Deer, the Next Generation

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.

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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.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 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.

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8 comments for “Deer, the Next Generation

  1. July 18, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    What do you use for your caging? And have you found a source to order wholesale or in bulk, or do you just get it from the nearest big box store?

    • July 18, 2012 at 1:00 pm

      Kathy, I use welded wire when I need a really tough cage that will stand up to pushy deer and winter snow and wind. I use chicken wire, placed at an angle with the upper edge outward from the lower edge, nearer the house. Sometimes I make chicken wire a-frame cages for smaller shrubs. I hold all in place with heavy bamboo sunk into the ground. I try to buy my supplies from a local hardware but, at times, have to resort to a big-box purchase.

  2. July 18, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Joene, The deer are nibbling my Ruby Spice clethra, too, but seem to leave Hummingbird alone. I wonder what the difference is, since to my eye, the leaves look basically the same. I still have my handful of hosta, although I noticed my neighbor’s hosta are chewed to the stems so that’s usually the sign that mine are next 🙂 I think this drought has been really hard on the deer…not that I’m feeling sorry for them but I do see their browse patterns change during times of drought.

    • July 18, 2012 at 5:14 pm

      Debbie, drought or not, deer still find plenty to eat since we gardeners keep planting dinner for them. Hope spraying keeps your hostas safe. I planted a couple of Hummingbird clethra in a client’s garden but chose Ruby Spice for here because of their mature size and color. I’m hoping deer will be less likely to browse them once the new shrubs are established.

  3. July 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Sorry for your plant losses, but glad I’m not the only one who’s lost many a hosta to Bambi & friends.

    • July 18, 2012 at 9:45 pm

      Katie, I think anyone who has hosta planted any where near where deer roam has lost some, or all, to deer browsing.

  4. July 19, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    Joene, I learned my lesson when my new “deer-resistant” (hah!) viburnum got seriously browsed last fall and spring and is now about half the size it was when I planted it last year. This year, I’m planning to cage it in August when I leave for Pennsylvania and leave it protected until I’m back for the summer next May.

    I haven’t seen any deer or fawns in my garden this year, but I’ve seen their tracks in the dirt road — and a few days ago, my morning tour of the garden revealed an interesting fawn-sized depression on the soil right next to that viburnum.

    • July 19, 2012 at 9:56 pm

      Jean, I had the same thing happen with a leatherleaf viburnum last autumn. I caged it through the winter and into May. It’s recouping nicely but I can’t help but wonder how large it would be now had I caged it from the start. It is also supposed to be deer resistant.
      Hope your fawn moves on to less caged areas.

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