Leaping, Sneaping Deer

Say what?!

Have you ever seen those signs along the highways with the image–in silhouette–of the leaping deer and then a number underneath like “next two miles.”

There’s a stretch of the New York State Thruway where first you see a sign that says deer next 1 1/5 miles, then almost immediately there’s another that says deer next two miles, then there’s another that says deer next 52 miles. I guess they figured they would run out of signs pretty darn fast at that rate.

After Monday’s post about the deer, mice, habitat and ticks, I thought I would do a post about deer and deer encounters with vehicles. We are right smack in the middle of “deer prime time:”–October, November and December are the 3 months, statistically when you are most likely to encounter a deer (in a negative way, of course) with your vehicle.

Is there science to this? Yes, actually. Believe it or not, this is deer mating season. So bucks will actually chase does straight into oncoming traffic. Ah, love. Or something.

Also, we have just (or most of us have just) changed from daylight savings time to standard time. So we’re all adjusting to driving in the dark again. Ack! This is our problem, not the deer but the reduced visibility makes it difficult to see.

Finally (and this will occasionally happen in the spring as well) deer will gather on the warm pavement on cooler nights at the change of seasons so beware of that.

All of the insurance companies have statistics about how deer/vehicle collisions go up this time of year. Be aware of that and try not to be one of those statistics.

It’s That Time of Year–Be Alert!

Yes, today is what’s commonly known as “Black Friday” in the United States. It gets it’s name because supposedly so many folks go shopping that the retailers are able to move their books from the “red” (or debt) column into the “black” column.

A long time ago–ever since I worked in retail–I gave up Black Friday shopping. For one thing, I rarely found great bargains. For another, it just added a “not nice” aspect to the whole holiday season. And that was not how I wanted my season to begin.

I know lots of people make it a tradition with their family and friends. For those of you that do, enjoy, have fun, and especially after our turbulent political season, please be nice to each other!

But since many of you will be on the roads before dawn and out after dark, I chose to post this particular topic today.

November is the month with the highest number of automobile-deer collisions. And I can think of no better way to quickly ruin a day out with family and friends than to collide with a deer. Even if there is only property damage to the car and no injuries (except perhaps to the deer) it is going to leave everyone shaken and in no mood for the festivities that were planned. And that’s the best possible scenario.

So please–if you plan to go out shopping today–or when ever during this busy holiday season–be alert and stay alert.

That also holds true for holiday visits and all those holiday gatherings. December is also a prime time for deer-auto collisions (never mind auto collisions of other sorts).

Let’s all try to stay alert and safe on the highways this season so we can gte back into our gardens next spring!

Deer Proofing?

deer on alert

It’s been awhile since my backyard has looked like this! And at this point, I might even welcome the snow (yes in August!) because it would be welcome relief from the drought!

The drought–and our lack of snow cover last winter–has made this a bumper year for critters. They are looking for anything they can eat both to encourage their larger numbers and to get moisture. It’s a tough time to be a gardener.

However, indications are that this weather pattern is part of the new “normal” for us. It’s our third summer of severe dryness (two of the winters have at least alleviated that with snow but last winter we had a “snow drought” as well). People–and animals–are going to have to figure out more creative ways to cope.

I have been writing on an ongoing basis about critter and deer proofing and repellents. I have two articles coming out in the next month that will deal with this topic, one specifically all about this and one about fall gardening that talks about the topic with respect to protecting fall bulb plantings.

Because I am an organic gardener, I use only approved organic remedies (if I use anything at all) in my own yard and I recommend the same to folks who ask me. In my articles, I tell folks to go to their local garden centers, who are in the best position to recommend what might work best for their area at that time (since, with publication schedules, it’s tough to know what might be working at that moment).

But as I have discussed before, the word “organic” can have many meanings. When I use the term, I try to use it as the CT-NOFA Handbook has used it and I apply the principles found in the handbook. That way, I know I am applying locally controlled best practices.

