Hello Deer…

I posted this short piece a couple of years ago, and thought it might be appropriate again.  It is that time of year when the deer are out and about looking for tasty tidbits.

Before we fenced the property the scene out the front window was quite pastoral and lovely.  It was with hesitation that we began to construct a barrier between us and the deer herd that grazed in the lower field.   We knew that our plans for building new gardens would eventually require doing something about their presence.

Over the years I have seen evidence of the white-tailed animals’ dining habits in both urban and rural settings.  The effects of their daily browse are most obvious at the beginning of the growing season when tender new shoots are abundant, and again in the fall when they are staving off hunger.  This, however, should not suggest that a deer’s passion for sampling or consuming unprotected plants is any less during the summer months.

“Will deer eat this plant?” is a question that I hear repeatedly at this time of year.  My answer is: “If they’re hungry, they’ll eat anything.” Short of building a fence there are other strategies that I, or my neighbours have used to deter those munching beauties.  Wire cages, motion-sensor sprayers, and deterrent sprays are at the top of my list.  While all of them provide defense, they are not “for sure” protection all of the time:  cages do well for awhile, but they fall over and plants outgrow them; motion-sensor sprayers scare the animals away, but their limited range protects a limited area; and, depending on the type of smelly spray used, it will need to be reapplied after several weeks or months.

While making our “fence-or-no-fence” decision, we put the smelly spray strategy to the test early one spring. Armed with Plantskyd, a product available at most garden centres, and a homemade concoction of milk, egg and fish fertilizer, we sprayed shrubs and bushes that had suffered deer browse for a long time.  The effectiveness of both was obvious as we watched the roses; rhododendrons and lilacs regain their former good looks over the summer.

It is clear that deer are as enthusiastic about gardening as gardeners are themselves.  But when all growing things seem to be up for grabs, I prefer their pastoral beauty outside the fence.

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