White-tailed garden villains could strike at any time

The most common villain in Midwest gardens is the white-tailed deer. Bambi may be cute, but a herd of his relatives means plant destruction is at hand.

The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is native to eastern North America and Central America south into Peru and Bolivia.

It’s also been naturalized in the Caribbean islands, New Zealand and parts of Europe from Finland to Romania and Serbia.

These deer have slender legs and bodies to easily move through woodlands.

They shelter in thickets and forage in edge habitat.

They’re generalists and graze on grass and wildflowers, native perennial plants and the foliage, twigs and bark of trees and shrubs depending on local population numbers and season.

Gardeners would add that the cost of the plant determines its tastiness to the deer.

Today it’s hard to believe that white-tails were once a rare sight.

By the 1930s, hunters led protests against the commercial harvest of the deer that had severely reduced their populations.

At the time some sources placed the U.S. White-tail population as low as 300,000.

This resulted in the end of commercial harvesting of wild deer and permitted hunting seasons.

With the development of suburban housing after World War II and the disappearance of their natural predators, deer numbers exploded.

There are now more than a million white-tails in Wisconsin alone.

Today, cars, hunters, coyotes and dogs have replaced mountain lions, wolves and bears as the main causes of fatality for white-tail deer.

It’s hard not to see them in communities like Port Washington.

Our garden has fewer deer woes than many because as husky owners, we fenced the back yard when we moved in.

The fence itself wouldn’t do much to repel deer, but the perimeter is planted with native shrubs like viburnums and dogwoods that exceed the nine or 10 feet the deer can jump.

The front yard beds do take some hits, though the damage hasn’t been severe.

I like to think that’s because the deer come here to get a drink from our little ornamental pond, and smart animals don’t linger where they drink. They may also dislike the noisy traffic and car exhaust on Grand Avenue as much as we do, or find the plants at our neighbors’ gardens tastier than ours.

We have a lot of plants that are supposed to be deer resistant, but deer eat anything, even if the experts say they shouldn’t.

Whatever the reason for their past good manners, white-tails are plentiful in the neighborhood and disaster can strike our garden at any time.

Some evenings, deer stroll around everywhere looking for an opening to raid the fruit trees and vegetable garden in the back yard.

Right now, the layers of snow added over the weekend seem to have sent the local deer to other feeding grounds.

There are no hoof prints leading to the front pond even though the water theres.

Once the snow melts and things start growing again, though, they’ll be back.

That’s assuming the rabbits and voles haven’t eaten up all the plants while they’re protected by the snow.

Deer may be the biggest, boldest garden pests, but they aren’t the only ones.



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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.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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