This therefore always presents me with a dilemma when I am lecturing about deer proofing (which should always be referred to as repelling, anyway. Unless you are in an area where you can surround your property with an 8 foot fence or an electric fence, your property is not “deer proofed.”)

In some places, deer browse can be quite dramatic and homeowners can be understandably distraught. I understand that. My own home is on a deer trail. They wear a path down to the bedrock. Because we are partially wooded, usually the damage isn’t too severe. But one particularly snowy winter, everything, including spiky holly, was browsed, and when the snow melted, everything else was browsed. I had shrubs that were “nubby little nothings” after that incident.

I didn’t use repellent–at that point, it would have been futile. Instead, I pruned back hard anything that had been browsed and I fertilized with an organic fertilizer. Everything came out fine.

Others are not as lucky. They go through this every year. So if they need to apply something else, who am I to question? I just ask that it be the least toxic first, if possible.

Wordless Wednesday–The Scourge of the Back Yard

Okay, I’ve finally gotten to talking about our little furry friends with the cloven hooves. That’s right–I don’t know about the rest of you but because my heavy clay soil stays so wet, it’s always readily apparent when the deer have tromped through. They leave deep hoof prints in the soil–or in some cases, since we are on a deer trail, they wear our thin soil right down to the bedrock.

So there’s never any mystery about what has done the damage and destruction in the garden–their hoof prints give them away.

As I was telling another gardener over my winter vacation, I am such a nature lover, that I am sympathetic to the plight of the deer. I don’t want to see starving deer anywhere and as development comes to my town there are fewer and fewer places for them to forage. What are they supposed to eat?

So I don’t go to enormous lengths to keep them out of my yard, knowing that would probably be futile anyway. I also don’t try to protect an acre of plantings–why doom myself to failure and disappointment?

Instead, there are a few choice things that I try to “make a stand” about. And the rest of the yard is pretty much fair game in all 4 seasons.

I realize not everyone can be so tolerant–or chooses to be. So for that, I have another handy dandy fact sheet for you. Just realize that the only foolproof method for keeping deer out is fencing.

I used a makeshift version of it myself this past summer when I was trying to protect some edibles. I strung up some “Deerstopper” deer tape around my vegetable garden. It worked quite nicely and I’ll use it again this coming summer–this time before the deer arrive to eat the tomato plants and the green beans.

(By the way, is it just me or does anyone else find it odd that we group our environmental department with our energy department in Connecticut? It seems those two interests are not always compatible).

And as for me, I’ll continue to let the does hide their babies in my little piece of the woods. It may be the only piece of woods that they have nearby anymore. Call me a sucker.

And don’t worry. While deer may be reputed to carry a lot of ticks, it is really the white footed mouse that is the host/problem for the tick that carries Lyme disease. But that is a whole other issue!

Who Knew Deer Liked Salad?


About 10 days ago–during that last heat wave–I walked into a wooded area on my property with my dog and this fawn stood up. If it had not, chances are I never would have noticed it at all.

I’ve been having a tremendous amount of deer browse damage this year. Most of it I tolerate. The deer have to eat something and so much of the land in my town is getting developed. Even my new neighbor across the street has taken out countless trees and undergrowth–which is where the deer used to leave their fawns during the day while they were off foraging. I guess I’m one of the few “wild” places left in town.

One of the places I’m trying not to tolerate the “browse” however, is in my vegetable garden. I’m looking for creative and non-toxic solutions so that I actually get to eat some of my vegetables this year. So far the pole bean leaves have been browsed to the stems several times and the tops of the tomatoes have been nibbled off (hard to get tomatoes that way!) The lettuce was completely eaten, but fortunately only at the end of the season.

The Spoiler won’t permit fencing so I’m at an impasse. I guess he really doesn’t like vegetables.

Now What’s Eating My….

deer chewed hosta

On Monday I showed a hosta that had been chewed up by a groundhog (or woodchuck, if you prefer).

