Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Deer Country: What’s Blooming This Week?

Bambits browse under spring blooms

Meadow Glenn is awash in colors of spring, but our bambits continue wearing their brown winter coats as they browse bright-green grass near our purple-leaf plum trees (Prunus cerasifera ‘Atropupurea’).

Most of the petals have dropped from the plums now, and their leaves are unfolding. Deer seldom reach for the leaves, as over time I’ve cut off branches that dangle leaves down through the “browse line”—about six feet. Yes, I’ve cut the lower limbs to stymie the deer, but there’s another reason. I want the roll bar of my Kubota tractor to clear the lowest branches without damaging them.

Caged shrub redbuds
Our redbuds are blooming now. When we moved here 14 years ago, Ellen fell in love with a shrub redbud in a neighbor’s yard. I searched nearby nurseries and even asked about special orders, but had no luck. I went online and mail-ordered from Botany Shop, Inc., of Joplin, Missouri. I planted two Cercis chinensis ‘Avondale’ plants just outside the glass wall of a spiral staircase in May 2005. The photo shows how they have grown. Each year they have more blooms. Deer browse redbuds, so we cage our redbuds here at the Clarksville Tree Zoo, where plants are caged and deer run free.

Bleeding heart
Deer haven’t touched a leaf of the bleeding heart (Dicentra spp.) that I planted about 10 years ago and have moved at least two times to large spaces. Bleeding heart grows best in shade, so it thrives on the eastern side of our home. It seeds moderately, and friends and acquaintances ask for my “spares,” so I seldom have more than the original plant. Deer don’t touch it. The downside of this spring beauty is that it begins dying back in late May and by mid-June is gone for the year. By then adjacent hostas and a goldenrod eagerly take over much of the space where the bleeding heart was growing.

Late daffodils may last another week
Daffodils (Narcissus spp.) flourished this cool spring. Our many varieties bloom at different times, so the earliest (April 19) are going to seed while the latest are just now opening and will highlight our gardens for another week at most. Deer love tulips and don’t touch daffodils, which is why we have hundreds of daffodils in our front gardens and not one tulip, though we did plant tulip bulbs there before we discovered our deer problem.

Heather has bloomed since November
Heather (Erica spp.) continues to bloom, as it has since November. What a cheery sight those blooms have been through the winter—pink blooms poking through the snow. Heather is a tough, prickly shrub that deer don’t browse. It will bloom well into May.

Violets, a multi-purpose "weed"
Common blue violets (Viola sororia) continue blooming here, there, and just about everywhere in our lawn. I suppose a lawn “purist” would eliminate them with a dose of 2,4-D, which kills broadleaf plants, but I like their blue, white, and mixed blooms that all but hug the earth. Yes, deer eat violets, but I haven’t bought or planted them. They’re just “naturals” here at Meadow Glenn. And they’re the host of the larvae (caterpillars) of many butterflies. Our violets are attractive, feed the bambits, and host butterflies. I’d say they’re gold-star weeds.

Do dandelions make deer tipsy?
Speaking of gold-star weeds, our dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are breaking into bloom. Yes, that proves I don’t use weed killer on our lawn. In ancient times, my great-grandmother would send my mother out to the pasture to pick fresh dandelion leaves to cook. Some modern gastronomes add dandelion leaves to their salads. I’ve seen dandelion seeds offered in seed catalogs, so gardeners somewhere must have neat rows of dandelion plants in their gardens. I hoe any dandelion plant that attempts to grow in my gardens, but our lawn—except for a small green patch in our back yard—is home to hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of dandelion plants. Do deer eat them? I’ve never imagined that they do, but I’ve also never imagined that they don’t. If people eat dandelion leaves, might not deer? If people make wine out of dandelion flowers, do deer get tipsy eating them?

And a mild pang of guilt just surged through my brain. I’ve called violets and dandelions “weeds.”

But isn’t a weed just a plant growing where someone for some reasons doesn’t want it to grow? Since I don’t object to violets and dandelions growing in our lawn, I suppose they aren’t weeds. They’re flowers that just happen to be growing outside my cultivated gardens.

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