Gardening with Wildlife; Ann's Love-Hate Relationship With Herschel and Buck

Thank you to Ann Acton of the Snoqualmie Valley Master Gardeners Association, chronicling her experience of living and gardening with wildlife, more specifically deer Herschel and Buck whom she named.  There are great tips in this article for Snoqualmie Valley gardeners.

One of my favorite things is to open my bedroom blinds to the sight of a couple of deer munching their way through the forest green space adjacent to my house. It is, however, a love-hate relationship. Herschel and Buck are frequent wanderers in my neighborhood; the problem, as you may have guessed, is that they don’t limit their grazing to the forest offerings.

It’s my property that was redefined in the midst of their game trail, and it’s not easy to change wild animal habits. In fact, the deer most likely consider it an improvement: replacing natural habitat with clumps of roses and tulips. I know my newly landscaped back yard last summer was a veritable feast, proving that even so-called deer-resistant plants aren’t off the menu when they’re new and so inviting. The key to a good wildlife relationship is determining how to effectively repel the critters, or to at least not attract them.

The only sure-fire deer repellent is a fence, one that is a bit more imposing than your average white picket fence. If you have a say in what your fence looks like, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website (Living With Wildlife) provides some good examples of effective ones.

In my situation where a fence was not an option, landscaping with a variety of deer-resistant plants was the way to go. True, some of the new, tender plants on the list took a hit; however, once established, they’re not nearly as enticing to my four-legged visitors. Deer-resistant plants are ones that have texture (heather, Oregon grape), odor (lavender, rosemary) or a bad taste (poppies, daffodils). Having said that, I witnessed a deer pulling an alpine poppy right out of the ground, and all the twig dogwoods are lightly pruned across the tops. The poppies regenerate fairly well, but I’m planning on surrounding those dogwood shrubs with wire cages next spring just to give the nibbled branches a good head start.

Hershel and Buck

There are commercial repellents available (be sure to read the label and use correctly) and homemade ones that can be concocted, all of which have unbelievably horrible odors, but then that’s the point, right? These repellents may work for a time, especially if you’re consistent, and can stand the smell, but then you may need to change brands as the deer get used to it.  Be conscious about spraying anything you’re going to eat, or your children might “accidentally” eat.

Another tactic is to just scare the deer. A barking, lunging dog might work, but only until the deer realize Fido is tied up and can’t actually get to them – I think the deer are smarter than we give them credit for. There are motion-sensitive intermittent sprinklers that do a decent job. Years ago, a yard of 40 or so rose bushes was successfully defended all season long with several of these sprinklers. The downside is that you need several hoses hooked up, charged with water, and strategically arranged around the yard perimeter.

A fellow master gardener recently shared her secret for defending her blueberry shrubs: Mylar balloons tied to several of the bushes. The slightest breeze causes the balloons to “dance” sporadically, even when the helium content decreases. Might work for the rabbits, too.

And speaking of rabbits, there’s another love-hate connection. Your method of deterring deer will often work for rabbits as well, with the exception of spray repellents that are not often safe for human consumption.  For edible gardens, which the rabbits love as well, you can buy or construct a fairly effective fence; a netted dome worked well in keeping the bunnies out of my vegetable garden this year.

The rabbit-resistant plant list is nearly identical to the one for deer, minus the tall shrubs and trees, and comes with the same caveat: wildlife will eat just about anything if they’re hungry. Lupine, a Pacific Northwest native plant on both lists was savagely chewed down to the ground in my yard this summer by as yet unidentified gluttons. I congratulate myself on keeping the neighborhood wildlife well fed.

It’s my fault really. A rabbit family nested in the protective feather grass this spring, bringing forth adorable baby bunnies. Who can’t resist a baby bunny? And when I don’t see Herschel and Buck for a few days, I wonder if they’ve made it across the Parkway.  Mi casa es su casa seems to apply around here.

Nurturing your relationship with wildlife and other gardening tips, including a link to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife can be found at the Snoqualmie Valley Master Gardeners’ website at www.svmastergardeners.com.

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