GREEN THOUGHTS: Oh deer, finally here

AFTER 24 YEARS, my gardening honeymoon is over. While I’m nowhere near throwing in the trowel, I’m sorry to say that the deer have truly arrived. And while living with deer is standard practice for many gardeners in the Hudson Valley, I certainly have enjoyed my almost quarter-century gardening largely without them.

I must admit feeling rather smug in the past. I figured that the busy road in front of the house and the wooded cliff behind were discouraging to deer. While our neighborhood on the edge of suburbia is very green, most folks surrounding me are not gardeners, so there is little of unusual horticultural (and culinary) interest to attract the hungry horde, other than my place. And while I certainly sympathized with my green-thumb chums who face deer damage daily, I also counted my blessings and thanked my lucky stars.

A dahlia behind a deer fence. Photo contributed

Gradually, though, things have changed. A few winters ago, the deer ate the bottom four feet of my arborvitae hedge, which runs between our side yard and the house next door. I didn’t notice this until one day when I could see Mr. Moore’s Pontiac much better than before. After that, a few leaves might disappear here, a flower or two vanish there, but it was no big deal. Then last winter, our giant backyard oak dropped an Armageddon of acorns. The deer visited nightly, making deep hoof prints in the snow covering my hosta garden and the one good patch of lawn we had, turning it all into a minefield of mud. Word among the herd must have gone out that this was the dining place to be. Now this summer, the hostas have lost their leaves, the tomatoes their fruit, and I my patience.

Deterring browsing by deer offers two primary options: repellents and fencing. For now, I’ve gathered the stray bits of fencing from the shed and cordoned off some of the surviving hostas and all of the dahlias. I’ve also invested in a jug of deer repellent. I say “invested” since it cost almost as much as my first car, all for some putrescent eggs, thyme, garlic and soap. And wow, does it stink, the kind of stench that stays in your mind’s nose for days. But after deploying the smelly solution, we had the first night without a loss from the tomato patch, so I am pleased.

I’m also pondering a fence. Deer can jump almost eight feet high with ease, as well as shove under or shoulder through a wimpy fence, so any construction needs to be well-planned and sturdy. Black plastic mesh comes in various sizes and is a popular option. I need about a 300-foot length to enclose most of the backyard, and at eight feet high, with 21 posts and two gates, this system would cost about $2,000, self-installed. While I could buy a lot of tomatoes and hostas for that amount, this looks like the price I must pay to remain a gardener.

To contact David Chinery, horticulture educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County, email

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