I’ve created a new art form born of functionality and a tendency towards the use of metal as an art form.
Last year, I created a piece I call ‘Deer-Deterence’. It consists simply of two pieces of four-foot rebaror pipe and some barbed wire.
I intended it to protect my Western redbud, but it was after-the-fact as the local buck got to the lower limbs before I figured it need protecting. The bucks use small trees to rub the velvet from their antlers. Around here, the process begins around September. Native trees fall victim too; I have found alders badly gouged with ragged strings of bark hanging from their trunks. My pyrocantha shrubs along the driveway were badly mauled, and a beautiful dark blue flowered ceanothus lost several large limbs.
Taking a page from the Bloedel Reserve, which uses two metal fence posts driven into the ground at an angle to protect tree trunks, I’ve employed materials that I have on hand, namely rebar, steel pipe, and barbed wire. In some instances, I’ve also wrapped pieces of woven wire fencing around the trunks of larger trees. In other cases, I’ve placed a single pipe at angle.
Time will tell which will work the best, or if I will need to default to more extensive fencing measures. As of today, October 14, I’ve seen no evidence of fresh buck damage anywhere, although a summer herd of four does continue to hang out around the gardens.
I’ve been here four years now, going on five, the longest that I’ve ever lived in one place since I left here as a teen to go to college. The result is that I’m finally witnessing the long-term results of my landscaping efforts. Many of my installations are at least three years along, and I’ve had plenty of time to see what works and what doesn’t.
1. Use landscape fabric for walkways, and any other place that shouldn’t become a weedy mess.
Above - looks nice at first (left), but later becomes a weed-infested mess (right). I am now taking up all of the stone (about 1 yard), all of the gravel (2 yds) and replacing with landscape fabric, bark, and pole timber.
2. Deer fencing should keep out the bucks that jump as well as the fawns that crawl beneath. Therefore, it must be a solid barrier at least 6 ft high. And a frightened deer can run through plastic mesh like it wasn’t there so a few rounds of wire are necessary too.
Cute, but they can get through anything.
3. Absolutely every stick of native plant that I buy from Pierce Conservation District must be protected from deer with fencing or mesh. To do otherwise means that all of my red-osier dogwood, red-flowering currant, cedar, and other plants will be browsed down to maintain a permanent stature of about 2 feet.
Protected willow cutting I propagated over the summer.
4. For many shrubs, fast results require soil enrichment. American highbush cranberry (Viburnum opulus var. americanum), for instance, will remain three feet tall unless planted in an enriched soil environment. The difference is about four feet in two years.
Above left – Viburnum growing in a cedar stump that acts like a nurse log; Above right - plants of the same age in more compacted soil along the driveway.
5. My favorite shrubs are the ones that have fall and winter color – they carry me through the grey northwest winters.
Cherry trees from North Carolina – planted from seed 38 years ago. They now freely reseed themselves.
Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) - everyone should have this plant.
6. When in doubt, plant fern. Here, they are freely available (I speak of the native sword fern), grow about anywhere that is not too wet, and give year ’round green cover.
Native sword fern fills in where I have removed blackberry vines.
Accessorize with colored ferns like Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn fern) which take on a yellow-orange color in winter.
Not my yard, but wish it was.
7. Improved soil = improved growth = fewer weeds. I now buy mulch for trees and shrubs. Also starting with larger stock helps save a few years. My gardening resolution for the year is to purchase more large trees and shrubs of the sort that I acquired in December (15 ft plus). However, I will expand my propagation efforts too.
But first, a maternal scene of deer in my field from earlier this spring. The doe had twins and they have been terrorizing my planting beds ever since. They are small enough to fit through most anything, including my experiment fishing line and parallel wire fencing. Only the netting will keep the little plant munchers out and even then they can crawl underneath anything not fixed at the bottom. But they are cute.
The mushrooms were Tom’s idea – why not use a few rotten logs my father left lying about to grow Chicken-of-the-Woods? So here we are, dragging the log, drilling the log, and installing the plugs which are presumably inoculated with spores. They should produce in a year or two we hope. These are edible mushrooms found in Pacific Northwest most commonly on conifer logs and snags.
My peace with the deer came to an end this year, when the twins borne to a local doe began exploiting a territory that expanded beyond the lakebed to include the uplands where my fledgling barn garden was located. Starting out naïve to the ways of deer and how to manage them, I went through the standard stages of grief: anger, denial, sorrow, etc. Then I decided to get even.
I learned a bit about deer from my goats, which I sold in May for many of the same reasons as to why I combat the deer. Both are artiodactyls, members of a group of cloven-hooved mammals that include horses, deer, hippos, and peccaries. Deer are in the family Cervidae, while goats are members of the Bovidae. Both families consist of multi-stomached ruminants, which chew cud as part of their daily regime. Neither deer nor goats have no upper incisors, so they tear at vegetation leaving tell-tale evidence as to who ate your flowers.
