Ann Wright: Shade and deer in the October garden |

Ann Wright: Shade and deer in the October garden

As the autumnal equinox has passed, nights are growing cooler, with day-time air and soil temperatures still warm. The lasting warmth of the soil is one of the reasons this is a great time to plant perennials giving them time for roots to get started before winter rain sets in. With our lovely October fall days, this is also a good time to evaluate where to put new plantings – especially in terms of sunlight or shade.

Fall is the season to plant perennials and to prepare for added shade in the summer with trees or shrubs. But many foothill gardeners have an abundance of shade and may need to learn to manage landscapes in full or partial shade. During the fall months, the angle and intensity of shade changes daily — and seasonally. Making simple observations during a growing season will help gardeners determine what areas are the most shade-producing. Determining what plants thrive in shady or partial shade areas of the yard means that the gardener has studied the area in terms of sunlight. The dense, totally shaded area under a deck or patio is much different than an area in an open field receiving full sun all day.

In general, a full shade area receives less than two hours of sunlight during the day. These areas of dense shade may lie under the canopies of evergreens or tightly spaced shrubs where no light is able to penetrate the growing area. It’s a very cooling shade, but also a challenge to find things that bloom. Partially shaded areas receive between two and six hours of light at some point during the day, with shade for the remainder of the day. Woodland areas may have dappled, or filtered shade where sunlight is filtered through branches. By contrast, an area with full sun receives six to eight hours of direct sun. Keep in mind that the sun’s intensity is also a factor. Full, direct sun at noon on a hot August day will be more intense than morning or evening sun.

To learn more about shade gardening, join Master Gardeners of Nevada county for a virtual workshop, “No Sun, No Problem: Gardening in the Shade” to be presented via Zoom on Oct. 23 at 9 a.m. The zoom link will be available on our website (

If shadows in your gardens are from deer lurking beneath the trees, or peering through a garden fence, managing deer may be a bigger priority than shade. As fall sets in, deer are hungry, browsing on almost anything — or are seen rubbing antlers along the soft trunk of a newly planted trees. 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. 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.

To learn more about managing deer in the foothills, the Master Gardeners of Nevada County are offering a workshop today. “Living with Deer as a Foothill Gardener” will be presented via Zoom from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. 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.

For those who miss the live zoom sessions, or who wish to view the workshops later, both workshops will be recorded and available on our website.

With our thanks for your patience, the Master Gardener website is now operational. After a cyber-attack on the UC Davis/UCANR (Agriculture and Natural Resources) systems, we were unable to update the site with workshop notices, Zoom login information and other tasks so critical to our mission. However, we are back up, and for those who may have missed the “Dahlia Mania: Growing Beautiful Dahlias” workshop which was offered via Zoom on Oct. 2, the workshop recording is now available on our website( To locate the recorded dahlia workshop, from our home page, go to the left navigation list and look for ‘Workshop Recordings.“ Then scroll down to Growing Flowers and the past workshops will appear in the link. We are also on Youtube – search UC Master Gardeners of Nevada County to locate a list of our available videos.

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener

A mule deer in the garden. Mule deer and black tailed deer are the most common deer in California.
Photo by Lee Fitzhugh, courtesy UCANR
To learn more about managing deer in the foothills, the Master Gardeners of Nevada County are offering a workshop today. “Living with Deer as a Foothill Gardener” will be presented via Zoom from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Photo courtesy UCANR

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