By Mary-Kate Mackey
I’ve planted Encore Azaleas to refurbish a part of my garden destroyed last April in a ferocious windstorm. A massive Douglas fir fell into the bed. But another toppled fir crashed onto the driveway gate. For the first time since we’d lived there, our 5-acre deer-fenced area around our house was open. That’s what brought about the meet-up of deer and my Encores. I had to call upon a certain ingenuity to foil their predations.
My initial strategy failed completely. I hung strands of brightly flashing bird-scare tape over the opening where the gate had been. My husband said our place looked like a used car lot. The deer blithely came and went under the shiny ribbons – I could see their tracks in the mud at the edge of the driveway.
In late summer, a new gate was installed. A doe and a young buck got left inside. No help for it. We have an excellent deer fence, six feet of cattle wire with two additional strands of barbed wire above. They couldn’t leave.
And then a mighty buck crashed right through the barbed wire and joined the party. The garden plants started showing signs of rapacious browsing – but, thankfully not the Encores. I hoped that their tough leaves would prove unattractive.
Our other failures included: Mowing pathways through our woods so we could spot them and drive them out. Asking a bow hunter during the legal season to visit us. Deciding to spray every plant in the garden with gallons of deer repellant.
Then, one day in true perverse deer fashion, they chomped on my Encore®Autumn Carnation™. However, they must not have liked it much, because they ignored the others. I was desperate. These three would never leave. And soon, we’d have more.
Necessity inspired. The next morning, I woke with a new plan. I would lure the deer out. With a bag of molasses-oats cob, a purple garden bucket, and a wildlife trail camera, I set up a daily bait station inside our back gate. From the pictures, I tracked their comings and goings – every two hours like clockwork at night – as well as those of raccoons, opossum, foxes, and the neighbor’s house cat.
On a wintery evening, my husband and I opened the gate at 5:30 – for their 6:00 p.m. arrival – and set the cob-topped bucket 10 feet outside the gateway. Two hours later, the cob was gone. We closed the gate, baited the bucket again inside, and studied the pictures.
There they were, parading out the open gate. Then, horrors – the doe comes back in! She’s checking the ground for more cob. In the last shot, her body is beyond the fence, but her head is facing in, like she’s thinking about it. Oh, please.
Thirty-six hours later, no cob had been eaten. The camera recorded a whole herd of deer outside the fence, looking in. Now I can do my happy deer dance! The Encore®Azaleas are free to grow, and I’m free to enjoy them. And, if another deer ever does get in, I’ve got the tools to lure them out.