A work of fiction? I'm afraid not. You have just read a true story taken from the pages of this gardener's journal. In my neck of the woods, the presence of "long-legged rats" ---as my father prefers to call deer--- is a given. And these days, with suburban wildlife populations exploding, the majority of us now live in deer country. Odocoileus virginianus ---commonly known as the white-tailed deer--- inhabit all of the lower 48 states, southern Canada and Mexico. In addition to this most common species, its close cousins, the mule and black-tailed deer ---as well as elk, moose and other distant relations--- roam backyards and wilderness regions from coast-to-coast.
If you garden in an area where deer are present, it's essential that you prepare for an unannounced "visit". So, short a hunting license, rifle and recipe for venison stew, how do gardeners deal with these voracious animals? Planting deer-resistant perennials and shrubs at the perimeter of a garden ---particularly plants with strong aromatic oils--- is helpful. But a word to the wise: "deer-resistant" does not mean "deer-proof". Lists of less-palatable plants are important and quite useful, but when starving, deer will consume most any herbaceous plant, as well as many shrubs and small trees. In desperation, I have seen gardeners try every deer deterrent imaginable; from bars of soap and sacks of human hair, to coyote urine sprays and automated scare-devices; all with varying degrees of success.
One of the more traditional solution gardeners look to when dealing with a deer problem is fencing. And when done correctly, a deer fence is the ultimate defense. But fences are expensive, and deer are superb athletes. True stars in track and field events, year after year, the white-tailed deer easily takes gold in the high jump. Three and four foot garden fences aren't even a warm-up for deer, and five and six foot fences are just an everyday workout. If you want to keep deer away from your precious trees, shrubs and plants, an eight foot fence ---used by commercial deer ranchers--- is the minimum height you need.
Where does such good advice come from? Well, over the years I have found two fantastic resources for gardeners struggling with deer problems. Some of the best, practical plant recommendations and general advice comes from Vincent Drzewucki's Gardening in Deer Country. I have owned and loaned out this book to clients for years. This inexpensive paperback is beautifully illustrated, and some of the perennials mentioned ---like Russian sage and peonies--- are well-known garden favorites. And for a truly comprehensive look at this difficult and complex problem ---as well as a wide-variety of solutions for every deer-busting budget--- Rhonda Massingham Hart's Deer Proofing Your Yard and Garden is the best guide I have found. Well-researched and easy-to-read, my copy of this book is filled with hand-scribbled notations, sticky post-its and yellow highlighter.
Do you struggle with deer in your garden? How do you handle the problem?