Fawns in my garden: The next generation moves in
Special to The Union
I’ve lost count. Let’s see, I started with 14 to 20 does and bucks that roam my garden on a regular basis.
This year, one doe added triplets and another two each added twins. I’m not even considering the single births that took place.
If my garden was not a testing ground for plants when I wrote “Deer in my Garden,” it certainly is now!
I continue to add new plants each year, hopeful of finding truly deer-resistant landscape plants, including natives. My test garden is being tested.
I also continue to assess the “deer-resistant” lists available through nurseries and agencies. My latest review was for El Dorado County’s Natural Resource Conservation District.
The young man I worked with said he would be happy if there were only a few he could recommend. I removed several plants from his list (Cistus, Ceanothus, Cercis). Ornamental and native grasses are at the top of the “deer-resistant” list. Only a few times have the deer browsed on a grass.
Four-inch young starts are most vulnerable, not the new growth of a young or established plant in spring. This may be because the leaves are so tender on very small plants.
It’s possible that new growth on any plant, affected by the application of fertilizers high in nitrogen, is as irresistible as a salt lick to the browsing deer. My experiments with nitrogen fertilizers have taught me that deer will do a lot of damage to the lush growth resulting from nitrogen. This is true of organic and chemical fertilizers.
I’ve been watching the fawns. They try plants that mama wouldn’t think of eating. Perhaps there is a process of experimentation, like any youth.
One group of ornamental shrubs that seems fail-safe is the genus Choisya (Mexican orange). Choisya ternata is a large attractive shrub that thrives in partial sun.
In fact, several hours of direct sun midday will encourage more dense growth. Growth in more shade will be more open. Very little irrigation water is needed once the plant has been established.
A pretty cultivar with golden-yellow foliage that makes the plant look as though it is in full bloom is Choisya ternata, “Sundance.”
I have just discovered “Gold Fingers” in a local nursery, a cultivar with finer foliage that also has that beautiful glowing golden-yellow growth in the new leaves. Protect this one from hot sun, particularly in the afternoon.
I have an old specimen of “Sundance” growing at the base of a large ponderosa pine. This is a very dry environment, but it does quite well with deep irrigation only twice in the summer. It used to be in more shade, but a huge tree nearby came down in a winter storm. Even with increased sun exposure, it is doing well.
Choisya arizonica has fine green leaves and lovely white flower clusters, larger than the more typical white flowers of the other Mexican oranges. All are fragrant early bloomers. Some even bloom in late fall.
Leatherleaf viburnum is another outstanding shrub for deer country. In the shadiest areas of the garden, Sarcococca is the perfect choice. Santolina, lavenders, oreganos, rosemary and sage do not appeal to the fawns or their parents. Even with their noses to the ground and a youthful appetite to guide their browsing, numerous groundcovers are left untouched: thyme, Lamium, Rubus, and lamb’s ears (Stachys) are a few evergreen choices.
Don’t be discouraged. Plant healthy plants. Use natural forms of phosphorus (soft rock phosphate or colloidal phosphate) to stimulate root growth. Especially this fall, water new plantings on a regular basis, soaking the adjacent soil, which is very dry this November.
Additionally, if you have as many deer as I do, protecting plants when they are first added to the garden is probably a good idea. It will at least prevent deer from pulling the plant out of the ground the first week, as they seem to love to do in my garden.
Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom”, and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden,” available locally. For more information, visit http://www.carolynsingergardens.com.
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