I’m used to finding the results of marauding deer in the unfenced gardens surrounding my house. Gardening near wooded areas of Connecticut means gardening with deer. After fourteen years in this location I can pretty much predict when deer will munch off the tops of the native violets scattered in the lawn and planted beds, and when Echinacea (coneflower) buds and ipomea (morning glory) leaves will become deer snacks. Normally, the browse line – the area from ground level to the highest level deer mouths reach – runs to about chest high. This year I’m noticing much more damage lower to the ground. Here’s why … NO OOHS AND AAHS ALLOWED.
I mean it … not one “Aren’t they cute.” I don’t want to hear, “Oh, so sweet!”
These are plant eating machines. In spite of the cute factor – even I admit they are cute, just don’t say it – these creatures are way too comfortable in my yard. (The front yard is undergoing a multi-year re-work after removal of many trees that were too close to the house. Please, don’t judge my gardening ability by this photo.)
My methods of gardening in deer country consist of planting deer candy – hosta, phlox, roses, lilies, hydrangea macrophylla, many coneflowers, most ipomea, coleus, etc. – within a fenced area and deer resistant perennials and shrubs in open areas. I chase deer away whenever I spot them, some I actually have to run after, but this tends to keep them a bit more wary about coming too close to the house. I accept the inevitable chew damage even deer resistant plants will occasionally endure, particularly during times of few acorns like last autumn. I also spray deer repellents when browsing becomes particularly heavy during the growing season or when I will be out of town and not around to play crazy deer-chaser lady. During winter months, I erect chicken wire fencing around rhododendron, azalea, and any other shrub deer may use as a winter meal. Plus, new shrub/tree plantings are caged for at least the first year, until mature enough to withstand occasional nibbles, or tall enough to prevent deer from reaching leaves and tender twigs. Two newly-planted clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’ (summersweet) will remain caged until next summer and a year-old star magnolia will live in its cage until the top sets of branches grow beyond the reach of even the tallest deer.
The newest four-hooved youngsters run when they hear doors open or a car pull into the driveway, but the lower to the ground browsing I’ve noticed in my unfenced gardens means the young deer are still way too at-home in the gardens near the house. They obviously don’t hesitate to return for a meal when the surroundings are quiet. They have nibbled perennial geraniums nearly clean of leaves and feasted on the few white mums that try to hide behind the cover of boxwood and a peony (larger deer rarely find these mums so I often see them bloom). The self-seeded Echinacea have been browsed to within a foot of the ground (adult deer often just chew coneflower tops, leaving the lower levels to send out new buds).
It’s time to train the new generation. They need to feel uncomfortable in my yard. Neighbors can expect to more frequently hear crazy deer-chaser lady shouts and it’s time for stinky spray to keep the youngsters away.