Friday, June 18, 2010

Oh, deer!

We've been in our new home for about six months now. All winter long we watched the deer and wild turkeys in the yard and neighboring cow pasture. Sometimes upwards of 7 deer were seen crossing the field next door. Then in late spring we saw fewer and fewer deer, maybe only 1-2 at a time. I figured that with all the foliage greening up, maybe there was enough food available that the deer were no longer interested in our yard and fields.

Then something changed in May. At first we would see or hear a single deer on the edge of our property, gone in a flash with a leap into the woods, white tail held high. At night our activity would startle the deer, and we could hear sticks breaking as they passed under the trees, snorting in alarm. (FYI, for those who aren't familiar with the antics of white-tailed deer, their alarm snorts could be mistaken for a chupacabra lurking in the woods.) About a week ago we saw several young deer wearing their red summer coats browsing in the tall grass in the back yard at sunset, and we saw them again over the weekend and last night.

Now the novelty of wildlife in the yard has faded and the carnage in my flower garden has begun. Yesterday I first noticed that the tall stems of the scabiosa had been neatly clipped and a small branch of the autumn sage was broken and withered. This morning I saw feeding damage to the red-twig dogwood, one of my asters, and the ganzia daisies. My flower bed has become a salad bar.

To be fair, it looks as though the deer were taste-testing a couple of plants. None of the plants have sustained enough damage to kill the plant, and even the scabiosa have already set flowers on lower, lateral buds. I should consider myself fortunate if that's all the damage the deer did, but I know in my gut that this is probably only a warning shot in what could turn into long, protracted trench warfare.

Why do I have this negative vibe? Oregano. The deer ate my oregano. Most experts suggest using plants with strong fragrance or a disagreeable texture to deter deer. Oregano is strongly fragrant, has a pungent flavor, and the leaves are very furry. You would think these characteristics would put oregano in the top tier of "deer resistant" plants, and indeed, it's on several lists of recommend plantings for areas prone to deer damage. But the deer ate part of it anyway. If they like the oregano, then there isn't much else out there that they aren't likely to nosh on.

So Momma Deer has been christened Vinny, which is short for Venison. Vinny and her companions, Flora and Fauna, are deer non gratis in the yard. I'll probably have to resort to all kinds of gimmicky tricks through the rest of the summer to discourage them from sampling the flower beds, starting with hanging bars of soap and encouraging the dog to pee in that area more often. My only consolation is that the oregano will help make a tasty deer chili when I pull out the crock pot.

And little bunny and woodchuck who also hang out in the yard, don't fool yourselves into thinking that I haven't seen you around. I have a good recipe for Brunswick stew, too.

Red-twig dogwood deer damage

Vinny and friends were here.

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