Molly Hackett

Molly Hackett

I have long maintained that the only sure way to keep deer out of a garden is with a barrier between the deer and the plants. While my views on fences have not changed, this summer I took part in an experiment with a deer repellent which shows great promise. The product, called Deer Ban, is in the form of gel capsules placed on the ground ten feet apart. When moisture activates the capsule contents, they release chemicals which are supposed to smell like coyote urine. The idea is that deer will choose to feed somewhere else rather than worry about predators.

Last spring I put Deer Ban capsules in three locations where deer were a problem. All summer the deer stayed away from those three areas, even though there had been heavy deer traffic in the past.

I am not sure what will happen in winter. I am not sure what would happen if a whole neighborhood put out Deer Ban. I am not sure that deer will permanently believe in invisible coyotes. I am sure, though, that this product is the best deer repellent that I have seen in many, many years. For situations where a fence is not possible, it would be worth a try. Deer Ban is available in Missoula.

Q: Do you think that bone meal is a good fertilizer?

A: That depends on several things. Once upon a time farmers ground up bones because there were few ways to return nutrients to heavily used soils. Obviously this is no longer true. As far as efficacy goes, bone meal provides only phosphorus and calcium, so it is useful to a gardener when those are the deficient minerals.

Second, unfortunately for gardeners who want to increase their phosphorus level, bone meal is no longer the rich source that it once was. There are other industrial uses for bone meal, including animal feed supplements and cosmetics. The best of the bone meal goes to the user willing to pay the best price.

Third, bone meal is valuable only in acid soils. Plants growing in neutral or alkaline soils are unable to absorb the phosphorus in bone meal. Most western Montana soils are in the neutral to alkaline range.

For gardeners who have acid soil and need to add phosphorus or calcium, bone meal manufactured in this country is safe. There has been some worry about its being a possible source of mad cow disease. However, federal regulations are extremely strict. If bone meal has been manufactured in this country, it is safe from contamination.

Q: Can I save my petunias for next year?

A: Absolutely. I have been doing just that for years. Take cuttings four to six inches long from healthy young branches. If there are flowers, clip them off. Cut off the leaves near the bottom of each stem, and push the bottom inch of stem into a pot full of potting soil. I use a two-inch pot for each cutting; several cuttings can go into a larger pot.

Cover the pot with a clear plastic bag and set it in good light but not direct sun. Keep the potting soil damp. Within a month, roots will be coming out the holes in the bottom of the pot. After the roots are growing, remove the bag. The petunias will grow well in a sunny window and will begin to bloom again during the winter.

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Master gardener Molly Hackett, whose motto is “Never trust a gardener with clean fingernails,” welcomes your questions. Send them to 1384 Meridian Road, Victor, MT 59875; call 961-4614; or email mhackett@centric.net. Please include a garden-related subject line in emails. Hackett writes a twice-monthly Dirty Fingernails opinion piece for the Missoulian.

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