Outsmarting deer in the garden is practically a science

I didn’t participate in the great pandemic toilet paper rush. I held back so I wouldn’t feel like a hoarder when I purchased multiple bags of potting soil and soil amendments. Actually it wasn’t really bags, it was the 3 -cubic -feet bale size: the size that only allows for three to fit in the van. My justification is that I am planting a larger garden this year, and most beds need some help. The anticipation is to have enough produce for giving to food banks, sharing with friends and stocking my pantry and freezer.

Gardening for me always has to include some element of research and trial of seeds or methods or both. Last year I started to research and lay the foundation to learn about hugelkulture, a German method of composting in place with shrub trimmings, leaves, grass, straw and manures. It is a work in progress with soils being added this year and possibly some planting.

This year I am going to concentrate on annuals that claim to be deer resistant and, after trials, actually do show some possibilities. The list of deer-resistant perennials and herbs is extensive but the list for annuals is very limited. I used three resources, the Deer Resistant Plant list from the OSU Extension Service, “Outwitting Deer,” by Bill Adler Jr. and “50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants” by Ruth Rogers Clausen. Even with using these references, the list was limited.

The master plan is to plant the vegetable meant for production in the fenced garden along with some pollinators.

The research will be in two wood raised garden boxes in the unfenced area. I’ll plant several different veggies in each box intermingled with flowers from the list. I have a third bed that isn’t raised but can also be used as it is in the general deer traffic pattern.

Observing and keeping a journal will be important. I recognize the fact that some plants will be pulled up and then, after the taste test, will be left on the ground. That happened one year with tomatoes. The plant stayed in place, but tomatoes had been pulled off and a big bite taken and then left on the ground.

Pretty maddening when the grower was waiting for the first bite.

Deer generally avoid plants with aromatic leaves (herbs) or aromatic flowers, fuzzy-leaved plants and plants with silvery foliage.

The plan is to start seeds that I already have, and also purchase six packs of bedding plants.

Dusty miller is most often seen in unimaginative public plantings. The plants are tough and tolerant. Their gray or silver foliage makes them unattractive to deer — a great edging plant.

The fuzzy flowers and tough leaves make ageratum or floss flower unattractive to deer. The traditional flower color is lavender-blue. It is low growing.

Signet marigolds are often thought of as the black sheep of the marigold family. Their flowers are not as showy as the African or French varieties. Deer find them unpalatable. Leaves are citrus -scented and ferny in texture. Marigolds have been grown as companion plants in vegetable gardens, especially for deterring aphids.

Sweet alyssum is a fragrant, low-growing flower that also attracts pollinators and can handle frost.

Snapdragons are available in both tall and short varieties. They are listed as wind-resistant, and if our winters are mild, they will overwinter. I have some in the rockery that are going into their third year.

Cosmos are listed as being frost-tender but are worth a try. They are a beautiful nonstop blooming plant, and butterflies love them. Deadheading the blooms keep them going.

Nasturtiums and petunias are standard old-fashion garden favorites. Other suggestions include larkspur, lobelia, wax begonia for shade, annual poppy, impatiens, sweet pea, zonal geraniums and zinnias.

Keep in mind that the suggestions are just that. Some may work in my garden and not yours. Also consider the various frost-pockets throughout the Central Oregon area. Considering all the “ifs”, “buts”, and “maybes,” wouldn’t it be more satisfying to control the browsing with a more natural method than relying on yet another chemical spray that needs reapplying over and over through the season.

Try some — they might work.

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