Gardening Update - Deer Damage
Or, More Uses of Adversity...
For the last two weeks I have been having an exceptionally aggressive episode of deer damage. Of course this has produced something of an emotional rollercoaster, as one might expect, but once the adrenal rush wears off, I tend to use such situations to guide my work, using adversity to shape the changes I need to make. While I don't believe such situations are 'guiding' me, I do use them to figure out what will work, or to experiment toward discovering what will work, in my situation.
I have lived on this same piece of property for most of my forty-seven years. We had no deer here when I was a child. By the time I was in my twenties, we occasionally saw a deer. Within the last ten years the deer population has become increased considerably.
When I was a child, there were sections of woodland around natural water features such as creeks and springs and the rest of the farm was open grass fields and cultivated fields. In my twenties, I began to plant bamboo and now, twenty years later, I have huge bamboo groves and the majority of the old farm is now in regrowth woodland, with some open grass fields and cultivated gardens.
When you combine the increase in deer population and the increase in cover, I have basically created a deer preserve. I can't say that wasn't probably intentional, at least on a subconscious level. I have always loved deer, finding them elegant and interesting. I saw Bambi way too young. I have never hunted and that in an area where everybody hunts. I can hunt. I have just chosen too on few rare occasions. However, as I have grown older and more realistic about the life-cycle of lifeforms, I understand that predators would keep the herd in check. Without those predators, numbers increase until the herds decimate the local forage. In some areas of the eastern US, this process is much worse than it is here.
There has been plant predation by the deer to some level for some time, but I have only seen heavy daylily predation for the last three years, in some of the display gardens, but it had not happened in my hybridizing garden or around my house. That was new this year. We had never seen any problems with the daylilies before 2010, but I have also noticed that our native deer have become rather robust within the last three to four years. We have also had exceptionally wet years since 2012, creating a lot of profuse foliage growth, so this may figure in the increase in size of the native deer.
In that time the numbers that are staying here have increased considerably, with a troop now being basically stationed here most of the time and being in predictable places throughout the day, though moving through surrounding properties as well through the day. Another factor that may have an effect is that until 2012, I kept domestic fowl, often in fairly large numbers, and they are reactive to things moving around their enclosures. Deer, being naturally skittish, would react to chicken warning calls, and the lack of birds to make those calls may play some part in their forays deeper and deeper into all landscaped areas. In the past, each of those areas would have had populations of chickens that cut those gardens off from the outer fields and woods.
For three years, I have seen fawns laying in my daylily beds on the sides of my house. I have not had any foraging until this year, when they have completely decimated the mid, mid-late and late cultivars. I was able to save the majority of the early-early and early breeding in these gardens by covering the seed pods with paper bags. Here is a gallery of the beauty of flower-less-ness in midseason...
Beaucoup Bouquet is a lovely red that is normally in bloom for about four weeks in mid-late season. It started early this year, so I did get to see a few flowers. I had pods set as well, but those nourished the deer.
Beaucoup Bouquet, truly a lovely and useful cultivar from Nate Bremer. It will be getting moved for future use to a more secure location.
Hemerocallis fulva clone seed pods covered for preservation.
In the foreground, white seedlings from Clouds of White x Lily Munster. I have grown these for years and I adore the flowers - huge, UF, weird and near white. I have left them here for years just because they are so pretty, but they have no branching, as you can see from the remnants of the scapes, and so they have just served as a decorative planting now for five years. This group of seedlings normally produce flowers for about a month and then rebloom later in the year. I may get to see the rebloom phase on some of them. The bagged plants in the background are early-early diploids.
So Lovely and Fuchsia Dream, both mid-late cultivars, and a late blooming tetraploid seedling I have had for many years.
Eyed Tet Seedling
Chicago Apache in the foreground and a mixed planting of Carmine Monarch, Rajah, H. fulva forma clones and Autumn Red in the background.
Rajah and Carmine Monarch
Few Hosta were spared...
Even the Jewel Weed has been extremely popular.
The simple solution here is to move the important daylilies for breeding into a more secure location and the rest can do as they do, serving as an ornamental grass that sometimes gives me flowers. Peonies, especially tree peonies, have shown no predation by deer so far, so perhaps I will begin to slowly transition away from any daylilies and hostas in these beds and more toward more deer resistant landscaping. Or perhaps even nothing but a rock-scape. Plants that may work here are some grasses (which will blend with the daylily foliage nicely or substitute it, as needed), hellebores, tree peonies, lavender, mint, rosemary, thyme, etc.
I do not know if the deer will become more aggressive and begin to eat the daylily foliage, though I have seen the deer eat some evergreen foliage in the open seedling beds during winter. Only time will tell. I know that some areas of the US have trouble keeping any plants, flowers or foliage. I read many accounts of large herds of starving deer roaming in residential suburbs eating the landscaping back to nothing. Even deer-proof plants are destroyed in those situations. I hope that doesn't occur here, but even at the current level, breeding and display apparently will require some vigilance and/or enclosures going into the future.
If I am able to maintain daylily plants in these beds, even if they never flower, it will underscore the need for foliage to look nice. It is an interesting coincidence that Mike Huben visited my garden after the National in Louisville, Ky just as this deer attack was occurring. We discussed foliage qualities and Mike mentioned that he tells people to look at a daylily plant and imagine that it was an ornamental grass, something not grown for the bloom, and that you might even break out the scape so as not to obscure the foliage display. I had to laugh out loud! I love that analogy. It also made me think. I have been growing daylilies for foliage for years, as I have used them as an ornamental grass substitute in my gardens for a long time. I always look at the plants in the off season and have favorites based solely on their lovely foliage display. However, I don't know if any plants will survive into the future in these beds if the deer population continues to expand in this area. Only time will tell, but if there is no full-scale destruction of the plants, I will use this problem as a tool in these beds and the large, open seedling beds to select seedlings for excellent foliage traits and plant habit.
My hybridizing garden has a double fence around it and so I have never had any problems. I have also never sprayed that garden, because to date I had never needed to. I also had an open gate at two points in the outer fence, and I had left those open for five years with no problem. No longer! That has been discovered and I have had to close those in and begin to spray that garden as well. I have also moved more large pots against the back fence where they had been coming over the fence even after I closed in the gates. I have now heavily sprayed this entire garden and have had no more hits, but got a heavy hit in the lower section of the outer fence one night and two nights in a row inside the inner fenced area, where there was less damage to any given plant, but more of an even browsing at about 20% removal of pods, flowers and buds. I can tell you that I was spitting mad when I found that first night's damage in this garden :-)
A select Chicago Apache seedling heavily damaged.
Tooth and Nail by John Benz. A lovely orange toothy tetraploid, also heavily damaged.
Curt Hanson's lovely red Peoples Pleasure Park had luckily been blooming long enough to have some pods, but had many more buds.
Bela Lugosi, also by Curt Hanson, had been blooming for a while and had a good number of seed pods, but most of those pods and the last of the buds and flowers were eaten. Luckily, there are a few pods left and all the pods were the result of the same long-cross.
A seedling patch of select five year old seedlings for breeding, decimated.
To remedy this situation, I will have to add frequent repellent spraying to this garden until I can increase the height of the current fence. I plan to attempt this by adding 10' conduit strapped to the T-posts that are already there. I will post in the future the details on whether this succeeds or fails in the longterm, but it will work as a temporary measure as I begin to make greater changes in my whole working system, infrastructure and program. In time, this garden, which already has several tree peony growing in it, will move more toward tree peony and continue to be used for some daylily and hosta breeding as long as the deer can be kept out. However, this needs to become more of a test garden where some breeding occurs though less than currently, with some planting changes especially to the fence-lines and a prioritization of what I now want to move forward with.
UV stabilized PVC Conduit - 10' long to add height to the hybridizing garden fence
It is now apparent that I will need to invest in an eight-foot chainlink fenced area somewhere. I would like to put that on ground that is level, so none of the current fenced areas will work. I do have beds that are in more level areas, but these are grow-out and seedling beds, so there may have to be some rearrangement of the purpose for the various areas to accommodate that change. Since the chainlink fencing is a considerable investment for a garden of any size above a few feet by a few feet, this will have to be given careful consideration and time for proper deliberation.
Here are two examples of beginning deer-graze signs. These are from a seedling bed I have been keeping sprayed. You have to keep a careful eye out each day for signs of new grazing. They will sample a few buds or scape-ends here and there to see if the bad taste is gone yet and once it is, they will come back and graze heavily. If you miss these early signs, you may well have a big problem very quickly. You can't rely on the commercial sprays to last as long as they are said to last. They rarely last more than ten to fourteen days in my garden, even when rated for a month. They might last longer in other gardens or under drier conditions, but our frequent rain seems to make it last considerably less than a month. The sprays are expensive, stink and give me a headache in addition to ruining the wonderful smell of the flowers that is such a big part of what I love about gardens. I do not consider sprays a solution, but rather a prophylactic until more secure boundaries can be established.
For this summer, I simply need to stay focused, hybridize what is left that still interests me, weed as needed, keep the gardens where the daylilies haven't been destroyed sprayed to keep the deer at bay, and think about what seems worth the time and effort to move forward with. At the very least, I will have far, far fewer seeds than in any previous year, except perhaps my first year of growing daylilies from seeds (winter 2010-2011). I can say that I am glad to note that several of the crosses I considered most important for this year have survived and there are lots of seed-pods of some of those crosses. These are with longterm tested parents. I have also consciously not set many diploid seeds. I had decided to get focused on certain projects and produce less seed this year even before the deer problem started. I have achieved that in spades, thanks to the deer, but I hadn't set seeds on most of the diploids anyhow, and luckily, many of the tetraploid and the few diploid crosses I have made will give me some seeds.
So this year's breeding season won't be a total loss. In fact, I will probably have plenty of seeds, but it is a bit demoralizing and the realization that I am going to have to completely rework, basically everything, makes me question how much I want to put into daylilies in the future, what directions I will want to pursue or if it is even worth the effort and expense. I assume I will want to move forward, and I doubt many, if any, of my previous priorities will be abandoned, but I do expect that I will drastically reduce numbers of individuals that I retain for any given program and I am now certain that diploid projects will be drastically reduced and most quickly.
If I can grow plants in the open, even if the flowers are eaten, I can still grow large numbers of seedlings and spend the first few years just culling them for foliage/plant traits/foliage disease resistance, which could truly turn out to be a huge asset to my program, but if the deer become more aggressive in their grazing and begin to destroy the plants as well as the flowers, then my program will have to reduce drastically, indeed. Only time will tell though, and for now this can actually be used to my advantage, I suspect, if I am clever enough to figure out how to use it to my advantage rather than just giving in to anger and frustration.
At this time, the main areas for using these difficulties to my advantage is to make some decisions about the space I want to use, the space I am willing to fence with chainlink, the number of plants I can comfortably maintain in the spaces I am interested in using and from there, what actual plants I want to retain and work with. I am not out yet, and my previous experience tells me that such situations can be blessings in disguise if you can find the patience and detachment to let the advantages reveal themselves. Time will tell. I will update on this situation as things advance or change.