Both the goats and deer act like garden dilettantes, never delving into one item but rather flitting from one place to another, nipping fresh growth. In that sense, they are somewhat useful for controlling meadows of creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) and Himalayan blackberry by nipping back new growth. Continuing attacks on the new growth of more sensitive ornamentals, however, can severely stunt their growth. Both goats and deer delighted in my plantings far more than the lush growth on the rest of the acreage. Perhaps the concentration of edible delights was an attractant.
Research suggested that PlantSkydd™ (http://plantskydd.com/), initially developed in Sweden for commercial forest applications, works well against deer, and having tried it a few times I would concur. First, I tried it on the goats, and was satisfied with the vehemence of their reaction, stepping back from the offending substance as though it was threatening their very lives. Consisting of a mixture of blood and sticking agents, the stuff smells horrendous but is relatively easy to apply from a spray bottle and is said to last for several months. However, I would recommend it only for small areas or specimen plants given the cost. A gardener at my local nursery suggested blood meal, a somewhat less-expensive though still pricey fertilize which I can only find locally in 3 lb bags. I sprinkle it liberally on the soil and leaves, and have thus far found no evidence of damage on treated plants.
For the garden, which is about 0.1 acre, I spent the summer trying a variety of fencing methods, from a mesh work of electric polytape to barbed wire jutting three feet away from the top strand. After watching my peas and beans disappear and my currents, raspberries and gooseberries loose their leaves, I determined that deer, like goats, are more than willing to step through fences. The goats were even able to break the welds on the mesh fence of their pen through sheer force of boredom and determination.
At last, I sunk the money into a five-foot high, 1”x2” mesh fence on top of the existing three feet of wide mesh field fencing for a total of 8’ of mesh to overcome. So far, so good; one month into it and my raspberries have new growth and I can harvest my chard and turnips. Sections of the five-foot fencing also make secure cages for fruit trees and bushes, and cheap plastic bird mesh has saved my ravaged witch hazel from further damage.
However, as the growing season has waned, the eating rampage has grown less even on unprotected crops, so I cannot discern if it is my efforts or the declining palatability of aging plants that is affecting deer foraging choices.
The most recent addition to my anti-deer arsenal is the Scarecrow™ motion-activated sprinkler from Contech Electronics (http://www.contech-inc.com/products/scarecrow/). The device gives a short burst of water when an animal is detected, frightening it away. I’ve not had the pleasure of witnessing deer being deterred (see YouTube for that sort of entertainment), but I have two Scarecrows which I set up in various locations at different times so as to add to the element of surprise. I suspect the real test will come with this winter’s tender vegetable crop.
After I had spent the spring and summer months fighting for my right to grow vegetables and ornamentals, a fellow master gardener recommended the book Deer Resistant Landscaping by Neil Soderstrom. This is an excellent resource not only for the control of deer but other pest mammals as well such as gophers, mice, rats, and, yes, armadillos. The author has done his homework interviewing numerous experts in the field, and delving into the life histories and habits of deer and other animals to help gardeners understand why they behave as they do. For instance, detailed information on how deer choose plants make it easier to select appropriate deterrents. The book also features a comprehensive list of deer-resistant plants compiled based upon the experience of garden designers and growers. Take note, though, that plants can change in toxicity and palatability with the season, and that during periods of drought when natural food choices dwindle, plants that otherwise would be ignored become choice fodder. Or, as another local master gardener put it, “deer don’t read books on deer-resistant plants”.
Anything beats chasing deer around the garden at 4:00 am in bathrobe and slippers (true story), although I think my ‘crazy lady’ act has added to the deterrent effect. I can only hope.
A sampling of my personal list of what deer will and won’t eat:
Acanthus mollis – Acanthus
Acer circinaum – Vine maple (young tree)
Cercidiphyllum japonicum – Katsura (young tree)
Cercis occidentalis – Western redbud
Cornus kousa – Kousa dogwood (young tree)
Geum ‘Chiloense Red’
Hamamelis x intermedia – Witch Hazel
Hemerocallis – Daylily
Penstemon ‘Garnet’ (young plants only)
Pyracantha koidzumii ‘Victory’ – Firethorn
Prunella laciniata - Self-Heal
DO NOT EAT (Not mine anyway)
Kniphofia uvaria – Redhot poker
Lavendula spp. – Lavendar
Origanum vulgare – Oregano
Rosemarinus officinalis – Rosemary
Salvia officinalis – Sage
Senecio greyi – Senecio
Tagetes spp. – Marigold
Thymus spp. - Thyme
Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’
Yucca spp. – Yucca (green and variegated)
Adventures in creating a 10-acre garden from scratch