The Gentle Gardener: A Deer John letter: Oh deer, oh deer, oh deer!

Among the many wonderful qualities of the Lowcountry is the endearing abundance of wildlife.

For a gardening fanatic, one of the least endearing features of the Lowcountry is, you guessed it, the wildlife. Especially our arch nemesis – the deer. Let’s face it, you spend a small fortune and many hours planning and planting your garden only to have it decimated in one night by Bambi.

As adorable and sweet as they look, don’t be fooled. Any parent can tell you — the same holds true for toddlers and we all remember the terrible twos too well. I maintain that it is easier to raise rambunctious children than to keep the deer out of my garden. However, there are several steps you can take to mitigate the damage.

You can attempt to plant plants that deer don’t care for – typically anything with a fuzzy leaf (Mona Lavender, Lantana, Grandiflora Tibouchina, etc.). Beware however, deer have been known to dance the Macarena on plants that do not delight their palate — they pulverized this gardener’s Amaryllis after deciding it was not pleasing to their culinary senses.

Deer repellents come in many forms and price points. The easiest and most affordable focus on nasty smells, like Liquid Fence. Easy to apply, these sprays have a horrendous smell, which is guaranteed to repel you and the deer until it rains. Then it’s back out to spray and gag, which is great if you convince someone else to apply it.

Then there are electric shock products that can be installed by an electrician. They work wonderfully until a squirrel chews through the lines. Available also are pricey pouch products such as Deer Off that contain dried blood that cause a fright and flight reaction in the deer for about three weeks, which is when they either wizen up or the smell fades.

Some folks swear by Milwaukee-based Milorganite, a fertilizer made in conjunction with the city’s sewer plant. Despite what you’ve been told, Milorganite is actually the dead bacteria, not poop (which is the bacteria’s food). It works pretty well as both a repellent and fertilizer but beware of nutrient overload. Shaved bars of Irish Spring soap are also said to work but you’d need a lot of it and I can’t find willing labor.

Flashing lights have been said to be extremely effective and so of course I ran right out and had enough lights professionally installed to be visible from the space station (fortunately the FAA took pity on me and waived the fine – who knew?). Based on the results I’m assuming the deer simply wore sunglasses.

However, all is not lost. I have discovered the most amazing flower the deer will not eat – it’s made from plastic and fabric.

Ask & Answer

I had a camellia tree in my front yard that was just gorgeous. Suddenly a large part of the tree lost its leaves and it looks like it’s dying. Can it be saved?
— Saddened in Sea Pines

The most likely cause of the leaf loss is scale. These sucking insects attach themselves to the underside of leaves and suck the cell juice, which causes a spotted or mottled appearance on the top of the leaf. Easily kill these little buggers by spraying and soaking the underside of all your camellia leaves and the trunk with either a horticultural or neem oil. Typically, horticultural oil is used when the temperature remains under 80 degrees, but read the manufacturer’s instructions as great strides are made every year. Neem oil will kill any insect on the plant – friend or foe, but it’s very effective. Be sure to remove all the infected leaves on the ground and spray on a cloudy day or close to sunset on a sunny day.

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