For The Answer
Express-News Weekly Column
The list of deer-proof plants gets shorter and shorter as the populations of the hungry mammal increase. As the numbers increase, they destroy all of their favorite plants by over-browsing and must eat less-desirable plants.Native columbines, pittosporum, shrimp plant, Ruellia, and many plants that were on the “do not eat” list are now eaten because all the oak seedlings and other desirable browse have long been destroyed. The less desirable deer-browse plants fell into that category because they were less nutritious or contained oils and other chemicals that were unpleasant to the deer.
The normal dynamic that would occur if a population of wildlife is forced to consume less palatable and less nutritious food is a decline in health, fertility. and numbers. Such a decline, or at least a leveling, may be occurring in some neighborhoods, but it is not readily noticeable. A key factor in the continuing increase of deer populations, even as they destroy their most desirable food plants, is probably deer feeding.
The corn that is provided to the deer is not adequate to replace all browse, but it provides calories that can be supplemented by consumption of the less nutritious plant material. The ultimate situation will be that the deer overpopulation will destroy most plant life in a neighborhood, and they will have to be supported not only by corn but alfalfa hay. Some neighborhoods are already beginning to resemble a feedlot.
You will notice that the deer are more likely to eat the newest growth on the less desirable food sources. Newest growth contains the most water, and the salts, oils, and other chemicals that make the plants taste less desirable to deer are at low and diluted levels. Sometimes, if the plants such as Ruellia, shrimp plant, snapdragons, and iris are protected until they become established, the deer will pass them up.
In many situations, a single piece of monofilament line (20 lb) strung at deer chest height (30 to 36 inches) will be sufficient to keep deer from new plantings. Keep the line 4 or 5 feet from the plants and anchor it on sturdy fence posts every 8 to 12 feet. The deer apparently are not able to see the line. It disturbs them to feel it without being able to see anything and they retreat.
Another strategy to discourage deer from consuming desirable plants is to use the pepper sprays. There are several brands available in retail nurseries or you can make your own by letting a generous quantity (two handfuls) of habaneros or other “hot” dried pepper stew in a plastic pail in the sun for a few weeks. Mix this concentrate with water and detergent and spray it to dripping on desirable plants. Experiment with the dilution after beginning with 1 part pepper concentrate and 4 parts water. The smellier the brew, the more effective it seems to be. Spray the target plants every week.
For more information on the pepper spray and other deer control strategies visit the website plantanswers.com. The site also includes the latest deer resistant plant list. Remember that the deer herd in every neighborhood is more or less desperate depending on how much of the plant cover has been destroyed. The condition of the available plant material is also a factor. In the middle of one of our frequent droughts, deer are even less fussy. It is always a good idea to reduce watering to the amount needed by the plant. A well-watered plant is much more desirable to the deer than a slightly dry plant.