Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Deer Country: Winter Protection for Your Plants

Doe browsing columbine

“Hey, there’s a deer looking at us through the dining room window,” Ellen said this morning just before seven as we were setting up breakfast.

Of course, when I turned to look, there was no peeping deer, so I took a few steps closer to the window to get a wider view.  No, there was no deer looking at me.  There were three—a doe and twin fawns—and they were exploring our perennial beds within 15 feet of the window.

The doe—apparently the one Ellen had seen checking us out through the window—had turned and was nosing around under a small variegated kousa dogwood tree.  The two fawns were sampling the prickly moss phlox in a bed about 10 feet from me. 

When I checked later, I saw what interested the doe—three or four columbine plants, now with leafless stems reaching skyward—and an azalea, of which she had liberated a few leaves.  The fawns had pruned the moss phlox to about two inches from the ground, in the process eating two or three strands of dodder that I had intended to prune out last week but hadn’t.  Thank you, fawns, for a job well done.

Fawns pruning moss phlox
I tapped on the window with a knuckle and the three visitors bounded out of our flower beds and stopped about 25 feet away to see how serious was my pursuit.  Sizing me up correctly, they lowered their heads and began browsing on clover.

This Deer Country mini-melodrama reminded me that the deer seem to be more interested in our garden fare in recent weeks than they have been over the summer.  The pine-bark mulch on our perennial beds is regularly churned overnight by deer hooves.  Sometime during the last week deer have browsed our one Knockout rose, though it’s more than half protected by welded wire.  I gambled that no deer would walk down our front sidewalk to access the rose’s one open side.

I’m surprised somewhat that the fawns chowed down on our moss phlox, a springtime flower that appears on most “deer resistant” lists.  Usually our local deer tear off a mouthful of moss phlox, spit it out, and move on to better chow.  Perhaps I should post one of the “deer resistant” lists in the phlox bed so the fawns will learn it’s a plant they shouldn’t be eating.

Columbine had leaves yesterday
I really must figure out a way to protect the azalea this winter.  I took the first step this afternoon and sprayed it liberally with Deer Out, a mint-based spray I used successfully this summer on hostas, heuchera, and a tomato plant.  But when foul winter weather comes and I forget to periodically reapply the Deer Out, the deer will browse next spring’s azalea buds and leaves.

Cages do work.  Although the azalea is more than 10 years old, it’s only about 15 inches tall because deer browse it every winter.  It has few lavender blooms in the springtime.  I bought it with two others—all three the same size, and the other two, farther down the front of our house, have been protect by a welded wire cage and are more than six feet tall and have beautiful lavender blooms every spring.

Really, Bob, it’s about time to protect that third azalea. 

What should I do about the phlox?  Should I design some kind of PVC structure with deer netting to keep the bambits out?  Or will all the deer except the fawns ignore such lowly plants over winter?  I’ll have to give that some thought, though I did give the phlox a few squirts of the Deer Out this afternoon too.

Ah, the joys of gardening in Deer Country.  We’re now seeing groups of up to 14 deer at various times of the day and know they’ll be increasingly interested in our landscape plants when cold weather sets in after Thanksgiving and they have less easy browse with which to fill their stomachs.

The thinking about protecting our plants from deer over winter is important, but actually protecting the plants is what counts.  I figure I have about six weeks in which to complete these small projects.

And what about your plans for protecting your perennials, shrubs, and trees from the deer this winter?  Post a Comment and share your wisdom.


  1. Paul K - beekeeperOctober 6, 2011 at 7:39 AM

    It interested to note that deer, at this time should have plenty of green grass to eat, but it chooses to have more "tasty treats", as well. Certain plants in my garden are eaten by deer on a regular basis (Blackeye Susan). Also, deer seems to "save" some tasty treats for the middle of winter (Azaleas). I do have some plants that never (!) sustained any damage from deer (herbs, junipers, tall grasses) . All in all, I realized that we need to coexist with all creatures in our backyard and let the nature to balance itself out (with the help of deer hunters)

  2. when I turned to look, there was no peeping deer, so I took a few steps closer to the window to get a wider view. Trees-Plants Nursery