Miss Floribunda: Keeping displaced deer from eating your plants
Dear Miss Floribunda,
Displacement of animal life due to nearby construction on Baltimore Ave. has caused my yard to become “home on the range,” where deer,if not antelope, have invaded. Christmas morning I noticed curved hollows on an area sloping to the street. At first I thought an army of squirrels had come for bulbs but then I realized that my plumbago was missing. My little boy gave me the clue when he suggested that because we’d forgotten to put out milk and cookies for Santa the reindeer had been allowed to get a snack. I recalled having seen deer running nearby.
Now I need a ground cover to replace the plumbago, which had lovely blue flowers for quite a long time in summer. My daffodils are untouched but neighbors predict my upcoming tulips will attract deer like a salad bar. How can I protect them? Is it possible? Can you provide tips that will help me choose attractive plants that would possibly repel deer? I don’t want to suffer this kind of loss again.
Deer-ranged on Nicholson Street
There are certain kinds of plants that deer generally avoid, but if they are hungry enough all bets are off. Unfortunately, the loss of their habitats has created a significant problem for them, and for us. Normally, deer will avoid plants whose taste and/or texture displeases them. They avoid poisonous plants like daffodils, foxgloves and lilies-of-the valley; are repelled by the odor of spider lilies, mints, rosemary and other herbs; and avoid prickly and even fuzzy plants. which would include hollies and conifers as well as lamb’s ear and dusty miller. An exception to the prickly rule is the rose, whose extreme allure cancels out the threat of thorns.
Your tulips are not poisonous and deer do find them delicious, so you may wish to buy a deer-repellent product or place netting over them. If you have hostas that died back before the deer arrived, preemptively anchor netting over their beds. If you have any azaleas protect them also with wire enclosures. My old uncle Barcus always saves the fur he combs from his dogs and places it around his azaleas. He claims to have had luck also with shavings of tallow-based soaps. It wouldn’t hurt to try these home remedies.
Among ground covers, the deer-resistant periwinkle (Vinca minor) has flowers that can be as blue as plumbago blooms. Vinca can also tolerate shade, but the blooming season is in spring with only sporadic bloom after April. Creeping blue juniper would be attractive and both its fragrance and the rough foliage repel the deer. Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) blooms in blue, purple, pink and white, and its minty taste is unpalatable to deer. It spreads widely and quickly, so be sure you like it very much. Sun-loving ground covers that deer disdain include most sedums and ice plants. There are many varieties of sedums in an array of colors. The ice plants I’ve seen for sale have daisy-like blooms of knock-your-eye out pink, yellow and orange and they also spread, so be sure you find their color exciting rather than unnerving. Or search online for white and pastel varieties. All plants mentioned here are low maintenance and perennial.
To learn more from experienced gardeners, please come to the next meeting of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society on Saturday, April 16, from 10 a.m. to noon. Our hosts will be Joe Buriel and Dave Roeder at 3909 Longfellow Street. Best of all, there will be a plant exchange and you may be able to pick up something lovely to replace your losses.