Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Deer Country: PVC & Fencing Tent Protects Small Plants

Before: Deer browse moss phlox
I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing—two fawns standing in our bed of moss phlox (Phlox subulata) and chowing down on the greenery.  I couldn’t believe it because for about 10 years deer had mostly ignored the stringy, semi-prickly phlox.  Occasionally I’d found a stem or two that deer had pulled—and then promptly spit out.

What could I do, now that two beautiful specimens of the next deer generation had decided moss phlox belongs on their “favorite,” not “resistant,” list?

First attempt:  My earlier experiments with local deer management taught me that a soft answer—deer netting, for example—would not deter the browsing if I merely covered the phlox.  The deer would just step on the soft netting and browse accessible leaves and stems.  I had read several recommendations, though, that deer will avoid a sheet of welded wire fencing laid on the ground, so I went to the Shop and returned with a six-foot length of 2”x3” welded wire fencing—the green, plastic-coated kind you’ve probably used—and laid it over the small bed of phlox.

First failure: The next morning I had to search for the sheet of fencing.  I found it, rumpled, about 10 feet from the phlox in another perennial bed.  I imagine a deer had walked on it and in surprise carried it to the iris bed.  Hindsight said that a panicked deer with loose wire fencing wrapped around a leg or two wasn’t the way I want to interact with our local bambits.

Second attempt: If loose fencing doesn’t work, how about something more stationary, more resistant to hungry deer?  How about a “cage” made of the wire fencing but securely tied to a simple structure made of PVC pipe?

After: Deer inspects new cage
In the “After” photo you can see the structure I designed from one 10-foot, 1½ inch, PVC pipe, two 90° elbow joints, and one T-joint.  I cut the pipe into two 3½-feet pieces and three one-foot pieces and pressed the pieces together with the T-joint between the two long pieces, the two elbows at the ends of the long pieces, and the three short pieces serving as supports or legs.  Total cost of the PVC pieces at Home Depot: less than $5.30, including sales tax.

To help support the structure, I cut an old 48-inch garden stake (plastic covered aluminum) in half and hammered them into the ground to support the two end legs of the PVC structure.  After I installed the structure over the two stakes, I shaped the fencing over the support like a pup tent and tied it securely to the PVC support with nylon string.  I had used both the stake and the fencing for earlier projects, so I add no cost for them to the project.

Lunch of phlox is
out of the question, at least
for now
Does the contraption work?  The third photo shows the answer.  The moss phlox is in the cage and not the bambit’s belly.  I’ve watched several times from a window just 10 feet away as a deer has tried to work its nose under the fencing to grab a bite of phlox.  So far the simple structure has resisted sufficiently to encourage the deer to move on to easier browsing.

Score:  Bob 1, Bambits 0.  That’s the exciting news from Deer Country, where plants are caged and deer run free.

If you’re thinking of creating a similar cage, continue reading for a couple of additional points that I’ve learned from building projects from PVC pipe:

(1) PVC pipe comes with a full-length strip of black printing giving manufacturing details.  When I put the structure together, I position the printed strips so we don’t see them—downward on horizontal pieces and away from the most common view on vertical parts.

(2) I don’t glue the joints, which makes it easy for me to take the structure apart with a few twists or a few whacks with a rubber mallet if I want to store the structure over summer, when deer aren’t browsing heavily in our perennial beds, or until I want to use the pieces for another project.

(3) Tinker Toy 101 is the perfect training for PVC 101.  If you ever played with Tinker Toys, you should find it easy, maybe even fun, to make a simple PVC cage to protect your plants.

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