2010-07-15 / Island History

Deer shy away from stinky shirts

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

Writing this column gives me a unique opportunity to learn more about the problems that Jamestowners experience in their gardens. One recurring problem is deer damage.

On these hot, sweaty days, I’ve found an idea that seems to work pretty well. After going for a bike ride or a brisk walk, I hang my sweaty tee-shirt in the garden for up to three days. The smell of human odor seems to keep deer away.

I’ve tried Deer-off and many other deer control sprays, but they all need to be applied regularly – and after any rain – to be effective. When you have a reasonably large yard, that’s a lot of work and a lot of money spent on sprays.

Another problem I often hear about is wilting or dying plants. In most cases, a potted plant with a problem is usually over-watered. It is said that overwatering is the most common killer of plants.

Under-watering is most common with “black thumb” gardeners who simply forget to water. The easiest way to learn how to water properly is to stick your finger in the soil. If your finger comes out dry, water. If it has soil sticking to it and you feel dampness, do not water. If your plant leaves are brown and crinkled, water. If they are green and growing many more leaves, do not water until your finger tells you the soil is dry.

Watering your garden can be wasteful of water resources. Just spraying water over your plants waters not only the plants, but also waters the walkways, spaces between plants, plant leaves and stems. Spraying works if your plants are in an enclosed area, such as a greenhouse where spraying cools the plants, as well as waters them.

Outdoors, water that lands on leaves and plants tends to evaporate before it can drip to the ground or each drip can act as a magnifying glass and burn minute holes in leaves.

The best way to water is to pour water around each plant stem so that none is wasted from evaporation. This has another benefit, too. It allows a lot of water to soak into the ground around the plants. A light watering makes plant roots climb toward the surface, which tends to make plants shallow rooted.

Another way to get water to plant roots is to use drip irrigation. With this method, a thin hose is led to each plant. At the end of the hose is an emitter that allows drips of water to fall around the plant. It only soaks the area immediately around the plant and saves water.

Water from the municipal system is not very good for your plants. It has been treated with chlorine, which plants do not like. To supplement your water supply, consider a water barrel.

Simply cut off a gutter downspout about four feet from the bottom and stick a rain barrel under it. After every rain shower, I gather more than 55 gallons of water in each rain barrel. One rain barrel gives me enough for about three days of watering in the greenhouse. Plus, the water has not been treated with chlorine, and I can add fertilizer or dunk a compost bag in the barrel to make compost tea. This gets nutrients directly to the plants’ roots.

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