The center of this hosta has been chewed off by a deer. Hosta are known as “deer candy” in most gardener’s yards, although in my yard, they are rarely bothered–the deer much prefer these other things like the masses of jewelweed I grow for the hummingbirds, but that they rarely get to see because the deer mow them down at regular intervals before they flower.

Some years, I rarely get to see a hydrangea bloom from my “old-fashioned” types of hydrangeas (the ones that bloom on old wood only) because the deer have come through in the winter and eaten all the canes. Luckily this wasn’t one of those years.

And my nutty deer even like my roses! Why would you eat thorny things when you could snack on nice leafy hostas? But I digress.

deer chewed violets

Here are some violets that have been shorn by the deer. Violets? That’s not a preferred deer food. I’d say that the rabbits were after them but we haven’t had a rabbit in the yard all season–and the much taller asters next to them were also eaten (also not a known deer food, by the way). I have some weird deer.

Once again, the most reliable way to keep deer out is by fencing–but most gardeners, including me, won’t resort to that. The “ranters” at Garden Rant had a post a week or two ago about creating “fortresses” in the garden while trying to keep deer out and the photos weren’t pretty!

To avoid the “plant wrapped in deer netting” look, there is always the resort to the numerous repellents on the market. Many are organic. This, of course, depends on what they call the “deer load” (which is the fancy way of saying just how many deer are tromping through your yard at any one time). The heavier the “deer load,” the less effective repellents will be.

And of course for repellents to be completely effective (or as effective as they can be–none are perfect!), they should be rotated every couple of weeks or so. After awhile deer develop a tolerance for certain ones.

If all of this sounds like a tremendous amount of work–and it can be depending on the size of your property (I garden on an acre, for example) you can resort to attempting to plant “deer resistant” plants. Again, notice the use of the word “resistant” because a starving animal will eat just about anything. In my yard, I’ve had them eat English holly–the spiky kind–when that’s all they could get at through the snow.

And other so-called “resistant” plants like astilbe and heuchera–they didn’t read the lists, apparently. But that’s fine. I’ve got so many a few nibbles–or wholesale scarfing down, if they must–if going to be fine.

For a list of deer resistant plants for the Northeast, I can recommend this list from Rutgers University which rates plants by category of rarely damaged, seldom damaged, and so forth. There are other lists out there for other parts of the country, but since I don’t garden there, I’m not sure how good they are!

Annual Warning

When I say “annual” in my post heading, I’m not referring to the type of plants that live for one season, set seed and die (basil, or petunias, for example).  Rather, I’m referring to a post I always do about this time of year to residents and travellers who might encounter deer.

Mid-to-late October and November are deer mating season.  So if one is ever to encounter a deer with a vehicle, this is the most likely time.  Bucks will run out in pursuit of females and will crash right into vehicles from the side.  It’s craziness.

Another reason one is likely to encounter deer this time of year is the relative warmth of the road versus the coolness of the grassy verge.  Throw in a little fog that results from that scenario and you have a recipe for, a best, a fender bender.

Hunting season is yet a third reason that drives deer out of deeper woods and onto our highways, where we are more likely to encounter them.

Finally, with the time change coming and the loss of even more light in the evening, motorists need to be extra alert.

Interestingly enough, State Farm, which does a study of deer/auto collisions by year, found that they actually fell in 2010.  Perhaps not so many of us were on the road due to the bad economy and higher gas prices.

They also list my own state, Connecticut, as one with a relatively low incidence of deer to vehicle collisions.  Considering how many deer I see, and how many folks I know who have hit them, I guess I’m glad I don’t live in a state with a high incidence!

Midsummer Musings

It’s been a very odd year and as we hit the halfway point, as a gardener, I’m in a place I’ve never been before.

For one thing, I have weeds–technically wildflowers, I suppose since I did invite them onto my property–as high as my shoulders in some places.  They’re wild impatiens, also known as jewelweed, or impatiens capensis.  It’s a long story.  The short version is that I wasn’t sure what might become of the gardens where they were located.  We had an offer to buy that portion of the land.  Ultimately that’s not going to happen, at least not this summer.

