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  • Waterwise Gardening | David Salman

Protecting your Garden Plants from Hungry Animals

Browsing animals and new spring transplants are a bad combination. Nothing is more annoying than going out the morning after the previous day’s labor of planting, only to find all your plants bitten off at the soil line. The lesson here is that it’s important to understand that deer and rabbit resistant plants need some initial protection from our hoofed neighbors after planting.

Experience has shown me that deer and rabbit resistant plants generally don’t come that way from the nursery. This is because nursery grown plants are grown in soil-less mixes that use ingredients such composted bark, sphagnum peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, rice hulls and soluble nutrients to create a well drained mix in which we can grow potted plants. Plants that depend on aromatic oils and bitter compounds to repel animals won't synthesize them in sufficient quantities when grown in the greenhouse. But transplants, after a few months growing in the ground, begin to accumulate these animal repellent compounds in their leaves and stems and their browse resistance increases.

Spray Repellents At Transplanting Time

I strongly recommend deer and rabbit repellent sprays when it comes to protecting young transplants from being eaten. Even deer and rabbits plants need initial protection. Spray your new transplants thoroughly after you've watered them, in so irrigation water doesn't wash off the repellent. It is also important to remember to re-apply the spray as the plants grow and new leaves appear. So every 10 to 14 days is a good interval to spray the repellent.

I once attended a lecture given by an inspired gardener who is a rose specialist and loved to grow roses and clematis in Spokane, WA. But apparently deer are a constant hazard in that area and love to eat roses, so she would always plant lavender in the planting hole, and this works quite well for her. So planting strongly aromatic plants alongside other more palatable ones can be an effective, long term and beautiful way to prevent deer and rabbit damage.

Here are some of my favorite hardy herbs with strongly scented leaves that deer hate:

From left to right

  • Lavandula angustifolia cultivars (English Lavender) – choose twice blooming English cultivars like ‘Sharon Roberts’, ‘Buena Vista’ and ‘Pastor’s Pride’ to have blooming lavender in late spring and early fall.

  • Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Arp’, ‘Alcalde Cold Hardy’ (Cold Hardy Rosemary) – two of the most cold hardy Rosemary cultivars. Gorgeous and culinary.

  • Salvia officinalis (Little Leaf Garden Sage) – fabulous deep blue flowers and gorgeous, culinary quality leaves.

Remember to protect new lavender and garden sage transplants. Spray thoroughly with repellents.

A List of the Best Rabbit and Deer Resistant Plants

If a plant is rabbit resistant, it will very likely be deer resistant as well. An vice versa. But not always. Watch established plants (2nd growing season and beyond) to observe what the animals browse. Their preferences can vary regionally.

The Best Browse Resistant Plants for Northern NM

  • Achillea (Yarrow)

  • Agastache (Hummingbird Mint)

  • Artemisia (Sage)

  • Caryopteris (Blue Mist Spirea)

  • Coreopsis (Tickseed)

  • Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker)

  • Lavandula (Lavender)

  • Marrubium (Horehound)

  • Narcissus (Daffodils)

  • Nepeta (Catmint)

  • Ornamental Grasses (deer resistant ONLY)

  • Penstemon (Beardtongue)

  • Perovskia (Russian Sage)

  • Phlox nana (Santa Fe Phlox)

  • Rosmarinus (Rosemary)

  • Salvia (Sage)

  • Santolina (Lavender Cotton)

  • Stachys (Lamb's Ear)

  • Sunflowers (Helianthus)

  • Teucrium (Germander)

  • Thymus (Thyme upright and creeping)

Protect The Roots

Gophers can be a problem eating new roots. Chase Mole and Gopher Med is a time-tested product that repels gophers without traps or poisons. Spread the granules around plants that need protection and water it in with an overhead sprinkler to carry the castor oil into the ground. Reapply in 8 to 12 weeks depending on the level of gopher activity.

Emergency Measures

In times of drought and a lack of natural forage, additional measures may need to be taken because browsing animals are simply too hungry to be put off by unpleasant tastes and smells that repellents use to detract the animals. Physical barriers may be necessary.

  • Poultry wire cages held in place with bamboo stakes are effective.

  • Covering plants with light spun fabric known as “row crop cover” used by vegetable gardeners to protect from frost and insects.

Sometimes when deer pressure is simply overwhelming during all times of the year, a deer-proof fence is the gardener’s last resort. A deer fence can be very inconspicuous when using a thin-mesh fencing wire and small diameter posts. It typically needs to be 6 feet in height to keep the deer from jumping the fence.

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