Minimal damage done to agave by deer rubbing

Q: I had my cactus branches shredded by what I believe was a male deer grooming himself. There were two piles of deer poop nearby. What can I do to prevent this damage? Jim Quirk, Bluffton, South Carolina

A: First, a gentle correction: Your plant is an American agave, Agave americana, sometimes called a century plant because of the length of time it takes to flower. Usually, the flower spike grows 10 feet to 20 feet tall. It’s a spectacular sight, but the mother plant will die several weeks after flowering, to be replaced by “pups” that emerge around it. I don’t see much damage to the leaves of your agave, so I don’t think it has been permanently harmed. Many gardeners in rural areas have had small trees rubbed vigorously and killed by deer trying to remove the spongy tissue that covers their new antlers each fall. To prevent deer rubbing on it in the future, drive four 6-foot lengths of steel rebar 2 feet into the ground equidistantly around the agave, thus surrounding it with a square formed by the rebar. Wrap the square with chicken wire, using short pieces of steel wire to keep it in place. Deer will be able to rub on the rough chicken wire without damaging your plant.

Q: On Sept. 4, I bought three ‘on the vine’ tomatoes at my local grocery. I used two and left the third on the counter. As it sat there week after week showing no indication of decay, it became a challenge to see exactly how long it would last. The first indication of decay started Nov. 7. What modifications are being made to produce tomatoes which last at least three months? Judy Abbott, email

A: I don’t know exactly why it lasted so long but I have a theory. The tomatoes you purchased are called Tomato-On-Vine (TOV) tomatoes. They are typically grown in a greenhouse, where plant density and fruit yield can be maximized. By necessity, greenhouse growers try to provide perfect conditions for their tomatoes. Insects, weeds and diseases are tightly controlled. Workers must sterilize their shoes before entering. I think your tomato lasted so long because it was so clean when the cluster was harvested. The skin was fungi-free. The only place fungal invaders could enter was through the stem. They finally did so when you separated this Methuselah from its comrades. The fungi grew slowly but finally broke through. Remember, this is only a theory, but if anyone has a better explanation, let me know!

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