Oh Deer! Keeping the Four-Legged Pests at Bay

I recently added a length of 6’ fence in the shrubs along the side of our property, which is now interrupting the long-travelled path of the neighborhood deer family that has had my garden on the menu for too long.

There are other access points into the yard should they choose to search, but I have plans to hopefully foil them for good! Since the fence installation, I have seen plants blooming and in bud for the first time in years. Camassia bloomed in the spring. Clematis, “Belle of Woking,” planted several years ago has just been allowed to bloom this year.

Clematis “Niobe” is blooming beside an old “Heritage” rose that is blooming again. White floribundas are in bud along the patio and the phloxes actually have foliage taller than 6”. Limelight hydrangeas are looking shrub-like instead of stick-like.

For many years, we had no deer in the neighborhood and I assumed that “deer problems” were things that other people had. I had no concerns when I planted a large hosta bed interplanted with lilies. Fortunately, I gave them away for non-plant related reasons before we became the midnight snack location for the new four-footed neighbors.

I was surprised and disbelieving when plants began to look grazed and I dwelled in a “state of denial” until I had no choice but to accept the reality of DEER in my garden. After that, I only planted plants that deer don’t like and then they really ate the others, almost to death!

Since I have been a gardener in this area, the deer problem has become more and more significant and the presence of deer must be discussed with every prospective client. Having even seen deer in the business districts in the area, it is wise to consider the possibility of their presence at some point. Protecting even a few plants will become a chore if they find you.

There are strategies for dealing with deer: find out if your property is on their path and ways to encourage them onto another route if needed, is the food supply this year enough for them, or will they need supplements from the domesticated plants, suggestions for designs that allow for easy fence installations each year in the winter after spraying all season with an array of repellants that may or may not work…to list a few.

I have a couple of clients whose property I spray every week with repellant. The containers say the spray will last three weeks or more but in my experience it must be done weekly. Spraying in the winter, while necessary, can be injurious to plants if the weather is too cold, but the deer keep eating regardless of the weather. And it is heart breaking if the deer become desensitized to the spray before you have changed types and eat the garden in one night!!

All of this to say: If you begin to see indications that deer may have found you…they probably have. You will need to begin taking steps to protect the garden and if you begin spraying at once, they may try another route to other goodies, but assume they will find you again and do not buy anymore daylilies, roses, lilies or hostas, etc. That “state of denial” is very tempting, as the presence of deer signals a whole different approach to the yard and garden but it will need to be done. In my experience, there are only two reliable ways to respond to deer on your property: planting plants they don’t like or installing a deer fence. There ARE plants that deer don’t like and these are beautiful and interesting. There are lists available from many sources. The best approach is to ask your neighbors, a good landscaper or gardener or the staff of the local garden centers, as there are plants on the lists that deer WILL eat if hungry. Fence-building should begin with a visit to your building department. There are undoubtedly rules, regulations and permits involved.

The most important thing is to assume that once visited, you will be put on the menu of the local herd and they must eat.

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067.

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