Q: We tried using electric fence for deer and had mixed success. If the deer hit it with a nose or foreleg everything was fine, but if the animal managed to go under the wire so it touched the hair on its back, it didn't stop it.
A: Neither of us uses electric fence, but we have talked with gardeners who do. They had two recommendations.
One is that the wire is a little too high - drop it a few inches.
Also, they tell us that electric fence is much more successful with deer if you use the wire fence and not the ribbon fence. The ribbon is faster to put up and easier to maintain because if it gets broken you can just tie on a new piece. But the ribbon seems to have places in it the deer can touch without experiencing any current. Our sources say it's their experience that this never happens with wire. It doesn't matter where the deer touches it or whether it touches it with the nose, leg or back hair. The effect will be the same. The deer back up and try a new place.
Remember, if you have a fence you activate only at night, don't ever, ever forget to turn on the charger before you go to bed. Many gardeners have told us that the deer check it out every night, all summer long. They also say the deer don't need to touch the wire with their nose to know whether the electricity is on or not. They have some sense, perhaps a hearing range, that clues them in once they have learned how it feels.
Q: How do I grow grass on the north side of my house in the shade? The moss is killing the grass, and I don't want moss.
A: First, the moss is not killing the grass. Remember that moss is not the cause of a problem, but the result of a problem. The grass died and the moss took advantage of the empty space to move in.
You're talking about an area that is one of the hardest places to grow grass. Lawn grasses do not like heavy shade, and it's very hard to keep a shaded lawn healthy. But here are some suggestions.
Don't use any Kentucky bluegrass in that location. The best seed to try is not a lawn mixture, but one particular type called chewings fescue. It's in most lawn grass mixtures, but you want to plant only that one species. Of all of the grasses in mixtures, chewings fescue is the most shade tolerant.
Encourage the fescues, which have deep root systems, by watering deeply but not too frequently. If there are trees in an area, their roots will take the water first, so give extra water during the growing season.
Mow high. You want to give every blade of grass there the most possible surface exposure to what light there is. Plan to mow that area consistently at 3 inches. On most mowers, it's one notch above medium.
Do everything you can to keep the soil in that area in good condition - that means using a mulching mower so the clippings stay in place. Give the area about half an inch of compost, either purchased or homemade, twice in every growing season.
The grass probably will still have some trouble, so overseed with chewings fescue every spring to keep the grass as thick as possible. It'll never be as healthy a lawn as the one in the sun, but you give it as good a chance as possible by giving it new grass.
There are, unfortunately, some shaded situations where you just can't grow grass. If you've tried everything and you still have moss, you could consider that moss is green and therefore more attractive than dirt and rocks. Or you could say, "This is not going to be a lawn area" and plant a shade-loving ground cover like bugle, which doesn't care where it grows and comes in colors ranging from green to dark red. Or consider sweet woodruff, which can be slow to spread but goes gangbusters once it gets going, or a low-growing fern or lily of the valley. One of the most attractive but hardest to find is called epimedium or barrenwort It grows about 8 inches tall and has interesting flowers in spring, but is grown mostly for its wonderful foliage. It spreads, but never becomes a nuisance.
A word on mulching mowers: Last summer there was another trial of mulching mowers, which leave grass clippings on lawns. This one was done in Connecticut, and it came to the same conclusions as other tests. Clippings left on a lawn to decay have decreased the need for fertilizer by at least 50 percent. Someday, more people may come to believe that, but they haven't yet.
Master gardeners Molly Hackett and Georgianna Taylor, whose motto is "Never trust a gardener with clean fingernails," welcome your questions. Send them to: 191 Eastside Highway, Hamilton, MT 59840; call 961-4614; or e-mail email@example.com.