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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Garden Detective: Plants that discourage deer

A deer wanders in Kathi King's front lawn.

A deer wanders in Kathi King's front lawn. The homeowner's solution to years of deer eating her flowers was to plant silk flowers. Credit: Newsday / Ari Mintz

DEAR JESSICA: Like a lot of folks on the North Shore in this area of Setauket, we are overrun with deer. I had many different flowers on a hill behind our house (which butts up to the power authority easement,) and the deer come for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We have lovely green plants on our hill now, but no more flowers. The deer eat all the buds. Do you know of any flowers they do not like to eat?

-- Eleanore Klepper, Setauket

DEAR ELEANOR: It's important to point out that a starving deer will eat most any plant, including those that are considered "deer resistant," so there can never be any absolute guarantees. But having made that disclaimer, the good news is that unless the deer are actually starving, they're pretty finicky eaters.

Your first course of action should be one of avoidance: Keep your garden clear of deer favorites, like arborvitae, rhododendron, hosta, tulips and yews.

Next, plan a good defense by sticking to plants that deer consider generally unpalatable:

Ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum)

Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens)

Butterfly bush (Buddleia)

Catmint (Nepeta)

Clump bamboo (Fargesia)

Daffodil (Narcissus)

Dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca Conica)

Fern (all species)

Fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)

Ornamental onion (Allium)

Yucca (Yucca filamentosa)

There are many repellents on the market, and most work to some degree. They can be expensive, however, as they need to be reapplied frequently. And if you live on a large property and the deer population is large, constantly reapplying repellents could become cost prohibitive.

Home remedies can be effective if there are only a few deer visiting. They include human hair (collect it from your barber shop or salon, add a couple of handfuls to a mesh bag and hang it 2 to 3 feet off the ground above plants) and heavily scented soap, like Irish Spring (hang a small bar at the same height).

For severe problems, installing a barrier may be the only effective solution. Since very hungry deer will jump a 6-foot fence, you'll have to be creative. Either install a single 8-foot fence, a 6-foot fence slanted outward at a 45-degree angle, or two fences at least 3 feet tall about 4 feet apart. Deer won't be able to leap over both.

DEAR JESSICA: You have noted that blossom end rot on tomatoes is caused by irregular watering and calcium deficiency. I have planted 10 different varieties, all in pots, all with the same soil and same watering methods. It seems that only my Heinz Super Roma had this problem. Could some varieties be more susceptible to this than others?

-- Robert Del Prete, South Setauket

DEAR ROBERT: Absolutely. And while some varieties are more susceptible to blossom end rot than others, there also are some that have shown superior resistance, like Burpee Supersteak, Mountain Spring, Mountain Fresh, New Yorker, Ravello Hybrid, Wins All, German Pink and Manalucie.

DEAR JESSICA: I can't get any definitive answers on the best time to harvest garlic. Can you help, please?

-- Carol Clemans, via email

DEAR CAROL: Determining the correct time to harvest garlic is imperative -- and, yes, tricky. Unlike, say, tomatoes, which are visible throughout their ripening process, garlic bulbs are underground and out of sight. Harvest too soon, and you'll likely find yourself with undersized bulbs and cloves that don't store well. Wait just a few days too long, and bulbs will over-ripen, cloves will separate and they won't store well, either, because their protective wrappers will have separated. You pretty much have a window of about a week or less, usually sometime in July, but the exact week will vary according to the weather.

General guidelines advise to harvest when the bottom three or four leaves have browned but five or six at the top are still green. Be sure to dig them up with a garden fork. Pulling them out may result in stem breakage, which interferes with proper curing.

After harvesting, garlic should be cured for about two weeks by hanging it in bundles in a cool, dry place, like a garage. Once cured, trim off stalks and store bulbs for the winter in an area with low humidity at either 32-35 degrees (which is about 10 degrees cooler than a refrigerator) or room temperature. Depending on the variety, it should keep under these conditions for six to 12 months.

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