Master Gardener: Deer can take a big bite out of your garden | Lifestyles


A question master gardeners often hear is, “How can I keep deer from eating my plants?” »

I’ve had reports of deer damaging a wide variety of trees and shrubs this winter, and even knocking over temporary fences to gain access to landscape plants.

Deep snow during the winter will certainly entice hungry deer to look for food in backyards. As deer populations increase, the likelihood of deer conflicts also increases.

Deer feed on flowers, fruits, vegetables, ornamental shrubs, tree buds and twigs. Grazing can disfigure trees and shrubs. Deer can also cause damage by rubbing their antlers on small trees, chipping them or rubbing the bark.

Deer are also a host for blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks.

Western New York has seen an increase in the number of these ticks in recent years. They are now frequently found in backyards, and not just in “wild” areas.

Deer like to live at the edge of the forest rather than in mature forests. Their preferences are mixed coniferous and deciduous forests, shrublands, and abandoned fields with nearby cropland.

This mix gives them plenty of food and cover.

Deer are very adaptable, allowing them to move directly into suburban neighborhoods, which have a combination of lawns, gardens, trees, shrubs, and cover. In late spring and summer, deer feed mainly on grasses, herbaceous plants – as herbaceous flowering plants are called – crops, leaves, twigs and buds. They feed on masts, such as beechnuts and acorns, in the fall and concentrate almost entirely on twigs and buds during the winter and early spring.

You can tell the damage caused by deer, rabbit and rodent feeding by looking at the cut.

Deer do not have upper incisors. When they take a bite, they leave a ragged and broken end on the grazed branches.

Rabbits, on the other hand, leave a clean cut. Mice and voles gnaw, leaving small teeth marks.

Another indication is the height of the damage. Deer will stand on their hind legs to reach leaves, up to about 6 feet.

While there are no easy solutions to prevent deer damage if they visit your garden, don’t give up hope. There are some things you can try.

It is easier to prevent damage than to stop it once deer have found your garden. Fences or fences plus deer repellents are the best option, especially if you have valuable plants to protect or deer populations are high.

Permanent fences are not cheap. Besides cost, local zoning laws, aesthetic considerations and ease of construction must be taken into account.

You might decide to go with a fence if you factor in the cost of annual landscaping replacement and reducing tick encounters in your yard.

Repellents aren’t a perfect solution either. They are supposed to discourage deer from foraging by having an unpleasant taste or smell.

Research has shown that odor-based repellents generally work better than taste-based materials. Look for products that smell sulphurous or contain rotting animal protein such as putrid egg solids or slaughterhouse waste such as blood. No commercial repellent is 100% effective and what works in one place may not work in another.

Repellents must be sprayed on plant material to work effectively, which can take time. They should be reapplied approximately every five weeks under heavy deer pressure.

For best results, repellents should be applied before damage occurs and before deer become accustomed to feeding on the plant.

Repellents tend to be most cost effective when the following conditions exist; deer numbers are low to moderate; damage was light to moderate; the area affected is small and only two to three applications are needed for control. Apply commercial repellents according to manufacturer’s label instructions.

In some cases, owners can reduce damage by selecting plant species that deer find less appetizing. However, if deer populations are high or natural foods are limited, especially in winter or early spring, hungry deer will eat plants they normally wouldn’t disturb.

There are no plants that are 100% deer resistant, but some plants are less attractive and have been labeled as “deer resistant”.

Deer-resistant plants often have hairy, rough, or spiny leaves or stems. The aromatic compounds in the stems or leaves are also less appealing to eat.

Lavender, thyme, mint, and boxwood are considered aromatic plants, while the fuzzy leaf of lamb’s ear is less palatable to deer. Some plants, such as daffodils, snowdrops and aconite are poisonous and avoided.

Tender new growth in the spring can make even a hardy plant susceptible to browsing.

There are lists of resistant plants that can be used as a guide. Sometimes it’s all about trial and error, as the deer in your neighborhood may have different tastes than in the neighboring city, county, or state.

Trees and shrubs listed as deer resistant include: juniper, papaya, river birch, Scots pine, sassafras, white pine, ironwood, American holly, bottlebrush buckeye, daphne, bayberry, elderberry, fragrant sumac, blue haze shrub, lilac, fothergillia, hazelnut, Oregon grape holly and spirea.

Some of the perennials that deer dislike are: brunnera, lamium, lemon balm, yarrow, allium, lily of the valley, snakeroot, bleeding heart, catmint, meadow rue, foxglove, wood fern, woodruff fragrant, epimedium, moss flower, hellebores, hyacinth, ostrich fern, poppy, pulmonaria, sea holly, Russian sage, rhubarb, chives, lemon balm, oregano and switchgrass. annuals include marigold, calendula, snapdragon, geranium, cleome, dusty miller, coleus, alyssum, salvia, calendula, globe pigweed, nicotiana, wax begonia, l ear, dill, nasturtium and basil.

If you need ideas specific to your landscape, contact your local Master Gardener office.

A gardening question?

Volunteer Master Gardeners are normally in the office from 10 a.m. to noon on weekdays. You can stop by the CCE office at 420 E. Main St., Batavia, call (585) 343-3040, ext. 127, or email [email protected]

Join us on April 21 at noon for an early Earth Day program: “Planting with Purpose—Using Native Plants in the Garden.”

This hour-long show will take place at the CCE office and on Zoom.

What if your garden could help bring home our native songbirds, butterflies, bees, fireflies and beneficial insects? How can they do that?

Simple – Add native plants.

This program is intended to help gardeners who want to add native plants to their garden but are unsure what to do. We’ll talk about the benefits native plants can bring and how you can incorporate them into your garden.

If you would like to participate in this program in person, please register before April 18.

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