Sunday, November 20, 2011

Deer Country: Protective Cages for Shrubs

New PVC/netting cage for azalea
I planted three azaleas more than 10 years ago.  The two I protected from deer browsing with iron stakes and wire fencing are about six feet tall and each spring are covered with lavender flowers.  Because of deer browsing the flower buds in late winter, the unprotected plant is about 18 inches tall and each spring has few flowers.  When I recently saw a doe nibbling on the short azalea’s “backside”—the side from which the deer usually approach during the day—I decided it was time to build a protective cage.

Photo 1 shows the new cage, which I built from three 10-foot, 1½-inch PVC pipes, four 90° elbow joints, and one T-joint.  Since the azalea I want to protect is about 18 inches tall in most places but sprawls about four feet, I cut two 5-foot pieces from one of the pipes for the horizontal supports (the tops).  For the vertical supports (or legs), I cut five equal pieces (3 feet, 4 inches each) from the two remaining pipes, leaving a sixth piece for a future project.  The longer legs will give the plant room to grow.

Deer discovers new cage
I assembled this slightly more complicated structure basically the same way as I did the shorter structure I described in an earlier posting.  I used the elbow-joints to connect the ends of the tops to the legs.  I cut one top in half and joined the two pieces with the T-joint, with the fifth leg underneath.  I installed the 3-leg piece below the 2-leg piece to support help support both pieces and tied everything together with nylon string.  I hammered a 36-inch garden stake into the ground to help keep each leg in place.  I then wrapped the cage in deer netting, hoping that it will be sufficient to deter wintertime browsing.  If that doesn’t work, next winter I’ll add 2”x3” welded wire, which I used for the shorter cage.

Does the new cage work?  Photos 2 and 3 show a deer discovering the new arrival—the cage—around the azalea.  I happened to glance out a front window and saw deer moving toward our flower beds as they grazed.  I grabbed my camera and watched with a smile as one deer noticed the new structure.  The deer first surveyed the new cage from behind a Russian sage—looking intensely, sniffing, focusing its ears, like “radars,” on the contraption.  It took a few additional, cautious steps toward the cage, again looking, sniffing, listening.

Deer trying to figure out new cage
Oh how I wished the cage could have shouted, “Boo!”  But that wasn’t necessary, because after a few seconds, the curious deer turned and ran to rejoin the nearby, grazing herd.

Photo 4 shows a simpler cage I made for a miniature azalea that a friend gave us when my mother died a few years ago.  It has been a late-winter favorite of browsing deer, so each fall I encircle it with fencing that sits on the mulch and is anchored by four garden stakes.  For three winters it’s worked well, and each spring the small azalea has more pink flowers.

If deer browse your flowering shrubs, be creative.  Protect them some way.  The buds you save this winter will be next spring’s flowers.

Simpler cage for smaller azalea
To go to my earlier posting about the shorter PVC/wire cage that protects our moss phlox, CLICK HERE.

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