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Marin IJ Articles

Grow deer-resistant flowers and harvest happiness

  • Anne-Marie Walker
  • I like gardens that strive for a balance between the beauty of the wild and the cultivated. This preference extends to flower arrangements, mixing garden greenery and seasonal blooms. That is a concept to be embraced because just as we eat locally and seasonally, so should we be selecting flowers for bouquets. Better yet, let’s talk about how to grow them yourself and harvest a lot of happiness.

    Most store-bought flowers come from the Netherlands, Colombia, Ecuador, and Kenya, all considered major growing areas. When you buy flowers labeled “American grown” or “Grown in California,” you reduce resources for transporting them far from home and likely eliminate chemicals and pesticides used to grow them. Consider that if you grow your own flowers for harvest, you know they are organic, benefit local pollinators with nectar and pollen, and give you a joyful garden to cut flowers and share happiness with friends. Planting a mix of bulbs, annuals, perennials, vegetables, herbs, shrubs, grasses, vines, and trees will ensure bouquets that fill, thrill, and dip.

    Growing flowers in Marin means learning about deer-resistant flowers for most of us. Not everyone has or wants a fence. Fortunately, many plants have deer-resistant qualities that make a cutting garden a strong possibility even with visiting deer. Few plants are truly deer-proof, but some are less-favored by deer. Generally, plants with hairy and bristly textured leaves like Rudbeckia and Tagetes are left alone by deer. So too are plants with strong scents like Salvia, Lavandula, Verbena and spicy tastes like Iris, Pelargonium, and Agastache. Some plants combine these strategies, like Nepeta and Achillea millefolium, whose scent and fuzzy leaves are generally unappealing to deer. To make these deer-resistant plants even less tolerable, water less to intensify off-putting scents. Toxic plants largely avoided by deer include Narcissus, Digitalis, Papaver, Rhododendron, and Helleborus. Nor do deer bother most ornamental grasses and plants from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa like Grevillea and Leucadendron. For more suggestions, refer to www.marinmg.ucanr.edu/PLANTS/DEER-RESISTANT_PLANTS

    To select the best flowers to grow, consider the following: the size of the plant at maturity, cultural requirements, vertical interest, and the season in which the flower blooms. If you group early bloomers with late bloomers, you can preserve the integrity of your garden while cutting flowers for enjoyment. Annual plants grow and bloom during one season. Perennials live for one or more years and bloom for a specific season; spring, summer, and/or fall. To ensure long vase life, harvest flowers in the cool, early morning or evening, selecting partially open blooms, so they fully bloom and last longer. Pollen develops as blossoms open, shortening the life of the flower. Take a bucket of water into your garden and plunge the stem into the water immediately.

    When you have cut all the flowers you need, take the bucket back inside, recut the stem at a slant, and soak for 4 to 6 hours. This prevents air from blocking water uptake. Most flower stems should be conditioned by removing leaves below the water line; this reduces bacteria and delays decay. If you harvest Narcissus, keep them in water separate from other flowers for a few hours, so their toxic sap does not kill other vase flowers. If you harvest Papaver, Asclepias, and other flowers with milky sap, burn the cut stem ends for 30 seconds to stop sap flow. Adding a few drops of bleach to the vase water keeps things fresh, and splitting woody stems of fruit trees and berries increases water absorption. Adding floral preservative feeds and preserves your bouquet, which should be kept away from heat and direct sunlight. Bouquets are prettier when you mix monochromatic and complimentary colors. Enjoy the season growing and harvesting flowers to share the happiness of blooms from your garden.