Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)
Planning a garden with deer in mind
Is it possible to grow a deer-proof vegetable garden? Without major fencing? These questions popped into my mind recently as I was cooking up a pot of curried cauliflower soup on one of those rainy, “stay-inside” kind of days we’ve been having this winter. The soup was the obvious goal; I had no idea that the process of making it would spark ideas for a solution to a problem that my garden developed last season.
The problem was deer— two does, each with two hungry, growing fawns that visited our property at least once a day. They munched on everything! It didn’t help to read the “Don’t worry!” advice that young deer will try everything once until they figure out what tastes best and then they’ll leave the icky stuff alone. A single taste test can destroy a seedling or small plant. Back to the soup. Usually, I opt for using a silicone tube roller designed to quickly remove the papery skins from garlic cloves. That day, not being in any hurry, and settling into a slower pace as the rain came down, I removed the skins with my fingers. As I worked, I found myself present with the garlic, actually thinking about it. I remembered how happy I had been last spring to find a bunch of “volunteers” that had sprung up in the spot where I’d grown garlic the year before. Thinking about the garden reminded me about the deer problem, and then my thoughts looped back to the garlic. Deer have never, ever eaten my garlic plants. They also don’t touch the basil or the tomatoes.
This triggered a brainwave: What if I completely re-evaluated my vision and prospects? What if I planned my garden around three categories based on deer food preferences? For example, plants toxic to deer or that deer don’t like, plants that deer will go for only if there’s nothing else more palatable around and they’re really hungry (which seems to be all the time!), and plants that deer love.
Here’s how I broke it down:
1.There are several vegetables that deer apparently will not eat. These include garlic, onions, and leeks. This short list also includes rhubarb and cucumber leaves, which are toxic to deer. In the herb category, deer avoid chives, mint, dill, and fennel. Basil is supposedly attractive to deer, but my basil plants have never been a target.
2.Vegetables with fuzzy and/or prickly leaves are less appealing to deer. These include squash, pumpkins, and melons. The trick here is to protect the young leaves as the plants are first starting to grow. Of course, a hungry deer will eat the ripe melons and pumpkins. Asparagus would fall into this group as deer will avoid mature asparagus but love the tender new shoots. Plants in the nightshade family— tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potatoes—are also less attractive to deer, though apparently deer will munch on the foliage of young potato plants.
3.Deer love pretty much everything else: lettuce, peas, beans, cabbage, broccoli and other cruciferous plants, along with beet and carrot tops and sweet potato foliage. And I was surprised to learn that if deer are hungry enough, they will dig for potatoes, beets, carrots, and other root vegetables.
So, how might this influence future garden plans? I can continue to grow the vegetables in the first category as usual, and trust that the deer will continue to avoid them—the garlic, tomatoes, and basil. I can use lightweight floating row covers to protect emerging squash, cucumbers, and potatoes. And then I can focus more serious protection efforts on the peas, bush beans, lettuce, and carrots.