In Good Thyme

"Early this month we discussed slugs. Now on to another local plant predator: Columbian blacktail deer, the gentle creatures which populate dwindling Whidbey wildlands and have thus turned suburban back yards into Bambi buffet. With their habitat rapidly disappearing, who can blame the deer for munching our delectable gardens. Which would YOU rather eat; tough old alder leaves or tender, succulent rose buds?It seems both deer and people are here to stay, so we may as well learn to coexist peacefully. Gardeners have special tricks to discourage deer, ranging from soap to urine. Some work on some deer some of the time. I've never heard of anything that always works, except fencing. More about that later. Having a dog helps - sometimes. We've had Chinook, our big Siberian husky, for 13 years. He and the neighborhood deer are so accustomed to each other that they barely give each other a glance. After all, they grew up together. Now if these deer were interested in Chinook's food bowl, he'd revert to a snarling, snapping wolf. But heck, what does Chinook care if they nibble a few rosebuds. What good are roses, anyway? Almost everyone has heard of the Irish Spring soap deterrent. You drill a hole in each bar of soap, thread some twine through it and hang it from the limbs of trees or shrubs you want to protect. Supposedly, deer won't come within 3 feet of it. You can also drape it from the branches in old pantyhose. This looks (ITAL)tres chic, especially if you're trying to sell your property.Local gardener Bob Zat swears by interplanting. He grows pungent rosemary plants between his rose bushes, and says that strong-smelling marigold, lavender, parsley and garlic are also effective deer repellants.Pat Cannon, a 4-H leader who works at Oak Harbor Ace Hardware, says that ever since she began strewing ram fleece around her apple trees, deer have stopped jumping the fence to get at them. Fleece also makes excellent mulch, she claims. Here's an unappetizing but effective recipe: Crack a dozen or more eggs, smush them together with a couple of gallons of water, then spray the mess on plants you want to protect, except those that you plan to eat. After a few warm days, it doesn't smell so wonderful - to deer and to any other mammal with olfactory glands, including humans. Reapply after a heavy rain.There are several good commercial sprays and substances such as hot pepper wax you may purchase to deter browsing deer. The do-it-yourself substitutes include adding a couple of tablespoons of Tabasco sauce to a gallon of water, mixed with a little liquid dish soap as a spreader-sticker.Then there's the hair'em-scare'em method. Ask your barber or beautician for hair sweepings, sprinkle them liberally around your flower or veggie beds. Supposedly, deer will avoid the scent of human hair. To me, this gimmick ranks right down there esthetically with soap-filled pantyhose, flapping plastic bags and aluminum pie pans clanging together in the breeze. I've heard of elaborate rigs utilizing motion detector lights and radios tuned to 24-hour heavy metal stations. Unfortunately, deer can become used to the racket and may even appreciate the illuminated nosh pits you create for them.The most intriguing commercial deer deterrent I know of is coyote urine. Apparently, spraying it around the garden will send deer scampering toward Skagit County. What I want to know is, where do the marketers of this product get it, and how do they collect it? Poet Robert Frost probably had a deer problem when he wrote, Good fences make good neighbors. Deer are legendary leapers, so those fences should be at least 6 feet high. One deer fence on the market is a strong, lightweight polypropylene mesh that's easy to install and much less expensive than metal fencing. It's nearly invisible from a distance, so visitors won't mistake your garden for the San Quentin prison yard. I've seen it advertised in garden magazines, but haven't found it locally. You can, however, purchase something called utility netting at the hardware store and improvise. Planting a garden that deer find unpalatable may be the ultimate solution. The Sunset Western Garden Book lists six pages of deer-resistant plants, not a rose among them. If you must have roses, well, there's always that coyote urine. Mariana Graham, a writer and former editor, is a Master Gardener certified through the WSU-Island County Cooperative Extension Service.If you have questions or comments, contact her at the Whidbey News Times, 675-6611; fax 675-2732; or e-mail garden tipYou may notice spittle bugs on your plants. While they look unsightly, they do little damage. You can knock them off with a strong spray of the garden hose. _______________________Garden calendarMaster Gardeners plant clinic: Saturday and Sunday, June 24-25, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Hummingbird Farm Nursery, 2319 Zylstra Road. Bring plants for identification and diagnosis. Call 679-5044.Master Gardeners: Meet Thursday, June 29 at 7:45 p.m., Fire Station No. 5, 1164 Race Road, Coupeville. Speaker: Dave Thomas on dahlias. Organzational meeting: For Greenbank Farm Growers Co-op. Saturday, June 24 at 2 p.m., Jim Davis House, Greenbank Farm. Speaker: Ken Duft, rural agricultural community development expert from Washington State University. Co-op objectives: Assist existing and new growers; Promote successful operations; Improve market access; Provide central produce processing/distribution; Develop educational resources; Find new markets; Promote organic practices and sustainable agriculture; Assist growers in obtaining on-farm research grants. Call Ginny Snyder, 678-7700; Island Garden Tour tickets on sale: Six of Whidbey Island's beautiful private gardens will be open to visitors on Saturday, July 22, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are limited so advance purchase is advised. Price: $15 for adults; $10 for children under 12. Write: PO Box 164, Freeland, 98249. After June 1, call 678-6105 for additional ticket outlets. E-mail Question time: Each Monday, Island County WSU Master Gardeners will be available to answer gardening questions from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call the WSU Extension Office at 679-7327 or drop by at 501 NE Haller St., Coupeville. Questions will also be answered by e-mail:"

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 26
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates