Gardening with Deer and Rabbits

11/15/2013 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener In the Garden, Landscaping, Outdoor Living, Plant Care, Plant of the Week, Uncategorized

RestingFawnWith their large eyes, subtle colors, and graceful movements, deer really are mesmerizing to people. However, as our town grows, encounters with these majestic creatures are more frequent and often unwanted.  Helping to increase deer numbers are warmer winters; they noticeably have reduced natural deaths in the deer population. Additionally, natural deer predators have been reduced, even eliminated in some neighborhoods.  Deer become downright bold during times of drought and there are no tastier places to find sustenance than by feeding on our carefully tended landscapes and gardens.

There’s not much to be said about plant-devouring rabbits.  It seems that they’ve been sparring with gardeners since time began!

Fortunately, there are several measures that are highly effective in reducing the damage done by these creatures. You can choose between either man-made or natural methods to keep pests away from your garden.  Below is a list of these methods, beginning with fencing and natural barriers.

Fencing – should be at least 6 feet tall.  You may want to enclose just your vegetable or flower gardens to reduce the amount of fencing used. Fencing out rabbits requires mesh smaller than a chain link size.

New to the fence market this year are ocotillo branches wired together for a 6’x5′ fence that is easy to install and has proven itself highly effective at keeping animals out of local gardens.

Electric fence – A charged single wire 2- 4 feet above ground level is effective, especially when baited with peanut butter.  Fold pieces of aluminum foil in half and hang them over the wire at 10-foot increments. Peanut butter dabbed on the bottom edges of the aluminum foil will encourage deer to “taste” the electric fence.  They won’t be back for “seconds”.

Motion_detectorMotion detectors triggering a high-pressure water spray can be very effective deterrents. Also, a combination of noise and lights can deliver an element of surprise that drives away animals.

Organic controls – Unpleasant odors and smells associated with danger and death can keep pests away.  Feces or urine from predators such as lions and coyotes works well as long as the scent is fresh and frequently re-freshened.

Blood meal that is used for garden fertilizer works in a similar way.  Deer and rabbits perceive this blood smell as a predator near by that has just killed another animal.  Their thinking is, “Danger! I could be next.”  However, the scent must be kept fresh, so frequently reapply this organic deterrent.

Human hair, an old-fashioned deterrent has limited effectiveness because deer quickly become accustomed to the scent.

Scented soaps shaved and sprinkled around plants or hung from branches have some limited affect.

Commercial repellents give excellent results.  The most effective repellents use combinations of garlic, rotten eggs, castor oil, and/or hot pepper.  The key to success with these products is to reapply the repellent as new plant growth appears.  This is especially true in spring when animals are attracted to the profusion of tender new flower and leaf buds.

Repels All”, created by Bonide, seems to have the broadest repelling action against local deer and rabbits.  It is highly effective when gardens and landscape are sprayed before animal activity is present. Repel even more animals by interchanging commercial repellents. This will ensure a broader range of animals deterred.

Dogs, Dogs, Dogs – Last but not least, don’t underestimate the family dog. The mere presence of another mammal will do a lot to keep animals out of the landscape.

Lavender flowerPlants that deter – Some plants are less appealing to animals than others. They are plants that tend to have an odor, a taste, or texture that repels animals. Sound like these repellent species might result in a not-so-lovely garden? Wrong. You don’t have to resort to a stark, ugly rock landscape. You might be pleasantly surprised by some of the plants on the list.

For planting in neighborhoods that are under constant threat from deer and rabbits look for plants that have these characteristics:

  • There is something about blue foliage that animals just don’t like.  Lavender, blue spruce, cypress, and junipers have classic blue foliage that animals will not eat.
  • Plants with hairy or fuzzy leaves are turn-offs to nibbling animals.  The leaf hairs get caught in the animals’ throats, causing them to move on to other plants.  Silver berry and lambs ear are good examples of these types of plants.
  • Fragrant plants high in oils really bother grazing animals.  Most herbs fit in this category; especially redolent are rosemary, lavender, and thyme.  Other fragrantly off-putting beauties are autumn sage, pine, spruce, and sumac.

I just created a new local list of deer and rabbit resistant plants that are ready to be planted this fall.  They can grow without being harassed by furry animals that roam about grazing at night.  Ask for this free list the next time you visit the garden center.

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A natural ever-blue tree, the Arizona Cypress grows to an impressive 25' of natural deer-proof characteristics.Plant of the Week is the Arizona Cypress that grows wild throughout Arizona’s Central Highlands. A native that is unattractive to deer and rabbits, this steeple-shaped evergreen shows ever-blue foliage so thick that the plant often is chosen to create privacy screens and/or windbreaks.

It also is a superior evergreen for erosion control, and is highly valued as a living Christmas tree. Intensely heat and drought hardy, it requires little maintenance once established. Cypress is such a strong local grower that you should be able to plant a small size this fall and watch it take off with new growth next spring.  Also found appealing is to keep it near the house to enjoy its freshness throughout the holidays and then plant it for fast growth next spring. The average 5-gallon size plant will cost around $15 or less.

Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.