the Mountain House found to be UN-delicious to the beasts – like serviceberry, butterfly bush, English hawthorn, mountain laurel, boxwood, blue spruce, spirea, snowberry and wisteria.

See the complete list at the bottom of the page.

Garlic growers: Cut your scapes!

Were you wise enough to plant garlic in the fall? If so, be ready to cut off any scapes that have appeared. Most varieties of garlic will produce a central stalk around this time of year with a little bulge at the top – that’s the scape. Using a pair of scissors, cut just below the bulge, leaving most of the bottom portion of the stalk intact. Cutting off the scapes now will give you much bigger heads to harvest next month.

If the bulges are still small, saut


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