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The best ways to keep deer out of the garden

"Fielding Questions" columnist Don Kinzler also hears from readers about when it's safe to first mow lawns this spring and how to try planting a pot of hyacinths.

Deer proofing small garden.jpg
A reader says this 2-foot-high fence isn't effective at keeping deer out of his garden.
Contributed / Special to The Forum
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Q: I have a small garden of fruits and vegetables in a semi-urban neighborhood. To my surprise, we have an issue with deer in this area, and they’ve ravaged my garden the last two years.

I built a small, 2-foot-high fence to keep small animals out, but it’s obviously not effective against deer. Do you have any suggestions that do not include building an ugly, tall wire fence that would keep them from snapping up my lettuces and corn? — Logan W.

A: Although some might find them attractive, urban deer cause millions of dollars of damage to gardens and landscapes each year, causing deer to quickly lose their appeal to many affected homeowners.

Human hair, soap, mothballs and other home remedies might work for some homeowners against some deer, but they don’t enjoy a wide enough success rate to merit their recommendation.

Instead, research has shown that deer, being plant eaters, find animal-based products to be repugnant. So the best repellents are those whose ingredients include animal products. Liquid Fence and Plantskydd are two products based on animal ingredients like putrefied egg, milk and blood.

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Researchers at the University of Minnesota tested a homemade deer repellent and have reported it to be very effective as well. The recipe is as follows: Use a blender to blend three whole eggs thoroughly in water. Pour the mixture into a container and add water to make 1 gallon, and strain. Spray the mixture onto leaves until wet. Reapply every two weeks or after rain. They recommend avoiding application to edibles before harvest.

Repellents don’t always need to be applied directly to the plants you desire to protect. I’ve had some success in applying odor-type repellents to the area’s perimeter, or soaking rags in the repellent and hanging in discreet places.

Q: I read that a person can plant potted tulips in midsummer. Can I do the same with a pot of hyacinths that I bought in hopes they will come back and bloom again? — Kathleen B.

A: When the hyacinth leaves are still green and growing in the pot, it's important to fertilize with water-soluble fertilizer, following label directions, and also to place in a sunny window.

The fertilizer and sunshine help the bulbs to recharge their energy and rebuild flower buds deep inside for next year. Keep watering, and fertilize every two weeks as long as the leaves stay green.

When leaves begin to turn yellow, reduce watering, and stop when the leaves are totally brown. Store the dry pot of bulbs in the garage until July. Then remove the bulbs from the pot, and plant in a flower bed.

There’s no guarantee bulbs grown in pots will bloom next year in a flower bed, but there’s little to lose, and it’s fun to try!

Q: I kept my grass 3 inches long last summer, but didn’t have a chance to mow it shorter to the recommended 2.5 inches before it snowed. Can I do it before it grows or should I wait? — Darin K.

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A: As soon as the lawn is dry enough, you can mow it to the shorter height you intended last fall. You don’t need to wait for the lawn to turn fully green.

Many of us prefer to start the mowing season with one shorter spring mowing before the grass has begun full growth. But after that initial mowing, it’s healthiest for the lawn to set the mowing height to 3 inches for the remainder of the spring, summer and early fall seasons.

A height of 3 inches has been shown to create a healthier lawn by conserving moisture, keeping soil cooler during summer’s heat, reducing weeds and creating a deeper, more energetic root system.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.

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