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Archive for the ‘Deer in the Garden’ Category

One whole hosta clump totally defoliated by deer

This yew was decimated by hungry deer over the winter.

This yew was decimated by
hungry deer over the winter.

The other day I was flipping through some pictures that I had taken of my sister’s gardens in Vermont and came across some photos of damage that had been done by deer in her gardens.

Most of the damage was more recent, from summer munching on her hosta but, over the winter, the deer had also browsed many of her shrubs including her yews (Taxus). The poor yews looked pitiful with just a few tufts of new growth coming out at the tips and along the branches. Luckily they have dormant buds in the bare wood so they are able to recover from this damage. They can be cut back hard, similar to the way you can prune boxwood and holly. I find it interesting that deer eat yews because these shrubs are highly toxic to cattle!

Last winter was definitely a tough one for deer because it was so cold and many areas had quite a bit of snow. This resulted in more damage than normal because they resorted to eating things that they might normally have left alone.

One gardener wrote,

Due to the extremely cold winter here in Annapolis, MD, I’ve noticed this spring that the tips of my azaleas, the bottom of my camellias, and evergreen shrubs appear to have been bitten off by deer (I have many in the wooded area I live in). The deer have never attacked these shrubs since I moved here years ago, so this damage has come as quite a surprise.

The deer browsed branches of an apple tree in our orchard

The deer browsed branches of
an apple tree in our orchard

Deer damage is especially devastating when it occurs on the spring flowering trees and shrubs that bloom on old wood (wood produced in the previous season). Often as they browse, the deer strip off many of the tender, dormant flower buds and thus wipe out much of the spring bloom.

Unfortunately, they really like rhododendron, azalea, and hydrangea! Some hydrangea, such as Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ and the ‘Endless Summer’ series will normally still bloom even if they are heavily browsed because they bloom on new wood.

In the spring or whenever you notice deer damage, it’s a good idea to make clean cuts on the stems or branches that were chewed. Prune them back to live, undamaged wood. This will prevent insects and disease from entering through the ragged wounds left by the deer and help keep your trees and shrubs healthy. Be sure to fertilize them with a good organic fertilizer like Espoma Plant-tone, Tree-tone, or Holly-tone.

Munched daylily buds. At least there were some flowers that bloomed!

Munched daylily buds. At least
some flowers bloomed!

As most gardeners know, deer damage isn’t limited to the winter months. There are plenty of trees, shrubs, annuals, and herbaceous perennials that they just love to eat during the spring and summer.

This summer, I have spoken with so many customers that would love to grow daylilies but can’t because the deer chew off all the flower buds right when they are about to bloom. How sad! They always ask me why we don’t have the same problem here with all the daylilies we grow. It’s true that we don’t normally have an issue with deer and I’m not sure why except that there is probably plenty of other food available in the surrounding fields. That being said, I have noticed that this year we HAVE had some deer browse on our daylilies. I’ve only seen it on the edge of some of the display beds but I definitely found some gnawed off daylily buds this summer. It is not widespread so perhaps we’ve always had SOME damage and I just never noticed it before.

A beautiful hosta totally destroyed!

A beautiful hosta totally destroyed!

Hosta are another one of their favorite snacks. They can devastate a beautiful hosta garden in no time at all. In one of Leslie’s beds, there were just leaf stems remaining after the deer went through – not very pretty to look at. They seem to pick and choose the ones they eat. Many of the hosta cultivars with thick, puckered leaves seem to be less desirable than the ones with thinner, more tender leaves. Interesting that slugs and snails have the same preferences.

These large-leaved hosta were not touched.

These large-leaved hosta with
heavy texture were not touched.

So what can you do short of resorting to a 30-06 rifle?

Plant “deer resistant” plants

Echinacea (coneflower) are colorful, long-blooming, and deer resistant!

Echinacea (coneflower) are colorful,
long-blooming, and deer resistant!

Deer are a persistent and once they find plants they like, they will continue to feed on them. You can often dissuade them from munching in your garden by placing plants that they don’t like to eat throughout your beds. While no plant is entirely “deer proof”, there are many perennials and shrubs that are deer resistant and most of them are beautiful plants that you will love having in your landscape.

Typically, deer steer away from plants that have thorns, fuzzy leaves or stems, coarse or tough leaves, plants with milky sap, and plants with aromatic foliage. Be aware, however, that the resistance of plants to deer damage is often related to the availability of other food and when times get tough, deer are often forced to eat normally “resistant” plants – as evidenced by last winter!

Use deer repellents

When it's cold out, the dormant flower buds of rhododendron become irresistible to deer.

Large leaf rhododendron are
usually irresistible to deer.

Certain plants, like hosta, daylilies, tulips, and rhododendron, are “candy” to deer and are frequently severely damaged by these garden marauders. If these are planted in areas where deer are common, they should be protected by fencing or by some type of deer repellent.

There are many repellents on the market now that claim to keep deer out of your gardens. Plus – don’t forget the Irish Spring soap in the nylon stocking trick!

Regardless of the repellents you choose, our most important recommendation is to alternate repellents through the season! Deer will eventually become accustomed to most repellents and then they will no longer be effective. Switch to a different repellent every 4 weeks or so.

Sometimes you just need a fence!

Why or why don't they eat the coltsfoot and leave the hosta!

Why oh why don’t they eat the coltsfoot and leave the hosta!

Deer fencing can protect the landscaping and gardens around your home. There are many different types of fencing available and the choice depends on how large, permanent, and strong you want your fence to be. A few years ago, we had deer in our vegetable garden for the first time. I guess they finally discovered that they could jump right over the 4 foot fence we had surrounding the garden. Now we have extended the fence up to about 10 feet high using stout bamboo poles and plastic wildlife netting. So far it seems to be working well on the deer but we are still having a problem with that stupid woodchuck …

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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