March 31, 2013

Much ado about noshing

Mainers mad about deer dining on their property try a variety of ways -- fencing, repellents and more -- to send the message that the kitchen is closed.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

Judy Paolini didn't mind so much that she couldn't plant tulips or lilies in her Long Island garden because the deer would soon scarf them down like an appetizer at a Portland restaurant.

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Deer damage can happen any time of year, and takes a toll on vegetable gardens and landscape plants.

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Biologist Scott Lindsay says moving a coyote decoy like this one around your yard might help keep deer at bay.

Courtesy Scott Lindsay

Additional Photos Below

But when they came after her blue hydrangeas, it "drove me over the edge."

"They started eating those, and I said, 'OK, this is war,' " recalled the designer and writer. "I gave up on all the other (deer repellents), and I totally fenced our yard, which was a big project. We were probably the second people on the island to do that."

There's nothing like spending hundreds of dollars on perennials in spring only to watch them disappear overnight as deer munch their way through your garden like it's a free buffet.

Maybe you'll see the decorative arbor vitae in front of your home chewed away over the winter, or wonder where all those vegetables you planted and nurtured over so many weeks disappeared to during the summer.

"When I've done surveys of people to find out what is bothering them in their gardens, you would think people would say insects or disease, but it's usually wildlife, and the top wildlife is deer," said Donna Coffin, an extension professor at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Dover-Foxcroft who has written about ways to keep deer out of gardens. "And that's whether it's a vegetable garden or a landscape situation."

Deer damage can happen any time of year, and a garden doesn't have to be in an area overpopulated with deer to be a target.

"It can happen anywhere," said Scott Lindsay, regional biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in Gray. "It can happen even when you're right in town. There will be three or four deer that may come out at night, and they'll get into an arbor vitae in your front yard, and it will be gone."

And the animals don't have to be starving to have a hungry eye for your hostas.

"It would be similar to this: If you had a choice of going to a salad bar or a candy store, where would you go?" Lindsay said. "The deer see it the same way. They can meet their needs by feeding in the woods without a problem anywhere. But when they have something that's a very high value to them, very palatable to them, they're going to certainly be very selective on what they forage on.

"That's what all wild animals do. They want to invest the least amount of time for the most potential benefit in calories."

So how do you save your begonias and pansies and shasta daisies?

Most experts say fences are the best defense, followed by repellents and other forms of "aversive conditioning" such as using decoys and noisemakers, and plant selection.

With fencing, the effectiveness will depend on what kind of fence is used and how it's placed. Paolini bought a 5-foot metal fence at a big-box store and put up a barrier that was about twice that height.

"You have to go about 8 feet, or they're just going to jump right over it," she said.

Another technique she found effective, and that Lindsay agreed works, is double fencing.

"You don't have to go up quite as high, but a deer won't jump over a fence if it doesn't see a clear place to land," Paolini said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Deer made a meal of this arbor vitae.

Scott Lindsay photo

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Deer munched this rhododendron on Long Island. The photo was taken last month.

Courtesy Judy Paolini


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