But for some time I just barely maintained those gardens, thinking that there wasn’t much point in doing a lot of work if they would soon be under a bulldozer.  The rest of the summer–and perhaps some years to come–may be catch-up.

And of course, just as the gardens were beginning to awake, I had major health issues with some family members–some of which are still going on.  So who knows when & whether these “weeds” will get addressed. People always take priority over gardens.

And of course, there have been other events that have filled up my time. I’ve taken on some other gardening and consulting projects for other people this year, something I hadn’t done in many years.  While it can be very rewarding, it also cuts down on my own time in the garden.

And I’m doing more writing as well, having gotten a column in a glossy publication as well.  Again, a fabulous thing–but one that competes for my limited gardening time.

So as we hit midsummer in the garden, I am more grateful than ever for perennials. And if my weeds/wildflowers grow up to eclipse my hydrangeas, well, where are those darn deer when you need them?

Drive Carefully–It’s Deer Mating Season!

Last week, two new reports on deer made me decide I’d do an annual report on this topic.  I saw the first in the Hartford Courant which stated that once again, West Virginia leads the nation in vehicle/deer collisions. Here’s a link to a more recent story from an Ohio radio station confirming those statistics.  The second came from the New York Times which reported that deer have begun showing up in Brooklyn, a part of New York that has never had a deer population.

In the story in the Times, it was speculated that one of the reasons for the deer migration was mating season.  And that’s the reason for this post.   In these  next two months, October and November, more deer will be killed on the highways than in any other two month period, precisely because it is deer mating season.  And when deer are mating, they tend to get a little crazy.

This is the time of year when you are more likely to be broadsided by a deer than any other time of year.  You could also be rear-ended by one, or just have the plain old head-on collision.  But regardless of the type of collision, this is the time of year that deer to vehicle collisions are most likely to occur.

Fortunately these types of collisions have fallen by 8% over the last year so someone is getting savvier–perhaps the automotive technology is allowing drivers to see further and to stop faster.  Because deer in mating season are not likely getting any more aware of the cars!

Hurricane Preparedness

This may be the last post you read from me in a while.  I posted this Saturday as I was preparing for Irene to make landfall somewhere around Connecticut.  I scheduled it to post on Monday–I presume that if we’re without power it will still post but who knows?

I noticed quite a few garden bloggers posting pictures of their gardens on Friday and saying “I hope there will still be something left post-Irene.”  I can certainly sympathize with that!  I had a bit of a rude awakening on my Friday walk, however.  I went out at 6:30 to discover that my green beans, which had finally climbed to the tops of their respective poles and were fleshing out nicely, were gone!  Nothing left but a few stringy stems thanks to those pesky deer.  So  some of my gardening  came to a crashing halt a little early anyway.  Oh well.

Friday evening, I did a “quick” gathering up of all the plants and stored them in the garage.  It’s far too early to say goodbye to the summer containers–and besides, I surely don’t want them to become projectiles in tropical storm or higher force winds.

This is what I was gathering though and you’ll see that it wasn’t such an easy task.  It took 3 of us over an hour.

These are the herb containers I keep just outside my door for easy harvest.  I’m not ready to let those go.

These are mixed annuals and house plants with a few tender tropicals thrown in for good measure.

Mostly tender perennials that I over-winter (not the Alberta Spruce, of course!)

And finally more tender perennials and house plants.  What you don’t see are the big containers of mixed annuals that I already moved, or the orchids from the back of the house–but you get the idea!

But it’s also far too early to bring them inside.  I’m not quite resigned to the task of watering with a watering can instead of a hose.

And this year I decided that they were not all coming in either.  I mean I love my houseplants but it’s getting a little too crazy.  We’ll se if I can actually winnow down the collection to a manageable number.

But doing so while trying to prepare for a once in a 50 year storm is not probably wise. I can winnow after the storm–or even later in the season.

And I can hope this is all unnecessary and this storm, fickle as these storms can be, takes a last-minute turn out to sea and everyone is spared.  That’s what everyone is truly hoping and praying for!