As my wife, Jan and I were slowly driving, doing a little house shopping, we had to bring the car to a halt as 7 large bucks ambled across the road along with one fawn. It was a sight that would make Yellowstone jealous. While I was scrambling to grab the camera, Jan looked at the situation from a different perspective, "Where is the Mother." Maybe this was some rite of passage or 'buck tutorial.' I don't know, but I did grab a photo of some of those prized antlers.
DEER IN THE 'HOOD'
Roaming herds of deer in the neighborhood have become much more commonplace than anyone could imagine. When I was in high school, we would drive to another town 35 miles away to find deer. This is not the case now; but I'll let wildlife biologists tell you why there has been a change, as I am a plant guy, a horticulturist.
There is one thing these neighborhoods have in common, and when you think about it, you have to smile. In each neighborhood where gardeners are trying to grow beautiful flowers and shrubs like camellias and roses, there are neighbors across the street or next door that love and treasure deer. They may have feeders with corn or they may be feeding them carrots by hand. That little spotted Bambi laying in the cool grass is like their child.
You may think these love-hate traits fall along party lines, democrats or republicans, liberals or conservatives, Baptists or Methodists. This is simply not the case. Some folks are happiest having frequent or daily Yellowstone moments; then, there are some folks, who wish they were all jerky and sausage, including you if you are feeding them flowers.
MOTION & WAR OF THE WORLDS
My first experience came when I was the Executive Director of the American Rose Society. While I was located at the headquarters in Shreveport, I became fast friends with some Rosarians in New Jersey. I promise you, they loved their roses. This was in the early I990s and these guys were smart. The deer became such a nuisance that it called for extreme measures. Motion detectors made lights come on accompanied by music. This worked at first before it eventually became more like a restaurant of fine dining. You might not think that deer eat roses, but they do.
At the Columbus Botanical Garden, we had just planted the first section of an incredible camellia garden. With almost laser-guided precision, they too were ravaged by deer. A board member volunteered to buy a motion-controlled noise device with several installed throughout the camellia garden.
The voracious eating did diminish somewhat as an eight-foot fence was built around much of the garden. The noise machines brought absolute thrilling moments as, even those in the know, would forget they were there and trip the sound that easily could have been the alien in HG Wells' "War of the Worlds." Motion detectors can work until the deer learn the system.
ELECTRIFYING, FENCES, AND CAGES
In this section, you may find some happiness, if allowed by your homeowner association. As you drive The Landings in Savannah, it's apparent there are some folks, putting up the 'good fight'. The question arises, if everyone, neighbors, and visitors included, can see that you are putting up a fight is that okay.
For instance, you will see camellias, Japanese maples, redbuds, and other plants with fairly large cages of concrete and wire around them. This is a valiant effort because a deer cannot stand on its hind feet and eat the plants which have now grown considerably taller. This will work, but the patience of Job is required. One other common sight was netting over annual flower beds. It worked, but certainly, never presented a Kodak moment.
Electric fences will work but probably are best suited to rural areas. These will work great around concentrated areas like a vegetable garden or even the landscape itself. In the Columbus area, however, it is not uncommon to see some electric fences in exclusive neighborhoods where prized flowers are being grown. This will keep out the deer and probably some pesky trick-or-treaters, too. Just kidding on the last.
The best scenario is the 8-foot fence, using iron or composite aluminum that looks like iron where it is seen from the public, and black chain link where it is not. Deer can jump 6-foot fencing but even this will help especially alongside busy thoroughfares. The smaller the area needing protection, the smaller the height of the fence needed, such as a vegetable plot or small cutting garden.
THE OLFACTORY TREATMENT
An internet search will reveal more products than you ever realized existed, all claiming to keep deer away. When you read University trial reports such as the one from North Dakota State University, you realize this is a very iffy proposition. In the report, they said sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. Sometimes we thought they worked but didn't.
The report says products sprayed on the plants work better than those sprayed on the ground. Products made of slaughterhouse waste and eggs create fear as it smells of decaying flesh and a predator in the area. It may keep you at bay, too. These products have to be applied regularly.
THE PLANT MENU
As a horticulturist, I feel happiness will come from a combination of fences and choosing plants not known to be on the deer menu. Combining plants that deer do not like with those browsed, will help.
As you peruse deer tolerant publications from places like the University of Georgia to Texas A & M and north to Rutgers, you will find many similarities. I've given many talks presenting the recommended plants and usually ask for a show of hands after each plant; I assure you, all recommended plants were not agreed on by the attendees. After all, deer cannot read and a hungry one will try anything.
As you look at these publications, however, you will realize you can have an incredibly beautiful landscape by simply choosing the plants for your circumstance and deer population.
(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)