Berkeleyan gives tips on keeping plants safe from critters

From Ohlone Park in Berkeley: This squirrel had just found a nut in a tree and buried it shortly afterwards. Photo: Derrick Coetzee
This squirrel, in Ohlone Park, had just found a nut in a tree — shown here in its mouth — and buried it shortly afterwards. Photo: Derrick Coetzee

[Editor’s Note: Several local neighborhood groups have been buzzing recently about problems around their homes related to wildlife. One local resident, Phil Price, offered these tips based on experiences he and his wife, Juliet Lamont, have had in North Berkeley.]

By Phil Price

A few people in recent weeks have mentioned deer depredations and other issues with birds and wildlife causing problems with landscaping. My wife and I have a lot of experience with these issues.

About 15 years ago we removed all of the ivy, Himalayan blackberry and Algerian ivy that made up the understory of our backyard, and replaced it all with native plants. 


Squirrels

We used to have a rather comical problem of squirrels burying acorns in the flower pots and planter boxes on our deck. Eventually the plants in the pots would die from having their roots constantly disturbed, but the squirrels wouldn’t stop and we would eventually end up with a planter box with no plants, containing hundreds of acorns covered with a thin layer of soil.

Our solution was to get rid of most of the planter boxes.  Sometimes you have to face reality. We do have a box that we replant when needed, and a few others that have particularly hardy plants that have now established such impenetrable root systems that the squirrels leave them alone, so you can win if it’s worth it to you.

Deer in Berkeley. Photo: Yael Moses
Deer in Berkeley. Photo: Yael Moses

Deer

All native plants are to some extent deer resistant, or they would have gone extinct a long time ago, but we quickly discovered that “deer resistant” doesn’t go as far as one might hope. The main lesson is that you have to keep deer away from your new plants for at least two years. Three is better.

In our case that meant putting deer fence around our entire yard and leaving it there for a couple of years. We started with lightweight plastic mesh fencing sold as “deer fence” at a local hardware store, but it was pretty much useless; determined deer could simply push on it until it tore, and it turns out our deer were determined.

So we switched to a thicker plastic, also sold as deer fence, and it works quite well. The top of the fence should be at least 6 feet off the ground, and you have to stake the bottom too so the deer can’t nose under it. I use a mix of steel stakes with a metal plate on the bottom (more expensive) and plastic ones that are much lighter, cheaper and easier to work with but a lot less stable, usually alternating between these.

I use plastic cable ties to attach the fence to the stake. Buy a lot more cable ties than you think you need.  You can start by putting up the steel posts pretty far apart, then go back later and add plastic ones in between as needed.

The fencing is kind of a pain to work with, it’s always getting snagged on overhead branches or trying to roll up on itself in odd ways as you struggle to unroll it, and it can scratch up your arms pretty good, too. Just be patient, and you will find little hard-to-describe tricks so that it gradually gets easier.

The main message, though, is that even if you plant deer-resistant plants, you do need to keep the deer out for a couple of years. Most of the plants are not appealing to adult deer, but the young ones haven’t yet figured out what is or isn’t good and they will sample everything. Once the plant is a few years old it can tolerate that, but if the plant is new then one sample can be enough to kill it.

Read many more stories about animals in Berkeley via Berkeleyside’s past coverage.

Related:
Berkeley’s wild turkeys: is there anywhere they won’t go? (10.17.13)
Sick red fox seen in Berkeley hills near Tilden (08.12.13)
In a Berkeley park, a bluebird displays unusual behavior (08.05.13)
Rattlesnake sightings prompt call for caution (08.02.13)
Flock of wild turkey poults takes a stroll in Berkeley (07.16.13)
Authorities searching for deer shot by arrow in Berkeley (11.01.12)
Deer fawns make themselves at home on Berkeley street (06.18.12)
Deer charging people, dogs in the Berkeley hills (06.05.12)
Exotic Muntjac deer loose, in danger, in César Chávez Park (11.03.11)
Deer in Berkeley: Up close, both dead and alive (06.08.10)
Berkeleyans advised: Please don’t feed the wildlife (05.21.10)
Deer attacks Berkeley woman and her dogs (05.07.10)

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