Rudolph would never be so naughty - or would he?

By Charlie Neumeyer - Victoria County Master Gardener - Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
Jan. 17, 2015 at midnight

While deer appear harmless and are pretty to watch and photograph in nature, they can wreak havoc with your lawn and garden, especially when they are hungry.

While deer appear harmless and are pretty to watch and photograph in nature, they can wreak havoc with your lawn and garden, especially when they are hungry.   Photo contributed by Kathy Chilek/Victoria County Master Gardener for The Victoria Advocate

The holiday season brings warm, fuzzy feelings to most of us - family gatherings, music and church services and, of course, Santa Claus and his reindeer, including Rudolph, the "most famous reindeer of all."

Pictured as gentle animals whose only purpose is to help Santa Claus spread good cheer, who could imagine Rudolph and his gang causing home gardeners trembling anger?

Rudolph paid a visit

When asked to write an column on deer invading home gardens, my first reaction was I have had only one instance of deer in my vegetable garden and none where my landscape was concerned.

I immediately sent out an SOS to my fellow Master Gardeners for photos and information on deer invading their landscape. I was amazed at the response I received. Ironically, a couple weeks later, Rudolph and - going by the piles of evidence - several of his friends paid my front garden a little visit.

You have options

Jerry Parsons' plantanswers.com, the gardener has several options when it comes to dealing with deer. If you can prevent them from entering your landscape or deter them from feeding, you can eliminate some of the frustrations associated with animals nibbling away at your prized plants.

Plant basics

Parsons and associates at Texas A&M University have developed lists of plants that are deer resistant, they are quick to add that when a deer is hungry, he will eat just about anything.

This sentiment was reinforced by my fellow gardeners. Apparently, nothing is sacred.

Forrest W. Appleton, Parson's assistant answer man and Bexar County Master Gardener, has compiled an extensive list of plants with which he "has had some success."

In general, they are "gray leaf plants, those with highly fragrant foliage, all of the salvias and most of the lantanas." For a look at the complete list, search "Deer-Proof Landscape Plants/Archives/Aggie Horticulture."

My own experience with plants deer chose to sample while using my front garden as a cafeteria echoes the list. The deer spared sages, lantanas, Gulf Muhly grass, Rosemary and artemisia, delicately nibbled the leaves and buds on my rose bushes, completely avoiding the thorny stems, and leveled daylilies to the ground.

On a positive note, it took me just minutes to remove all of last year's dead growth - the fastest job ever.

A type of damage not frequently considered is the harm done to trees and shrubs when a buck rubs his horns on the trunk. If the damage is severe enough, the trees and shrubs can die.

Fences

As we already know, deer are not picky when it comes to forage, and the most selective plantings will not deter all deer at all times. So, you may have to resort to fencing off areas to keep deer out.

There are a couple of fences that some gardeners have found to be effective. The prices and amount of labor involved vary quite a bit.

Least expensive

Several years ago when the local deer decided he needed fresh vegetables in his diet, I researched ways to keep the deer out of my garden. I found an article written by Tom Mayhew of the American Rose Society.

He described building a fence of fishing line and posts so "when the deer touch the fishing line, they get 'spooked' and prefer to go another way." He suggests using green garden stakes and five rows of fishing line about 12 inches apart.

I simplified my fence with steel fence posts and two strands of 50-pound test fishing line. The strands were about 18 inches above the ground and about 40 inches high respectively. The next morning, I checked and the deer had broken through the line on the east and west sides. I repaired the fence and waited to see what would happen. I never had another deer in my garden.

Other fencing options

In "Deer in the Urban Landscape," Parsons describes an experiment using electric fencing to keep deer out of grain and sorghum fields. The land owner built two fences, one inside the other, 30 inches apart, and with posts 25 feet apart.

The outer fence had one strand of electrically-charged wire 24 inches above the ground. The inner fence had two strands, one 8 inches above the ground and another 20 inches above the ground, resulting in no evidence deer had jumped the fence and no crop damage from deer that year.

For considerable more cost, one can also consider 8-foot tall deer-proof fencing.

The battle continues

As cities grow and the amount of open countryside shrinks, the problem with deer invading gardens will likely intensify. With persistence, planning, money, and maybe a rifle, we can control deer and send Rudolph back to the North Pole.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.


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