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Garden Q&A: On limiting deer foraging and covering raised gardens

Deer will out more plants in the winter when food is scarce than they will in warmer months.
Deer will out more plants in the winter when food is scarce than they will in warmer months. (Ellen Nibali/For The Baltimore Sun)

Every year the deer eat something new! It seems like just when I have them figured out, they decide to eat some plant they shunned in the past. Any solutions?

Deer numbers continue to rise, putting pressure on their food sources — including home landscapes. Stroll your yard, even in winter, to spot newly browsed plants and take action before damage gets bad. Preemptively spray or fence evergreens that deer ignored when food was plentiful spring to fall, but they may have lightly nibbled. They will eat more when winter food is scarce.

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Good sprays should last a month or more. Respray midwinter on a mild day. Support your local hunters. Their numbers are going down as deer numbers climb. Hunters play a crucial role in environmental health, taking the role of the large predators, which no longer balance deer populations. This can be a hard pill to swallow for some, but keep in mind that, beyond our yards, our region’s parks and natural areas are being obliterated by deer.

Is it wise to cover my raised garden with plastic for the winter?

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Plastic is not a good choice for a garden cover because it does not allow infiltration of precipitation or benefit the soil in any way.

It’s much better to cover the soil with a thick layer of mulched or shredded leaves. You can move the leaves in spring to plant seeds and transplants, and then re-use the leaves as mulch. They break down to add nutrients and improve the soil’s ability to hold water and admit oxygen and water.

Next year, consider planting a cover crop to protect and improve the raised bed soil over the winter months. Search ‘cover crops’ on the Home and Garden Information Center website.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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