Ann Wright: Of deer and natives |

Ann Wright: Of deer and natives

Ann Wright

As the deer peer through my vegetable garden fencing, it seems a good idea to have extended the height of the fencing – deer jumped the fence last year and had a lovely buffet of tomatoes and flowers from the cutting beds. Often inviting themselves to dinner, deer in the yard can provide a peaceful woodland scene – until they help themselves to beloved ornamental plants just added to the landscape. Then they earn their reputation as garden pests. Mule deer and black tailed deer are the most common deer in California. The good news is that we can co-exist; gardening can be accomplished with deer amongst us.

Deer are interesting to watch, and have some notable behavioral patterns – they are selective browsers with a variety of foods making up their diet, including broad-leaved herbaceous and woody plants, and grasses. They will also eat fruit, nuts, ornamental shrubs and a number of other garden favorites. Vegetable and ornamental plants fresh from a nursery, having been fertilized with nitrogen and often well irrigated, have lush new growth that is a very tasty treat for deer.

Even plants commonly known as “deer resistant” may be a special treat to hungry deer, as they munch on tender soft new growth. Like many other animals, deer have food they avoid, and food they seek. Plant resistance to deer is relative – it depends on the time of year, and what else may be growing in an area. Additionally, nutritional needs of deer vary throughout the year. However, there are some general tips in plant selection that may decrease the chance of deer browsing on your newly planted landscape. Typically, deer avoid plants with thick, leathery leaves and spines. They also avoid fuzzy-type plants and those with aromatic oil in leaves.

Some of our California native plants are considered deer resistant. Prickly natives fuchsia flowered gooseberry (Ribes speciosum) and dwarf mahonia (Berberis aquifolium var. repens) fall into this category. Dwarf mahonia, also known as Oregon grape has dense yellow flowers on stems with prickly leaves, and develops dark purplish berries. The thorny branches of the fuchsia and prickly leaves of the Oregon grape are generally avoided by deer. Plants with aromatic oils in the leaves such as Cleveland sage (Salvia clevlandii) and species of sages (Salvia spp.) may taste too strong for a deer’s liking. The leathery leaves of the manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.) are also avoided.

The Nevada County Master Gardeners are offering a workshop today: “Deer, Oh Deer” is on tap from 10am to noon at the Demonstration Garden at the NID complex, 1036 W. Main Street. Although there are no guarantees when gardening in deer country, there are ways to live with these browsers – and have a lovely landscape and garden veggies as well. Learn about the biology of deer, why they are considered pests, and how to focus on changing our behaviors – to co-exist with these animals. Lists of plants that deer generally avoid, and those plants the deer generally love will be provided as well as methods for discouraging deer.

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The Redbud Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) is holding the fall plant sale – TODAY! For CNPS members and those who would like to join, the sale is open at 9:30am. The sale is open to all from 10:30am to 1:30pm. A new location this year, the plant sale will be held at the Banner Community Guild at 12629 McCourtney Road in Grass Valley (which is about 2 miles south of the fairgrounds). Many deer resistant native plants will be available for sale; check the Redbud CNPS website for more information and complete list of plants to be offered for sale: .

Join us for additional Master Gardener workshops this year: “No Sun, No Problem: Planting in the Shade” on October 12th and “Trees for Nevada County” on October 26th. For more information about Nevada County Master Gardener’s events, call the Hotline at 530-273-0919 or check the website at .

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.

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