Using Milk to Deter Deer and Saving Amaryllis Bulbs

I had a very interesting e-mail from George Longenecker, the retired Executive Director of the West Virginia Botanic Garden in Morgantown. He has a surefire deer deterrent that I’d never heard of: milk.

Dairy farmers rejoice! Here’s what George e-mailed to me:

“Milk seems to be a deterrent for deer browsing. We have been using it diluted 5:1 (water:milk) during the summer at about 1 month intervals (frequency dependant on growth pattern of plant), and during the winter undiluted at about 3 month intervals. It is usually applied by sprinkling on the plants (through holes punched or drilled in a milk bottle cap) on a day with good drying conditions. It does not seem to make a difference whether it is skim, 2%, or whole milk and it does not have to be sour. Fresh milk works the same.

“I have used it on my unfenced vegetable garden for the past 2 summers and have only lost things when there was too much new growth that was not covered.

“It seems too simple, but it has made a big difference. It is a lot cheaper than coyote urine!”

I think this is one remedy that any one of us, regardless of gardening ability and expertise, can try. I know I certainly will. I think I’ll plant a few pots of pansies or tulips, a deer favorite, in an exposed location and give them the milk treatment. If the plants survive, I’ll douse the rest of my vulnerable plants. I’ll also try putting milk in a tank sprayer and spraying some of my larger plants with it.

As you know, deer from different gardens, let alone different regions, respond to different stimuli. They eat different plants in different gardens. At the WV Botanic Garden, deer have been eating the evergreen pisifera chamaecyparis that look like waterfalls of green or gold needles. In my garden, though these shrubs are planted along a road the deer walk up, they haven’t touched them. They’re eating a different species of chamaecyparis in my garden. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my deer, like the ones in Morgantown, have a milk allergy.

Save That Amaryllis

Have you tossed out your amaryllis bulbs with your Christmas decorations? If not, you should know that amaryllis grow well in the ground in northern California because in addition to mild temperatures, they like the wet spring and fall and hot, dry summer. In pots, amaryllis bulbs must be allowed to dry out once the leaves die down and not be watered again until the flower spike begins to emerge. If you put your potted bulbs outside for the summer, be sure they are on a covered porch where they can stay dry.

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