Despite the slow start and threats of snow over the weekend, spring’s exuberant force is quickly transforming landscapes from stark to lush.
This renewal is one of the joys of the season. However, it also provides a miraculous, replenishing salad bar for browsing animals like rabbits and deer. These creatures are curious and will readily come into the landscape just to sample the tempting new spring menu.
Don’t let anticipation turn into disappointment. If deer or rabbits roam your neighborhood, protect emerging landscape and garden plants with repellents.
Over the years, I’ve learned which plants are the favorites. I guard my lilies with the most vigilance, since they have just one set of flower buds, hidden in the tip of their single stalk. If nipped by a deer, there will be no flowers this year. Tulips are the same. Hostas, too, are apparently quite delicious, and another plant that doesn’t always grow out of early-season damage.
It seems that newly planted annuals and vegetable transplants are especially vulnerable. Clumps and shoots of tender new vegetation stand out like a beacon against a clean background of freshly tilled or mulched soil. Plants may be randomly nipped, devoured completely or simply pulled out of the ground to get a quick taste.
Apply repellents early and re-apply frequently. Many products provide information about how long an application will be effective.
But this time of year, it’s important to keep in mind that only the treated plant tissue will be protected. Leaves and stems that grow after the application will be vulnerable. And rains can rinse away protection as well.
Once we get into summer and the plant growth slows, I find that I can stop spraying. By then the browsers have established their feeding patterns — without my plants on the route.
I have had good luck with commercial repellent products. Hot pepper wax types are among my favorites; capsaicin extracts from hot peppers blended with a waxy substance that helps it stick to the leaves. Other sprays, such as Plantskydd and Liquid Fence, make leaves taste bad and give them an odor that deer and rabbits find offensive.
Fortunately, the scent is not noticeable to humans once the spray dries. There are many brands and types of these sprays (most stores have a generic), and all are designed to make your plants unpalatable to the critters looking for a meal in your landscape. Make sure your product is labeled for use on food crops if you’ll be using it in the vegetable garden.
You can find recipes for dozens of homespun repellents, but I haven’t tried them myself so I can’t personally speak to their effectiveness. Eggs blended with water and a little soap (not detergent) can be sprayed on plants. The theory is that the protein is a predator scent. Add a little hot pepper to the blender to intensify the effect.
Other gardeners swear by bars of deodorant soap, run through with a string or stuffed in the toe of a nylon stocking and hung from tree branches at browsing height. Objects like mirrors, shiny aluminum pie tins and/or brightly colored flagging tape, again hung at the browsing height, are also reputed to keep the deer away. For the rabbits, blood meal fertilizer sprinkled around plants is often recommended, though it must be repeated often to be effective. Motion-triggered sprinklers and spotlights are another option against any of the invaders.
Fencing is an option in some situations, but requires a serious investment and is often ineffective on its own — especially against deer. We’ve had some success by keeping a caged chicken or two in the fenced garden, to startle intruders with motion and clucking.
Bringing wildlife close is both a blessing and a curse — and we enjoy it most on our terms.