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Batten down the hatches: Deer are in their fattening-up stage

I live smack dab in the middle of Durango – Test Tracks five minutes away; Fairgrounds 10 minutes; downtown 15. I appreciate that we share our neighborhood with old-time Durangatangs, new families, teens who drive too fast and dogs that bark too much. And yes, all those descriptors fit my family (and our two barking dogs).

We also share that space with an exaggeration of 200 deer, all of which seem to have a fairly safe life where they can eat and bed down during the day in our yards and scurry off into some of the nearby open space to chill at night. Many have become recognizable over the years – missing antlers, a limp, the runt or the buck that stares us down as we walk. Our little dog, Olive, loves to bark at anything that moves, but she won’t bark at that buck. Not even sure she will make eye contact.

Not even sure I want to make eye contact.

As we all know, deer wreak havoc on our landscapes, and while you may think you purchased a plant that deer don’t touch, know that they never claim that they are “deer proof.” If they were, that plant would be mistaken for a rock. Or a fence. Or maybe even lawn art. Right now, wildlife is in the fattening-up stage (as am I) for the cold winter months. That means that all your plants – and mine – are fair game for caloric intake. In the past two weeks, our landscape has lost at least one young tree from an over-aggressive buck rubbing the trunk too hard and breaking it; Swiss chard, butternut squash, cucumbers and broccoli were all mowed down (note to self: Kale is still standing and not touched); and a number of perennials we planted this year were grazed to the ground.

The yard is fenced, but because the entire space is up against the street, it only stands at 4 feet tall, a mere hop for any of the neighborhood grazers. Not being a fan of a fence within a fence to ward off wildlife, I put my faith in two barking dogs, neighbors with unfenced front yards, and the occasional spray of a repellent around the perimeter of the property. The incredibly foul odor of rotten eggs can be effective when applied to individual plants, but our yard is big and we have more than 800 feet of fence, so there is a challenge there. And, the above mentioned dogs love the smell and will roll in it when given the chance.

For the trees, I will wrap the trunks with plastic tubes. They will act as a deterrent, but won’t stop a buck from scraping the trunk if they really want to. The next step will be fencing the individual trees if the deer continue to show interest. I am not a fan of how the fencing – typically a wire mesh that is placed around the trunk, up to the first set of branches – but it may be better than not having a tree in the landscape, as I’ve already lost one.

The vegetables, as long as they don’t creep outside the beds, have been effectively protected by a simple “fence” of bird netting draped and clamped to three PVC (3/4 inch) ribs that span the raised bed. Cucumbers and squash that vine outside of those confines are fair game.

Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at darrin.parmenter@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464.