Friday, March 4, 2011

Deer Country Extra: Why Bambits Don’t Jump the Fence

Time to cut back sweet autumn clematis






Yes, I’ll admit I have a love/hate relationship with our local bambits, the affectionate term I give our large, local deer herd. I don’t like it one bit when they browse on my trees, shrubs, and flowers. But they are beautiful, and I have a soft spot for them when snow cover prevents them ready access to food.


That’s why I don’t cut back the sweet autumn clematis that covers about 50 feet of our backyard fence after its fall flowers go to seed and frosts turn its dark-green leaves brown. Even though the bambits don’t browse on the clematis while it’s growing, I noticed several years ago that when there’s snow cover, they come to our fence and eat some of the dried leaves.


They browsed on the dried leaves again in January when we had the 9-inch snow that covered the ground for several weeks. For some reason the deer preferred the brown leaves on one section of the fence, perhaps because it was easier for them to access, though they had to trample a line of fountain grass plants outside the fence to get to the clematis. Every day I noticed more hoof prints leading to the clematis. After a few days, I could see light through the thick vines because the deer had eaten so many leaves.


March 1: New leaves already growing
The sunny, cool weather on Tuesday beckoned me to cut back the clematis. I had checked a few days earlier and noticed that some of the stems were bright green and preparing to put out new leaves. I celebrated the arrival of March by getting out my best pair of pruners and cutting the vines from the outside of about 50 feet of the fence.


Job's 'more than half' done
You might think I’m half done, but I’m probably three-quarters done because years ago I planted the clematis on the outside of the fence in front of the split-rail posts, and that's where my heavy cutting takes place. The vines on the inside of the fence just have to be pulled off the wire and tossed over the fence.


Why didn’t I do the whole job?


Wall of sweet autumn clematis blooming in September
I really wanted to finish, but my two regular helpers had other ideas. After what seemed about an hour, my left hand said it was going to stop grabbing the vines and pulling them away from the fence so my right hand could cut them easily and cleanly. A half hour later my right hand announced it was going to get a blister on its thumb if I worked much longer, even though I wore leather gloves.


So when I finished the “bigger half” of the job, I called it an afternoon. I didn’t even work up a sweat in the sun and 45°F. temperature. I surveyed what I had accomplished and declared it good for the 60 minutes invested. When I glanced at the wall clock when I went inside, I saw that I had worked nearly two hours. No wonder my old hands were threatening to go on strike or call 9-1-1.


The clematis serves several purposes when it makes a green wall out of the fence each summer. It screens our swimming pool, though I really don’t care if the bambits watch me swim. A second reason has to do with the deer—but not to provide them dried leaves in winter. When the clematis covers the fence, the deer cannot see inside without periscopes or step ladders, so they are not tempted by flowers or veggies growing inside the fence. Deer also tend not to jump into places they’re unfamiliar with and which don’t look like safe spots to land—so the clematis again discourages them.


The long row of fountain grass outside the fence helps make the fence a challenge for deer too. Deer like to make short, up-and-over jumps, not long, broad jumps. Normally, they could walk up to our backyard fence, which has 4-foot wire fencing attached to the outside of the split rails, and just hop over without significant effort. But the clematis obscures what’s on the other side of the fence and the fountain grass makes the jump a long one, so in nearly 15 years the deer haven’t jumped the fence.


Of course, there are other uncertainties in the backyard too—the swimming pool with a filter running all summer, white gravel as part of the pool landscaping, raised veggie and flower beds, and the hillside location itself. All may be factors keeping our bambits out, but the clematis and fountain grass, I believe, are important factors.


Another day soon I’ve got to finish the job by tossing the remaining vines on the inside of the fence over the fence so I can cart them to a compost pile at the edge of our woods. And then I’ve got to use my electric trimmers to cut back the fountain grass.  The plantings along the backyard fence then will be ready for Summer 2011.


Something new: If you want to read earlier "Deer Country" postings, an easy way to find them is to go the end of the text of any "Deer Country" posting.  Just below the posting you'll see "Labels," one of which is "DeerCountry."  Click on "Deer Country," and you'll see all the series in a chronological list.

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