Dear deer: Please don’t mangle the landscaping
Ever since I moved into my suburban neighborhood three years ago I have heard the neighbors complain about severe plant, vegetable and tree damage inflicted by deer on their well-tended landscapes. I didn’t get it. My landscape was doing fine. Besides, viewing the deer was a near mystical experience. On my early morning drive out of the neighborhood into the city, I would see several deer springing through a meadow. Early evenings I would watch them grazing in a neighbor’s yard. Once I saw seven deer in a confab gathered right across the street. The deer were so cute. What’s not to love about Bambi?
That was before a deer moved right next door. She startled the mailman when she unexpectedly jumped out of my neighbors bushes (her home!). Our neighborhood deer act more like well-loved dogs than wild animals. And apparently, they now consider my yard their local convenience store, deli and supermarket rolled into one.
This year, practicing sound gardening technique, I rotated my vegetable garden from my backyard to a side yard where my plants could enjoy full sun in a southern exposure bed. I lovingly prepared the bed by tilling the soil and adding nutrients. As an afterthought, I added a four foot fence. In the former garden, I planted zinnia seedlings I had cultivated indoors under a grow light. I added wildflower seeds and a few poppies.
I planted, watered and patiently waited for nature’s magic to occur.
However, each year I find that gardening poses a new set of trials. Last year, we had too much rain so even getting plants in the ground was a challenge. This year’s drought and intense heat has meant extra watering. I was forced to move hanging baskets to cooler locations. What I didn’t realize was that the intense heat and drought would eradicate much of wildlife’s natural food supply sending the beasties to my backyard for nourishment.
First under attack were the poppies, followed by my coneflowers, zinnias and phlox. Leaves have been stripped, and most blossoms removed. Most resources list zinnias and coneflowers as deer resistant. My deer and her friends eat them like candy. My 4-foot fencing around my vegetable garden provided little protection and I began to see the newly ripened tomatoes chewed up with remnants spewed on the ground.
In panic mode, I began researching deer defense and in the process learned there were a number of things not to love about Bambi. Although wild and magnificent, deer and other wild animals can also carry and transmit disease. Deer can bring deer ticks, raccoons and foxes can carry rabies and other mammals have dog ticks. The deer population in Ohio has exploded, growing from 17,000 in 1970 to 750,000 today. So how do we gardeners defend against this wildlife tsunami?
The first line of defense is the selection of deer-resistant plants. Internet research will reveal lists of both rarely, moderately and frequently damaged plants. However, keep in mind that when food is in short supply deer will browse even the most undesirable plants.
I next looked to provide deer barriers. As an experiment, I planted marigolds around the perimeter of my flower bed. Many believe that the unpleasant marigold odor will offer protection. This did not work at all. At first, the deer reached right over the marigolds and bulldozed my more prized flowers. Then, they ate the marigolds.
I considered using repellents. Natural repellants include human hair, Tabasco sauce, feathermeal, bloodmeal, creosote, soap, coyote and fox urine. There are a number of commercial repellants on the market that utilize scent and/or tastes to keep deer from munching on plants. This is a good option for a landscape or garden that has a limited area to protect. The disadvantage is that they have to be re-applied on a regular basis. Unfortunately, repellant use can be hit and miss. What works in one location may not work in another. The greatest protection comes from using several different repellents and rotating their use. Over time the cost and labor associated with this may make fencing more attractive.
Most resources advise 8– to 10-foot fencing to protect against deer. My 4-foot fence was completely inadequate. One of my neighbors used bird netting and suggested this technique to me. So far, it seems to be doing the trick.
Although my flower garden has been reduced to a war zone, I have hope for the future. The natural process of decreased food availability may already be decreasing the population. A cooler, wetter fall may revive some of the natural wildlife food so the deer will leave my garden alone. I can try to make my outdoor area as unattractive to deer and other wild animals as possible by never leaving out pet food or water, keep kitchen disposal areas clean and tightly contained and keep brush and undergrowth cleaned out, eliminating places for animals to skulk while they shop at my supermarket.
Master Gardener School to be offered in 2013
If you would like be a Delaware County Master Gardener Volunteer, please go to our website for more information, (http://delaware.osu.edu/) or give us a call at the OSU Extension office, 740–833-2030.
Michele Pearson is a Delaware County OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer