Monday, December 5, 2011

Deer Country: New Fort Guards Our Viburnums

Strike 1: Wire cage was too small & deer
browsed every leaf that grew through the grid
Several years ago I built a protective cage of iron stakes and plastic deer fencing around four viburnums, two Blue Muffin arrowwood (V. dentatum) and two Cardinal Candy (V. dilatatum), after our local deer had heavily browsed them three times in one growing year.  The heavy browsing was taking its toll, and I feared the shrubs would die.

The new cage worked for a year or two, but late last year a deer discovered that if she leaned against the plastic fencing, it would give, and if she leaned far enough, the iron stakes would bend at ground level and she would have access to browse the two closest shrubs, the arrowwoods.  This year deer further collapsed the plastic fencing, entered the cage, and heavily browsed all four shrubs.

Last week I created Fort Viburnum around the four shrubs.  I used 5’ iron stakes every four feet and attached 3”x2”, 16 gauge, 36” galvanized wire fencing that advised on the label, “Ideal for garden enclosures.”  The final cage is about 20 feet long and stands about four feet from the center of the shrubs.  The fencing tops out at 4 feet, with a 1-foot gap between the ground and the bottom of the fencing.

Strike 2: Deer leaned into
plastic fencing and collapse the whole fence
I haven’t the slightest doubt the “ideal for garden enclosures” fencing will keep the viburnums in, but will it keep the deer out and permit our shrubs to flourish?

 Most mature deer could stand by a 48” fence and with ease gracefully jump over, but I’m counting on several factors that deer-management books and magazine articles often mention. 

First, the “cage” at most is about eight feet wide, and deer often seem reluctant to enter small spaces in which easy exit may be uncertain. 

Second, I’ve laid 6”x18” red patio blocks all the way around the cage to add another uncertain element to inquisitive deer.  The blocks also will help keep mulch inside the cage and create a distinct border that will speed lawn mowing.  I also hope the blocks will discourage deer from trying to slip under the fence. 

Third, I’m not going to let other plants, other than an older red maple tree, grow inside the fort and tempt the deer to find a way inside.  I’ll keep it mulched but will not add or permit any “deer candy”--hostas or tulips or local weed favorites such as poke, violets, and white clover.

Will the new Fort Viburnum's iron stakes & wire fencing
be Strike 3?
Of course, some buck next fall may decide to use the iron stakes to rub velvet off his antlers or to polish them—as a buck did a month ago with several stakes of nearby Fort Kevin, which protects our redosier dogwoods.

After I originally planted the viburnums and they were heavily browsed and rubbed, I built small wire cages around each of the plants.  That was Strike One because deer nibbled every leaf that grew through the wire.  Strike Two was the cage that I just replaced—iron stakes with plastic deer fencing, which the deer ultimately pushed over and then entered to browse. If deer do breech Fort Viburnum, I’ll consider that Strike Three and most likely abandon the shrubs to the bambits.

Over five years the cost of the materials for the three kinds of cages I’ve built to protect the viburnums probably exceeds the cost of the shrubs.  Another cost that I must consider is that of “age.”  I’m five years older than when I first started making cages to protect these plants from the deer, and each year it’s harder for me to drive in iron stakes, unroll and cut and install wire, and handle patio blocks, which each year seem to weigh heavier.  Oh, my Aching Back!

So, bambits—and that includes the 11 that watched as I built the new cage—have mercy on our four viburnums and the Ancient Gardener.  Gaze and browse outside Fort Viburnum, not inside.

To see how a buck damaged iron stakes of Fort Kevin, CLICK HERE.

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