Gardening amid the threat of mammals
"Animals have been eating my plants" seems to be the most frequent lament at the garden center this week. In today's column, I have a list of plants that are not attractive to those mammals that are threatening our yards.
There are certain characteristics to every animal-resistive plant. For instance, animals don't care for plants with strong scents and/or heavy oils. Vermin rarely will destroy rosemary, lavender, oregano, bee balm, geranium, marigold, red autumn sage, juniper, Russian sage, salvia, culinary sage, mint and most other herbs. Animals are put off by either the smell or the taste of these plants.
Another plant characteristic animals don't fancy is a fuzzy leaf. These hairy defense mechanisms are meant to protect their plants not only from animals, but also from sunscald. Classic fuzzy leaf examples are butterfly bush, lambs' ears, dusty miller, gaillardia, yarrow, silver mound salvia, and even cucumbers and eggplant.
Animals like the most tender, succulent, tastiest plants in the landscape and will bypass tough plants that take more energy to chew. Plants too tough for critters to bother with in local landscapes starts with the showiest of grasses like the Pampas grass, both the dwarf variety and the large 'Ivory Feather' varieties. Other tough plants are cotoneaster, red hot poker, English ivy, silver lace vine, lantana, juniper, cypress, barberry, Oregon grape, viburnum, yucca, mugho pine, pyracantha and spruce and fir trees.
There are other plants that are not palatable to mammals, but here is a list of plants that thrive in our summer heat and are at garden centers now. This long listing includes: chaste tree, iris, serviceberry, boxwood, coreopsis, columbine, yew, spirea, rose of Sharon, daisy, snapdragon, vinca, ajuga, lilac, nandina, akebia, daylily, hen and chicks, potentilla, purple leaf plum, Virginia creeper and wisteria.
Certain animal-proof plants are my favorites because their colors are so unusual. First is the Adonis Blue Butterfly Bush. Although extra bushy with loads of colorful flowers it's roughly a third the size of other butterfly bush varieties. It has a delightful fragrance and striking translucent deep true blue blossoms. Animals WILL NOT eat this heat-loving plant.
Second, animals also steer clear of the Balboa Sunset Trumpet Creeper. A real stunner with its clusters of 3-4" flowers, at this time it is blooming at all elevations.
Then, don't let the good looks of my plant of the week, the stardust hibiscus, deceive you; it is absolutely mammal-proof. Animals positively do not like this 4-foot-tall summer superstar and refuse to eat the lipstick pink blooms that grow larger than a lumberjack's hand. This shrub needs to be at least three years old before it will bloom, so buy a mature size; choose a plant that costs around $30 and is showing blooms.
Design idea: With plant selection limited because of foraging animals, forget buying one each of many different plants and putting them in the ground together as in an English garden design. Instead, group like plants in threes; they will create more of an impact in the landscape. Today's photo of three Karl Forester Grasses comes from my own landscape and shows a good example of this design technique. Planted in a triangular pattern their dramatic effect really is intensified.
Facebook question of the week: "Help! Since the rain started snails have taken over my vinca. The snails are gross and the leaves are disappearing. What do I do?"
Answer: Pick them off by hand. However, a snail leaves behind thousands of eggs, so these creatures will keep coming. Use Snail & Slug bait at the first sign. If you have dogs, cats, and/or kids, be sure to apply an organic bait that is safe to use around humans and animals. You'll find both choices at your favorite garden center.
Garden Class: Today's gardening class is "Easy to Grow Summer Color." We'll also touch on color animals will leave alone. On July 30 our class is entitled "Keeping the Mammals O-U-T, OUT!"; it will offer more plant suggestions and local techniques that will allow you to garden amongst the critters. The free classes begin at 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays, and take place rain or shine in Watters' back greenhouse.
Until next week, I'll see you at the garden center.
Throughout the week, Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, and can be contacted through his website at www.wattersonline.com. See Ken's personal gardens at www.facebook.com/wattersgardencenter.