The Deer Thing

Gave a talk last week to the Arlington, Virginia Master Gardeners and friends (howdy!).  What a wonderful group. I was warmly welcomed, they brought awesome goodies, and even laughed at my silly anecdotes.

As is inevitable during any plant presentation, the topic of deer came up. When the question arose of whether a particular perennial that I had enjoyed in my own garden was deer-resistant or not, I responded with  “I’m not sure, I don’t have a deer problem.”  I regretted my words the moment they came out. The audience erupted, and I swear cupcakes were (figuratively)  flung at my head.

1. It was incredibly insensitive of me.

But I didn’t know! I was gently informed that yes, deer were indeed a huge problem. Arlington is tucked deep within the Beltway, right next to D.C. Though they have some nice green spaces and lots of big trees, I wouldn’t describe it as suburban, which is where I’ve heard all the deer problems were in Northern Virginia.  The D.C. metroplex is bumper-to-bumper traffic about 22 hours per day, at least in the experience of this Country Mouse. How they haven’t been wiped out by deer-vehicle collisions, I’m not sure. Maybe the traffic never goes fast enough. I feel just awful for these folks. One lady described afterward how she couldn’t even have pansies in a container on her patio.  She said she gardens “in her dreams.”  I misted up. 

2.  I then had to try to explain why I don’t have a deer problem.

I’m not sure!  What’s worse, I haven’t had too much of a problem at any of my previous residences (just digging the hole deeper, aren’t I). Currently, we live in the Country with a capital “C”, on the side of a mountain, surrounded by forests, pastures, streams, etc. There’s minimal fencing.  The nearest neighbors* are not very near. We should be crawling with deer.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty around – picturesque herds roam the hayfields across the valley. Driving home at dusk in the spring and fall is an adventure in deer-dodging. They do occasional visit closer to the house, traipsing through our blueberries, and eating fallen apples, or nibbling the tops out of my okra. They have damaged some of our veg garden, but no worse than our own destruct-o-chickens.  But they rarely mess with the ornamentals. Of which there are LOTS.

* Incidentally, most of those (very nice) neighbors possesses multiple rifles and armloads of 30-06 rounds. I know this because deer season is nigh, and everyone’s adjusting their scopes and blowing out the dust.  Blam, blam, blam.

My best guess as to our relative freedom from deer damage? Neighbors who enjoy deer steaks, plus an active assault-hound program. OUR weapons of choice:

Bebe (B.B.) the Basenji-mix and Bunny the Whippet. Faster than speeding bullets. Joel is asleep so I graciously cropped him out.

Not very fearsome as depicted here, but two sight-hounds can give the deer a run for their money. They love to patrol the grounds. Plus it’s great exercise for the little couch lizards.

The deer explosion has turned many people off from gardening (both novice and experienced). To have something you’ve grown and/or spent a chunk of money on – there one evening and gone the next morning – must be very, very frustrating.  My heart goes out to the kind and hardy gardeners of Arlington and all others for whom deer are an absolute plague. 


13 thoughts on “The Deer Thing”

  1. Deer are a huge problem here in Michigan. Last night I saw an ad for a local auto body shop billing itself as “your local deer hit specialists”. Deer are the number one casue of auto accidents in Michigan in the fall. Like you, we live out of town and have no deer issues in the yard. We have two dogs also and I’m of the same mind that dogs are probably the best deer deterent.

  2. Why do people living in the country have fewer deer problems? Predators. Coyote and bobcats will take deer fawns. Hunters will take adults. The more predators the fewer deer.

    Most predators are unwelcome in more urban areas. No one wants hunting in a place where the houses are so close that a stray bullet could take out a window (or worse). Coyotes are feared an
    d so they are chased out, removed or poisoned. And bobcats just don’t like people very much.

    So there’s the big secret. You need places that are wild enough to support a population of coyotes and/or bobcats so they can naturally reduce the deer population. Urban and suburban areas provide great habitat for deer (plenty of food and no predators) but aren’t a great place for their predators.

  3. You’re right – dogs are a great deterrent. Not my current good-for-nothing dog, but most other ones! I once had a stubby little Boston Terrier who lived to chase deer. Don’t know what he would have done had he ever caught one!

  4. Diana, I agree loss of predators is a big reason for the deer explosion, especially here in Michigan. But you’d have to go a long, long ways to find enough predators to make a dent in the deer population. I know plenty of people that live further out than I do, but don’t have dogs, and have no hope of growing hostas or other deer favorites.

  5. Deer are creatures of the “edge”. In wildlife biology jargon, edge is the term that aptly applies the intersection of two habitat types. I.E Open field (lawn) and forest (tree cover, crop field (veggie garden) and brushland (shrubbery), meadow (perennial bed) and and forest, and so on and so on, and so on. Juxtaposition refers to how all these habitat types are arranged in the landscape and relate to one another spatially. Each habitat has a certain type of nutrition and cover for deer. If one fails to meet the animal’s needs another will. Surburban landscapes have infinatestably more cover types interspaced in an infinitestable variety of ways. Subrubs are really highly packed energy and cover resources for deer which equals high deer populations. Lots of edges, lots of deer.

    Oh, I do not discount the effect of preadators (including human ones) as mentioned above. They do play a role.

  6. You know, if I could spell and proofread before I post I could make a whole heck of a lot more sense.

    “infinitesimal”? Meaning an uncountable number…

  7. Dear Wes respectfully, my dictionary says infinitesimal means “too small to measure”. Perhaps you mean “infinately more”.

  8. Yes, deer in the Washington DC suburbs are out of control, and a long term solution is a must before every mile of highway is littered with fresh carcasses. We cannot depend on lists of deer resistant plants any longer, but I’ve found that spraying a deer repellent on susceptible plants once each month during the growing season is completely effective.

    After seeing my hosta collection dwindle from over a hundred varieties to a few dozen, I’m confidently planting more, knowing that a half hour each month and a few dollars in spray protects my garden from the wandering herds.

  9. There is another reason for too many deer; too many people think it is terrible to kill one. I have heard of controlled killing of deer in the Balto/Washington suburbs by marksman – but they have to do it at night and in secret as not to get people disturbed about killing the deer. Of course, these same people wouldn’t have any issue with killing an out-of-control rat population.

  10. I have no objection to hunting, but the controlled hunts are a minor remedy that will relieve the problem temporarily only in a small geographic area, and the overpopulation is widespread. Housing congestion makes it unreasonable to be flinging arrows or shotgun slugs on a large scale within a few feet of a house. The problem is generally not discussed until someone is killed in an auto collision with a deer, but quickly forgotten. This is not the proper forum for this discussion, but it will take widespread birth control to resolve the problem.

  11. Central VA also has its share of deer – I had 9 deer at a time eating my trees and shrubs this past winter (couldn’t blame them – the snow was covering everything else). It’s too bad that they’re discouraging people from gardening – there are SO many plants of all types that deer won’t touch or rarely damage. My hollies took a beating this past winter, but they’re usually fine, and they grew back this summer. My boxwood weren’t touched – hooray for poisonous plants! When we moved into our Bambi-infested neighborhood, we pulled all of the Bambi fodder from the front yard and put it behind the deer fence in the back. We did some research and planted plants that deer don’t eat (or at least don’t eat unless they’re starving). Problem solved.

Leave a Reply