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Gardeners battle wildlife for a beautiful landscape

March 28, 2009|By MAUREEN GILMER / Scripps Howard News Service

Old-timers spray watered-down raw egg on their plants. As the egg decomposes, the smell keeps deer away.

Someone else spreads bone and blood meal around to create the smell of death in the garden.

Hunters tend to sprinkle predator urine to ward them off.

A neighbor even creates tangles of fishing line that confuse a deer's senses, particularly at night.

These are just a few of the many age-old ways country gardeners try to protect their plants, and they are little more than folklore.

The real dilemma about deer is that they are variable creatures that travel widely. Region and climate have a great deal of influence on what and when they eat. Those in Oregon may feed on a landscape plant that their counterparts in the Carolinas won't touch.

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Deer have a preferred diet of wild and cultivated plants. In years of prolonged drought, however, deer will move on to their starvation rations, which are plants they wouldn't browse during times of normal rainfall. That's why deer-resistant plants are not listed as deer-proof.

Many homeowners who have moved to the country with ideas of creating great and beautiful gardens have found their efforts thwarted by deer, gophers and other wildlife. For some, the discouragement is so great they lose their enthusiasm altogether or must settle for a small garden within a prisonlike compound. There is no greater challenge to gardeners.

I have spent many years of battling wildlife in my country garden. Accordingly, I believe that New York garden authority Neil Soderstrom's book will be an excellent problem-solver. "Deer-Resistant Landscaping" (Rhodale, 2009; $23.95) is a virtual bible for gardeners living in deer country. Its subtitle, "Proven Advice and Strategies for Outwitting Deer and 20 Other Pesky Mammals," indicates this is a country or suburban gardener's guide to the timeless battle against the herbivores.

This is a big, thick, well-photographed book that takes the guesswork out of dealing with these animals. It aims to help readers understand deer and their behaviors, which is vital to knowing how to deal with them safely and humanely. The book also delves into the nuances of the known ways to keep deer outof the garden, which are legion. It leads you through the mind-boggling world of deer fencing. There's plenty on repellents and why they often fail.

The section on deer-resistant plants includes a scientific discussion of the natural chemicals some plants have that make them distasteful to deer, and why. Following this brief opening is the 1,000-plant encyclopedia of the species suitable for deer country.

The book also focuses on other pesky critters such as the gopher, which is the second-greatest scourge of gardeners coast to coast. The book covers them all in graphic detail, with extensive instructions on how to cope with their sometimes-considerable damage.

Soderstrom should be congratulated for creating the seminal work on coping with wildlife in city, suburban and rural gardens. Finally, there is a scientific resource that folks can consult to find the solutions they need rather than just repeating more folklore.

o Maureen Gilmer is a horticulturist. Her blog, the MoZone, offers a groundbreaking series of great ideas for cash-strapped families to live more richly on less this year. Read the blog at www.MoPlants.com/blog. E-mail her at mogilmer@yahoo.com.

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