How can we live in ‘harmony’ with deer?

Published in the Danbury News Times, September 23, 2009
By Shayne Newman
contributing Writer

Ahab had his white whale, I have my deer—any and all deer.

They were here first, my wife likes to say, their natural habitat shrinking with each new housing development. While that may be true, I don’t need them eating me out of house and home. With few natural predators, deer are simply unafraid, desensitized to humans.

With my wife a staunch sympathizer—where she sees Bambi, I see a marauding arch nemesis—I’m happy to have at least one person in my corner. My oldest daughter Lili, no more than three at the time, took up my cause. My morning coffee had been interrupted by a tiny, yet menacing voice, “go away, get outta here,” it threatened. I looked out the window. There she was, doll-like hands clenched in fury, throwing rocks (two feet, at best) in the direction of deer. Never had I been more disturbed and proud!

So, unless you have a toddler with a good arm, here are some suggestions for keeping the deer away from your prized Umbrella pine this season.

The best defense against deer browsing is a well thought out landscape design that uses deer resistant plants like andromeda, barberry, boxwood, pachysandra, spirea, and spruce.

Deer are problematic year-round, but in two distinct phases—warmer months when they snack and look for treats, like say your favorite daylilies, and colder months when food is scarce and they defoliate your evergreen plants.

They are creatures of habit, so know thy enemy. Breaking their routine is critical. This can be achieved, to a degree, by using various smell and taste deterrents like predator urine, liquid spray, garlic clips, and dried blood canisters. These are effective in spring and summer only, and even then expect moderate results. Still, change it up, because again, these creatures of habit grow accustomed to deterrents that they’ve sized up as hollow threats.

Winter is a different game.

As early as November, there is less foliage to eat and it is necessary to bring out the big guns, to try different tactics. A handful of sprays work fairly well but are only available to licensed pesticide operators.

While not so easy on the eyes, temporary fencing around susceptible plants is key. Black heavy-duty plastic fencing with black metal posts seems to be the lesser evil because it is least visible. An optimal time to install is early November and it is best left until the beginning of May.

If in the planning stages of your landscape design, consider the proximity of susceptible plants; closeness allows for installation of larger fenced-in sections, thereby avoiding multiple small sections of fence. For larger properties, permanent year-round fencing is an option. Eight-foot high fencing can be hidden with landscaping or in surrounding woods.

Lastly, a reminder—use sprays specific to the season. Spraying in fall and winter can be tricky; be sure temperatures are warm enough so repellant can dry on the foliage. If left to freeze on plants, the repellant will burn out your leaves!

I hope this advice brings peace of mind that we (us and them) can live in relative harmony, albeit a urine sodden, garlic infused, fenced-in one.

A resident of New Milford for 22 years, Shayne Newman founded YardApes in 1990, having worked in the trade since 1987. YardApes, Inc. is a full-service landscape design, construction and maintenance company located in New Milford. Mr. Newman is a Certified Landscape Professional, Certified Landscape Technician, holds a Connecticut Supervisory Pesticide License and is a Certified Landscape Designer.

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