Tips for Tuesday takes a look at deer. My tip is directed mainly at developers and builders. It is simple. Do not keep building in areas populated by deer. Not so much a tip as a strong suggestion. But, there is useful information for homeowners here as well, plus a couple of cute images.
I get called to design properties that are smack dab on deer trails. And with the increasing deer population, it leaves many of them in search of a meal right to your front yard. Unfortunately for the homeowner, that often means their landscape plants will be in jeopardy. Deer will browse an arborvitae or yew down to mere sticks. Boxwood is usually safe, but how many of them can you realistically have?
This damage was done by deer to Taxus. Granted, it is not a nice landscape, but the deer are not going to care how pretty your space is, just how tasty and desirable.
No matter what we plant as deer resistant vegetation, the deer will eat just about anything when they are hungry. They will also come right up to your front door early in the early morning hours. This did not use to happen, but again, with rising populations and more homes being constructed in deer habitat, deer are becoming more desperate and brazen.
As deer and human populations increase, so do the conflicts between the species. Urban sprawl has created suburban environments conducive to creating deer habitat, abundant with food and, more important, protection from hunting and non-human predators. Where deer remain embedded in natural forest conditions, they also can change the plant and animal compositions of the forest ecosystems. They over-browse causing the reverse of plant succession and lead to the introduction of midlevel and introduced species of plant life.
I feel sorry for the deer. Being a prey animal has its inherent dangers, and the accidental car collisions are so common at this time of year. This little one pound deer below, was delivered by Caesarean section at a wildlife hospital after his mother was killed by a car. His mother could not be saved, but this little 6 inch high miracle was saved by the Tigglewinkles Hospital in Buckinghamshire. The photographer’s name is on the photo.
One thing my friend and nurseryman has done on his farm to protect the nursery stock that he grows, is he plants corn at all the deer trails. This provide food for the wild deer throughout the winter. That is just not feasible for most homeowners, but I have one client who buys corn to put out for them every night. I am sure this a costly affair.
The problem with feeding is that it creates an unnatural condition for the animals. Ready food helps to increase deer populations and also puts them on a limited diet. Corn is a sugar and deer really like it. They also like the apples and other fruit that my client provides. The corn that my friend grows is right on the line between the natural habitat and protected tree nursery. The animals have plenty of forest and meadows in which to graze.
Another client has lost holly, and lilac as the deer graze right beneath her office window. They have eaten practically every plant that was planted, irregardless of the deer resistant recommendations.
Repellents work by reducing the attractiveness and palatability of plants to a lower level than unprotected foliage. So effectibility is dependant on other available foliage. See how this is self-defeating in a home environment? We do not want them eating any of our garden plants. The solutions have to be applied after a rain which also require fast action on the part of the homeowner. Many of these products consist of rotten eggs. How many of you can stomach that smell?
There are taste dependent repellents like Deer Off also. These usually are hot pepper spray based. The disadvantage is the deer must sample the plant first before being repelled. Then the new growth that follows is unprotected. Tests have shown that odor based protectants outperform taste based.
Barrier fencing requires minimum height of an eight foot woven wire fence or a high tensile electric fence. The woven fence is about three times more costly. Fencing is usually not practical in a home garden. Bucks often get tangled in the plastic netting fence and suffer long agonizing deaths. The wire fence below serves a dual purpose. It keeps the penned does in and the wild bucks out. Note the two visible trees, not a single leaf is at browse level, and the bark is protected from the deer.
Home owners have the worst scenario. The best means of protection is selecting plants that are considered 95% safe. This means 95% of the time deer will not touch them. Remember what I said about when they are really hungry? That is the other 5%.
The two black and white photos and plant lists are courtesy of Cornell University.
I guess you noticed that there are not too many trees and shrubs on this list. This image is how deer see your gardens. Yummy.