Deer carry fall but gardener is ready for the winter fight

I am always in awe of gardeners who don’t have to deal with the menace that is the white-tailed deer. I wonder what it must be like to be able to plant common deer treats, such as tulips, any place you want and never think twice about their fate. And I can’t think of a gardener in southeastern Wisconsin who has that luxury, except perhaps those who garden exclusively on a deck or patio or have a very large fence. 

I’m miffed at the deer again because they have deprived me of one of autumn’s great pleasures: the golden yellow leaves of hostas. Hostas are rarely valued for their fall color, but I think it’s one of the main reasons to grow them — until there is nothing left to turn color.

After a summer of highly effective OCD-level deer repellent spraying — every part of the garden was sprayed once a week, without fail — by early fall I could no longer muster the energy to continue the effort. With nary a nibble on a single plant, I was lulled into a false sense of security, wrongly assuming that the deer had finally learned that there was nothing tasty to be had in my garden.

I know better, of course, but the exhaustion that kicks in at the end of gardening season can make you talk yourself into just about anything, including that deer have decided they just don’t like the smorgasbord you’ve created for them. 

A Beaver Island, Mich., gardener who I exchange emails with on occasion recently wrote to tell me of his plan to thwart deer over winter. He wisely winters in Florida, for as stunning as the view is from his Beaver Island home, it doesn’t make up for the inhospitable conditions one finds on an island in northern Lake Michigan in January, but that means he’s not around to shoo deer out of the garden.

In addition to caging fruit trees and beloved Japanese maples, he plans to apply a heavy dose of deer repellent (he likes Liquid Fence) mixed with horticultural oil, in hopes that the oil sticks to plants better and makes the repellent last longer. I suspect he may suffer from a case of gardener’s optimism, but he has promised he’ll report back in spring.

Caging shrubs and trees is something I do on occasion, but this year I’m also trying out a method I’ve seen employed by neighbors that manages to be slightly more decorative. Tall bamboo canes are poked in the ground at an angle so they stick out from the base of a tree and tiers of string are tied around the canes. Deer are typically either too lazy or too dumb to troubleshoot such a system, so even though they could just stick their head between the strings, they rarely do. And the overall look is a far more attractive than wire cages.

And I’m back to spraying deer repellent. Any time I’m feeling lazy, I look at where golden hosta leaves should be coloring the garden. Instead there are just spikes of unattractive stems stripped bare of foliage. 

The deer might have won autumn, but I’m ready for the winter fight. 


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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