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Plant a garden that isn't a deer or rabbit smorgasbord

June 2, 2018 Updated: June 4, 2018 at 9:10 am
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A buck, had an afternoon snack near the Talon Ridge development Thursday afternoon. September 3rd, 2009 Kirk Speer, The Gazette

Part of the appeal of the Pikes Peak region is our proximity to wilderness. But living near wild spaces can bring critters hungry for what's in your garden.

You can, however, discourage four-hooved (or pawed) friends from munching on the landscaping you've worked so hard to make beautiful. Options include buying deer- or rabbit-resistant plants or fertilizers, using a repellent or putting up a tall fence, if all else fails.

Mike Estes, who recently sold Rick's Garden Center, 1827 W. Uintah St., after 33 years, said customers complain regularly about deer and rabbits dining on their gardens.

"I could open a store that just sold deer repellents and do pretty well, because the deer population has increased so much in recent years, and the deer population is encroaching well into city limits. So you have to pay attention to what you're planting and be proactive by planting some things that they don't like," said Estes, who still works at Rick's as it transitions to the new owners. "Rabbits are pretty ravenous on a lot of things, and it's similar to deer in the different things you can plant. They are hard to dissuade just with the plants themselves."

Deer will never eat daffodils, but "tulips are like deer candy. They will eat those all day long," he said. Deer avoid ornamental grasses, such as Karl Foerster grass, that are popular in landscaping. They also don't have a taste for Russian sage and yucca, which have the added benefit of needing very little water.

A type of fertilizer called blood meal, made of dried blood, deters rabbits, he said.

"Rabbits are afraid of the scent. If you fertilize or sprinkle it around your plants every three to four weeks, they just flat-out don't like it. So you get to fertilize and dissuade the rabbits at the same time."

Rabbits also avoid the perennials hens and chicks, succulents that are drought-tolerant, he said.

"Think of deer-resistant plants as basically anything with a fuzzy leaf or a strong smell. Those are plants that deer tend to avoid," said Mark Phelan, co-owner of Phelan Gardens, 4955 Austin Bluffs Parkway.

But if deer are hungry, they'll eat just about anything. You can try to dissuade them, though, by choosing plants they may not like so much.

Annuals that deter deer include dahlia, salvia, marigolds, nasturtium and zinnia - the makings of a pretty flower garden.

Perennials they're not keen on include asparagus, hyssop, columbine, lavender, day lily, strawberry, yaro and horseradish.

Shrubs that the ungulates dislike include spirea, lilac, juniper, dogwood, boxwood and butterfly bush.

Trees that aren't treats for deer are oak, black locust, hawthorn, birch, blue spruce, juniper, piñon pine and corkscrew willow.

See the full list of "Plants the Deer Tend to Avoid" from the Phelan Gardens pamphlet: goo.gl/dGJHgY

Harding Nursery, 721 N. Powers Blvd., also carries plants that deer tend to avoid.

"We have a whole list of plants that are very deer-resistant, the ones they typically don't nibble on," said Kristen Burnside, owner-manager.

She recommended plants such as salvia, sages (because of the pungent smell), Black-eyed Susans, any hyssops, ornamental grasses, peonies, sages, thyme, daffodils, crocus and allium.

Shrubs that Burnside recommends include currant, dogwood (shrub form), lilac, Russian sage, any ornamental spruce, Sumac and junipers.

If the fuzzy-leafed or pungent plants don't deter your neighborhood deer, Phelan recommended making a repellent of water, egg yolk and hot pepper. Applied to plants, the mixture will be weather-resistant for about a month.

The Colorado State University Extension recommends repellents such as a mixture of 20 percent eggs and 80 percent water, hot sauce or full-strength coyote urine, available at Sportsman's Warehouse, 555 N. Chelton Road. All of these work for deer and elk, they said.

The CSU Extension also touted planting more susceptible species of plants nearer to the house, inside a fenced area, or ringed by less-palatable plant options.

If nothing else works, a 6- to 8-foot-high fence should do it - at least for the deer.

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