That’s a deer, granddaughter dear.

I was reading to my two-year-old granddaughter yesterday afternoon when the motion detector alarm by the front porch entry beeped. From our reading chair we looked out to find a four-hooved, instead of a two-legged, visitor. After allowing my granddaughter her first through-the-window close-up look at a white-tailed deer, we ventured to the glass storm door leading to the front porch. There my budding gardening companion had her first experience chasing deer away. A few loud knocks on the glass sent the deer scurrying off towards the woods. My granddaughter was taken aback by the deer’s sudden movement, but praise that she had done a good job helping grandma chase the deer away soon changed her tone. She proudly informed grandpa she had chased the deer into the woods. That’s my girl!

Deer are frequent visitors to my south-central Connecticut gardens. Generally, over the last 13 years in this location, I’ve been able to garden in spite of deer. Through much trial and error, and more expense than I care to tally, I’ve learned what annuals, perennials and shrubs are least palatable to deer in my area and what greenery local deer might munch and when. With this knowledge of local deer feeding habits, I’ve maintained attractive planting beds and shrubbery in areas not fenced to keep deer out, and have done so without spending much of my gardening budget on deer-repellant sprays.

My system worked well until this year. Deer browsing has increased to include a whole new set of previously deer-resistant plants.

I’ve had Amsonia ‘Blue Star’ in unfenced beds for all the years I’ve lived here. This is the first deer have browsed it.

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Geranium sanguineum were previously browsed only in early spring when greenery is scarce. This year deer have repeatedly browsed them to the ground.

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Deer have not yet shown interest in native hay, Christmas or Ostrich ferns but nibbled the tops off these Japanese painted ferns.

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Local deer used to ignore peony. This autumn they’ve browsed and re-browsed this and a small, new peony.

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Two annuals local deer traditionally left alone were ageratum and snapdragon. Not this year. They also found verbena quite palatable in spite of a quality normally thought to confer deer-resistance … rough, hairy leaf texture.

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Notice the perennial Lady’s Mantle at the top of the photo above? Deer also ate them down multiple times during late summer and autumn.

Deer chomped on a low-bush blueberry, a native shrub that was growing in it’s current spot when I began landscaping here; they ate the dry flower stalks off astilbe, and nibbled leaves off late-blooming anemone.

They also chose to munch on newly planted  Leatherleaf viburnum (Viburnum rhytidophyllum), Star magnolia (magnolia stellata centennial), and juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Blue Point”), which prompted me to surround each with wire fencing.

Why increased browsing this year? I speculate it’s a combination of a growing deer population and the fact that surrounding oak trees dropped few acorns this year after producing heavy mast the previous two years. With few acorns as food, deer look for sustenance elsewhere.

Elsewhere happens to be whatever is green, even if green is sitting on a porch. Yep … deer came onto my porch to feast on potted tropical hibiscus, and potted mums. My neighbors report similar experiences.

It’s not unusual to chase deer out of the yard many times a day, whether light or dark … a lesson my granddaughter is learning at a very early age.

So I’m curious … what is your experience with deer this year?

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6 comments for “That’s a deer, granddaughter dear.

  1. November 5, 2011 at 11:45 am

    When greenery gets scarce in the woods the deer get closer to the house. They will munch on anything then too.One came right up to the porch and ate off the hydrangea the other night.We fight with them every year too. I need your little granddaughter to scare them off. LOL! You are teaching her well Grandma.

    • joenesgarden
      November 5, 2011 at 1:12 pm

      Lona, Deer have cleaned out most of the reachable greenery in the woodlands. Their numbers have grown so much in the last tow years that they have no choice but to feed on garden plants they used to ignore. By the time my granddaughter grows older she’ll be a seasoned deer chaser.

  2. November 18, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    Joene, Deer seem to be hungrier and more active in my Maine garden this fall, too. When I was home two weeks ago, I was surprised to find that they’d been browsing Geranium x cantabrigiense, a plant they usually avoid because of its pungent scent.

    • joenesgarden
      November 19, 2011 at 4:09 pm

      Jean, do you have few to no acorns this year? I think this fact is contributing to increased browsing by deer this year.

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