Deer. Dear Me!

Every day of spring 2011 I went into the garden soon after the sun peeked over the south mountains.  I would water all the new roses, if they needed it.  And I would pull up weeds here and there.  The previous year had proven to be a measured success, and I had recently added a few dozen roses.  By mid May they had all leafed out.  They were growing long, tender new canes.  And they were very active in making rose buds.  The buds swelled and several opened.  I prepared myself for a generous spring display.

The third day in June there was a full moon.  I came out the next morning to find that every single rose bud in the garden had been nibbled away.  And that much of the new foliage on my newest roses was gone, too. I was crushed.  Not just for the loss of a spring’s worth of rose blossoms, but for the setback the youngest roses had suffered. 

The weather had grown too warm for the roses to resume growth at the same rate. And at any rate it seemed like the loss of a recent investment would set them back at least until September.  One deer in one night had set my rose garden back by a full half year.    I could be thankful that I had lost no roses: they would live to bloom again.  But it was still a material loss.  Even those of us who hope to live some number of decades still find the number of spring bloom seasons to be a very countable number.

Part of the problem was that the fence surrounding the garden was not a fully closed loop because of some construction going on.  This made it easy for deer to just walk into the garden.  I knew from observation in earlier years that the fence made a difference.  I would come out to the garden, early in the morning to find one deer standing in the garden munching on roses, and three standing outside. I would chase the deer.  It would run away and jump the fence. But it would clear the fence awkwardly.

When the fence was open, a whole family could enter.  I knew from experience in New Jersey that fences were not fool-proof, but they could still be effective.  I planted roses inside the fence.  For the first year or so after putting up the fence, I could tell that deer would jump over it and land in the roses.  But before long that stopped.  Deer don’t like landing in thorny rose shrubs.

So one part of the plan for dealing with deer here is to plant roses inside the fence line. It’s still not implemented because that’s a lot of roses.

The second prong in the plan involves regular spraying with Liquid Fence.  This year I started the Liquid Fence spraying program in mid-May knowing that it was at about this time of year that deer started their annual pilgrimage to the higher elevations in AZ.  I reasoned that if the garden smelled terrible when they got here, they wouldn’t bother entering.  This seems to have worked; because spring 2012 in the garden was glorious.

The material in this protective spray is a pungent mix of garlic, rotten egg, and hot pepper, and spraying it takes about an hour to do the whole garden.  A rather haphazard and spotty application works fine, so long as the periphery is done well  it’s done with good regularity.  Once a week at the beginning of the season is good.  Twice a month would have worked here for July and August.  Weekly spraying would have been better for September.  This I know because right at the peak of bloom near the end of September I came out into the garden  to find all the roses nibbled away and much of the fine purple new foliage on many roses gone, too.

The third prong in the plan is the Contech scarecrow.  It’s a device that couples an infrared sensor to an irrigation spray head.  In moderately cool weather, a deer at thirty feet can be detected when it moves, and the sprayer delivers a pulsing jet of water.  I find that when I’m in the garden and one of these goes off, the hissing alone startles me.  Then the wetness from the water usually makes me just a little miserable.  Of course, the things require a steady supply of pressurized water.  And they require that one change out the batteries every few months – and that’s a job just a little more tricky than it would have to be. I found that getting both of these things to happen reliably was more tricky than I had anticipated.  The devices help convince the deer they don’t want to be there; but they fail too easily to be the only like of defense.

By the time the plan is fully implemented, I expect that deer damage in the garden will at least diminish from a level I find unacceptable to one that I can tolerate.  I notice already that the deer don’t venture deep into the rose beds because of the thorns.    And I’ve planted a lot of climbing roses on 8 ft tall  arches.  Deer can only nibble so far into the air.  Maybe if I give the garden the appropriate attentions next year I will enjoy two seasons of bloom.