I have come upon fawns lying still as statues in a stand of grass on our land.  Their survival strategy seems to be to freeze, allowing me to walk right up and study their perfect ears, finely chiseled hooves and delicately dappled camo patterns.

...The Bambi time bomb. (photo credit Flickr bjmccray/2552934944/sizes/l/

Baby animals always bring out our protective instincts, but I have looked at fawns with mixed emotions.

I know that as soon as my back is turned, it’s going to get up on those wobbly legs and join its parents as  they rip out our dearly bought, lovingly placed native plant starts by the roots, then bite off the flowering stalk of every single endangered native plant we have discovered growing on our land.

Deer have become a nuisance and a menace to  prairies, savannas, woodlands and parks.  There is no safety from them– even city yards.  In the early 1900s there were less than 500,000 over the entire country, but now we are being stampeded by more than 15 million white tails.  According to research at Cornell this dramatic population increase has really accelerated in the past 10 years.  If you are trying to grow anything outdoors, you know what I’m talking about.

Deer must consume about three percent of their body weight in forage each day.  Adults weigh in between 125 and 250 pounds, and that means 4 to 10 pounds of greenery going down their gullet.  They prefer new buds, and leaves, tender shoots and flower parts which add up to a big impact — in some cases complete devastation.

How to Stop It!

We’ve used tomato cages and chicken wire to protect the Yellow Lady Slipper and Compass Plants that grow here.  But we had come to accept  large losses from deer-browse in the seedlings we plant each year in our prairie and savanna.

This year Doug came up with a brilliant idea to protect our small but treasured plantings that is cheap and not that hard make.

We bought a roll of  14-gauge welded wire fencing with the standard 2”X4” grid.  We got a three-foot tall roll.  You might want to consider a 4-foot roll, but the three-foot seems to work pretty well for the small plants we have been transplanting this spring.

Doug says, “It helps to have a good wire cutter for this project.”

...It helps to have a good wire cutter for this project!

Unroll the bundle and cut it into strips 4 inches (2 vertical wires) wide the full 3 feet width of the roll.  Cut it so that the two vertical wires have wire sticking out sharply on both sides.

For the cost of about $30 for a 50-foot roll and using two of the strips per plant to make each cage, it comes down to 75 cages or about 37 cents per cage.  This is a great price for a prickly, reusable protector armed and ready to ward off hungry deer.

It’s a system that has a lot of flexibility.  You can bend them double or use the full three feet.

By the time the plants are growing out of them, we hope they will be established enough to handle a little deer browse.  In the meantime, they can establish some roots and perhaps even flower in their tiny cones of protection.

Then fold them flat for storage and foil more deer next year.

Now that we have a strategy that I feel confident about to protect our new plants, I hope I can truly enjoy the charming view the next time  I bump into Bambi.



5 replies

    • It’s a constant challenge to provide food and habitat for wildlife — including deer — but not let them eat one out of native house and home.

  1. Our method is not foolproof, but somehow it works (and you may remember from my blog that we have a lot of deer who do not fear us at all). If it’s outside the fence, it’s theirs. If it’s inside, it’s ours. For the past couple of weeks my husband has been complaining about how “my” deer ate “his” lettuce. I pointed out to him that he knew all along where the fencing was and even discussed putting a small section over his thin strip of garden as protection. We also plant unpalatable plants on the edges of unfenced areas. Usually the deer nibble around the edges, decide it’s nasty, and move on. I’ve also placed shishkabob sticks, pointy end up, around vulnerable plants.

    • Yes, I know that in the long run we are going to have to fence our garden. We are building our little farmstead from scratch and have no water sourcey et but hauling bucketsfull from our pond.
      This is our first year trying to grow some food in the barn yard. (So far, tomatoes, raspberries and flax, which are all off to a good start.) I’m just hoping the deer don’t eat those, but we’ll see.

      We are using the cages to protect starts of native plants we are trying to re-introduce into the area. We start from seed or buy plants from a native plant sale the UW holds each spring. It really hurts me to see the flower buds bitten off of those before they can establish.

      I’m eager to learn what you have found to be good unpalatable plants to deer. I’d love to try that method.

      As always a pleasure to hear from you!


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