Smart gardeners can get one more use out of their fresh tree before it hits the compost pile, and at the same time protect small shrubs and perennials from deer browse. (Does that add up to two bangs and no bucks?)
The tough growing conditions this past summer combined with heavy seed production on oaks a year ago has limited the number of acorns this year—also a favorite food for deer. Couple this decrease in one of their nutritional staples with poor summer growth of their other leafy food sources; my prediction is voracious feeding on ornamental plants. I have witnessed this in my garden already. Deer that typically browse on a few shrubs and perennials in late winter have nearly stripped them clean, and it is still early. Repellents work great if you can remember to apply them, but, oh humbug, I forgot!
Michigan State University Extension recommends constructing physical barriers would be the next best way to foil deer browse on your favorite plants. Placing cut boughs from your Christmas tree in tee-pee fashion will successfully direct their nosey noses away from shrubs such as azalea, yew and arborvitae. The prickly nature of many of our favorite tree species such as Scotch pine or spruce is just the deterrent needed to send them packing. In some cases, you can use a twist tie or twine to bind the tee-pee so it doesn’t compress down in heavy snow, but my observation has been just to place the boughs so they are co-mingled with the shrub foliage – that should be enough to prevent damage.
Leafy or evergreen perennials such as Heuchera may also become a victim of deer browse. In this case, just laying the loose boughs on and among the foliage will work wonders.
You can also place wooden or metal stakes around a grouping of shrubs and wrap with burlap or snow fence. In my opinion, this is not only a barrier for deer, but is a black eye for the garden’s appearance for the rest of winter. Alas though, the lengths we will go for our favorite plants makes gardening such fun!
For more information on a wide variety of smart gardening articles, or to find out about smart gardening classes and events, visit www.migarden.msu.edu. You can also visit us at the Novi Cottage and Lakefront Living Show on Feb. 21-24, or the West Michigan Home and Garden Show on Feb. 28-March 3.
(Article written by Rebecca Finneran, Michigan State University Extension)