Ravenous deer are wearing out furry Deer Alert Force

Erin Schanen

Halfway through a night of repeatedly being woken up by barking dogs, I knew I’d be trudging through the snow the next morning.

To be clear, the offending dogs live in my house and they were doing their best to defend our yard from a marauding band of ne’er-do-wells. Not that the two Newfoundland dogs who share our home could do much about it when they were confined to the house. To be honest, they do equally little about it when they are outside.

These middle-of-the-night barking sessions are a sure sign that the deer are hungry and becoming bolder as they get more desperate. How these canines, who typically resemble fuzzy rugs in both appearance and habit, know that there are deer wrecking havoc in the garden is beyond my understanding. These are the same dogs whose snoring is nearly as loud as the barking.

Their efforts are not without merit, however. Because even though the barking was ineffectual at scaring deer away, it was a good reminder to get outside and apply a fresh layer of deer repellent to important plants in the garden.

Deer get so ravenous in winter that a physical barrier, like the metal mesh I wrap around the oakleaf hydrangeas, is really the best defense, but when that’s not possible deer repellent works pretty well.

I made the rounds with a professional backpack sprayer filled with freshly mixed deer repellent that smells more of cinnamon and cloves than rotten eggs or something worse. The sprayer, commonly used by large landscaping companies or city crews, was the best garden investment I made last year even if I looked like a character from “Ghostbusters” donning it over my puffy coat.

My main focus was to thoroughly spray any trees or shrubs that have already set their flower buds, so I hit up Hydrangea serrata, flowering dogwoods, weigela and a smaller crabapple tree. Most of these are not typical targets for deer, but when they are hungry enough they will try to eat just about anything.

In one part of the garden they dug through the snow in several areas to get to the perennials underneath. All had been gnawed to the ground, which is fine because all that foliage is dead anyway. But it shows just how hungry they are when the faded foliage of penstemon buried under the snow is worth the effort.

It’s enough to make even a hardened gardener have sympathy for the poor creatures. But just because I’m sympathetic doesn’t mean I’m opening up the buffet for them.

More than anything, this early morning walk to shore up the deer defenses was a good reminder that even in the depths of winter there’s garden work to be done. My reward for doing it will hopefully be a garden that is full of blooms spared by my efforts.

I thought I might have some friends to accompany me on my morning garden chore. Instead, the official Deer Alert Force decided to take a nap on the deck. Apparently they were tired from being up all night.


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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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