Deer and rabbits are common animal pests that gardeners in the San Luis Valley encounter, and they do extensive damage to plants. Deer and rabbits view your vegetables and ornamental plantings as an opportunity to score a quick meal of tender plants. Fortunately, there are ways to make the “salad bar” less attractive to neighborhood critters, and North River Greenhouse can assist you in developing a strategy to protect your plantings from deer and rabbits.
Knowing whether it’s a deer or rabbit eating the plants in your yard will help you develop a strategy to protect your plants. If you see plants sheared off near ground level at a 45-degree angle, rabbits are to blame. Shredded bark, twigs, and leaves are indicative of deer damage. Deer browse vegetation, often balancing on their hind legs to get to tender new leaves on trees. You may notice damage 6 feet or so above ground level. There may also be shredded twigs near areas where deer have eaten the tree’s leaves. Deer also damage trees by rubbing their antlers against trees during spring when bucks need to scrape off velvet from the antlers’ surfaces. There are three main strategies San Luis Valley gardeners can use for protecting their plants from deer & rabbit: 1) Physical barriers 2) Planting deer and rabbit resistant plants 3) Applying repellants.
Physical barriers include fencing, of course, but also include smaller-scale barriers for specific plants or groupings of plants. Fencing that eliminates deer from an area needs to be at least 8 feet high and must be sturdy, as these are large animals. Woven wire is best, but other types of fencing may work, provided it is very sturdy. An 8-foot barrier made of several strands of electric wire may also be effective. For many gardeners, erecting a tall fence around a large area may be costly and unsightly. However, at least one creative gardener has used an 8x10 chain link dog kennel to surround a small vegetable garden.
Using barriers such as tubes around tree trunks and netting over tender new leaves will discourage deer from browsing new trees and shrubs. Be sure to keep barriers in place for at least a year and be aware that each spring’s new growth will be attractive to deer.
To discourage deer and rabbits from eating perennials and annuals, it’s possible to use bamboo skewers around plantings to make a prickly barrier that’s uncomfortable to the touch. Push bamboo skewers into the soil around plants, making sure the pointed end protrudes above the ground. Another approach is to construct cages to surround plants or groups of plants.
Plant choice plays a role in keeping deer and rabbits away from your garden as well. Try planting a ring of a predator resistant plants around those that favored by Bambi and Thumper. We carry several plants herbivores find less attractive. Some of these plants are customer favorites. This list is by no means exhaustive. We’re here to help you!
Deer Resistant Plants for the San Luis Valley (*indicates rabbit resistant as well)
Artemisia Silver Mound*
Hens and Chicks*
And many more!!
We stock a variety of repellants as well. There are lots of repellants gardeners try, with varying degrees of success. These include cayenne, Tabasco sauce, Old Bay seasoning, and others. Most gardeners find these homemade repellants to be iffy at best. One that may work is a solution of whole eggs and water sprayed on plants. Use a ratio of 8 parts water to 2 parts egg, and remove the stringy white substance that clings to the egg yolk, as it will clog your sprayer. Even though this method may discourage deer and rabbit, we still recommend commercial repellants. It’s best to alternate at least three different repellants. Deer and rabbits seem to get “used to” a repellant if it’s used continually. We carry Bobbex Spray, Bonide, and I Must Garden that has a spice scent. These substances make vegetation taste bad to animals. They are not poisons, and they are non-toxic to deer and rabbits. We’ll help you choose the right repellant for your garden.
Next month, we’ll discuss companion planting. You may have heard that carrots love tomatoes, but there are other pairings that work just as well.