If You’re a Gardener, Deer SUCK!

I’LL RANT FIRST

As an avid gardener who has lived my entire life in the suburbs of St. Louis, I’ve watched the white-tailed deer population has explode. While deer populations in true rural counties are stable to declining (from diseases) the suburban population continues to grow, for several reasons. First, there are fewer apex predators (such as coyotes, foxes and black bears) in the suburbs compared to rural counties. Second, suburban deer enjoy munching on ornamental plants (especially hostas and daylilies), so food supply is abundant. Deer will destroy both irrigated and non-irrigated landscapes. Third, quite a few folks feed the damn deer! Many municipalities have laws in place designed to prevent feeding of nuisance animals, including deer and geese. But folks still be stupid.

Generally speaking, conservation biologists around the country consider 20 deer per square mile to be a sustainable population. Recent data collected by the Missouri Department of Conservation show numbers of 82 deer/sq mile in Wildwood, 69 in Sunset Hills, 52 in Ellisville, 46 in Des Peres, 32 in Kirkwood and 25 in Chesterfield. Being a resident of Chesterfield I think that’s way too low! The automobile is the number one killer of deer in the county. I haven’t heard of a human fatality this year from a deer collision, but some quick research showed 6 human fatalities in 2016 and 3 in 2015. You have a 1 in 110 chance of colliding with a deer if you’re a driver in the state of MO. Most deaths occur when drivers TRY TO AVOID the deer! JUST HIT THE DAMN DEER! Tell your kids to HIT THE DAMN DEER, too. My youngest daughter once slammed on her brakes in our subdivision in an attempt to avoid hitting a squirrel. She didn’t hit it, but I took her keys away for a week because of her reckless breaking! Ironically, I have never even hit a squirrel in my neighborhood in the past 30 years, despite my best efforts!

White-tailed deer were nearly extinct in Missouri back in the early 1900’s. The Missouri Department of Conservation was started in 1936. They estimated a tiny population of only 1800 deer across the entire state of MO in 1937. Our Conservation department saved the deer and the wild turkey from extinction, which is outstanding. Seriously, kudos to our conservation department!

My hosta garden used to comprise over 12,000 sq ft of lightly shaded woods and I once had close to 550 different kinds of hostas. I am particularly fond of the “giant” hostas, the ones that will grow wider than 6 to 8 feet across. They’re gorgeous. They’re eye-popping! My garden was featured in the Chesterfield Garden Tours twice in the past 20 years–maybe you’ve been here? Long ago, I had a regular momma doe and she and her fawn would browse hostas on occasion, but they tended to eat a patch of plain-jane hostas, near a protected gulch. As the population grew the damage became more extensive. I sprayed repellents more frequently, every 7 to 14 days, but I lost the battle with the herd back in 2014. I moved my favorite 200 plants closer to the house on an easterly slope; I potted up and sold what I could salvage. Remember those giant plants I talked about earlier? After one season of heavy browsing, they’d shrink to ~3 ft across the next spring. If they browsed that same hosta the next season, it would only be ~1 ft wide, if not dead.  Dead after three seasons of deer browsing for sure.

My reduced hosta collection is still pleasing to me, and still spectacular in many ways, but I want to grow some of the newer, more colorful, unusual and exciting varieties. Hosta breeders are going nuts! I need to expand my garden but I’m not sure I can fend off the damned deer. Last year I sprayed repellents 10 times, starting at emergence all the way through September. I also have a solar-powered electric fence that does a good job keeping the deer out of my hostas. A few years back, after having sprayed a stinky repellent product on a Friday evening, a neighbor across the way called me up and screamed at me for ruining their garden party! Had I known about their party, I wouldn’t have sprayed…but tough nuts.

Critics often say, “Why don’t you grow something else? Something deer resistant?” My response is, “Screw you! I love hostas.” The ill-informed will say, “But the deer were here first!” My response to them is, “Bullshit!” I was here first. Let’s review those suburban population numbers, ok? 20 deer per square mile is sustainable but we’re looking at numbers as high as 4X that. My hunting buddies confirm fewer deer in the rural counties. Several of them have taken advantage of the suburban bow-hunting ordinance here in Chesterfield. They LOVE harvesting suburban deer because they are truly better tasting–more tender and less gamey! This goes back to the abundant food sources, like our gardens and landscaping.

So in addition to the destruction of my garden in the spring and summer, there’s another reason I hate deer–the damn bucks rub their antlers on smaller trees, causing a lot of harm. Once a tree attains a certain diameter (my guess is >4 inches, based on observations) they don’t rub on the trunk. But bucks will rub on smaller branches on a multi-stemmed tree.

Bucks Damage Trees

Here’s some typical damage. About 1/3 to 1/2 of the trunk is damaged. Look closely and you’ll see last year’s damage below this fresh damage. Lower branches are destroyed. If you didn’t know, the flowering magnolias are a deer lure! Bucks love them–must be deernip or something.

Deer 2

Protecting Your Trees

The simple way to protect tree trunks is to use 4 inch corrugated drain pipe. Use a jig saw or a power saw and cut a slice from top to bottom. The tubes are easier to put in place if you make a second cut 1/2 to 3/4 inches parallel to the first–so that you remove a strip. For thin-barked trees you have to be careful removing the tube in the spring because you’ll scratch the crap out of the bark!

Take a look below.

 

Obviously you have to cut the tubing at the proper height for the lowest branch. Don’t leave this tubes up all season. Put them up in mid-October and remove them when daytime temps hit the mid-60s in March.

A good landscape is a lot of work! I’d love to hear from you regarding this post.  I enjoy compliments and I love to argue.

Now let’s hope we have a few nice months of SPRING weather.

Trav