DEER TRACKS: Smell the roses, but don’t eat my garden

DEER TRACKS: Smell the roses, but don’t eat my garden
Joe Dyer inspects a deer-resistant plant. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News

By David Rogers. April 15, 2018. BLOWING ROCK, NC – If you catch members of The Rotary Club of Blowing Rock peeing around the perimeter of their flower beds in the next few weeks, credit Rotarian Art Scurlock and Mustard Seed Market’s Danielle Stewart for the inspiration.

Stewart served up the program for Rotary last week at Chetola Mountain Resort in Blowing Rock, discussing various strategies for keeping the region’s burgeoning deer population from ravaging through gardens and flower beds as the planting season gets underway. After showing examples of certain plants and their flowers, as well as talking about various over-the-counter retail products, such as sprays, Stewart fielded questions.

Scurlock raised his hand and invoked the name of Jerry Baker, who before his death in 2017 was recognized as “America’s Master Gardner” for his extolling the virtues of do-it-yourself “tonics.”

“He talks about human urine as a (deterrent to deer),” Scurlock offered.

To which Stewart replied, “Yep.”

She added to laughter, “It works great. All you men – and you women too, but you guys have easier apparatus…”

Although an estimated 100 years after European settlers came to America’s East Coast the deer population was almost destroyed due to hunting for meat without any thought of conservation, efforts to restore the deer population began in the 1940s and through the 1970s. Today, according to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, more than one million white-tailed deer are estimated to inhabit the state.

Stewart recalled for the crowded room of Rotarians that she and her husband moved to the High Country from Charlotte several years ago. “We both wanted to own our own business. We had parents who were entrepreneurs and we thought it would be fun. Rob was in sales and I was in a design firm.

“We sold our house,” Stewart disclosed. “We had a newborn baby. I quit my job. We sold a car. We moved up here really not having a game plan. But we were determined to start our own business and we are both hard workers. I had great faith that if it didn’t work out Rob would support us, since I was nursing a child and the child needed to be fed.

“Honestly,” she continued, “we worked really hard. It has been a labor of love and we feel really blessed to have the Watauga community come to us, to allow us to help people make their gardens and their lives a little bit prettier.

“We built the business up from nothing,” smiled Stewart, “so it can be done. We enjoy what we are doing.”

Stewart observed that one of the challenges of living in the mountains and trying to grow plants is deer.

“Everybody has (deer),” she said. “We love to look at them and some people like to feed them, but people don’t like it when the deer eat all of the plants they have just purchased. It is frustrating.”

Then she laid out several strategies to help with the deer problem, from the types of plants in which people invest, to deterring deer once the plants are in the ground.

“The only way to be really sure that the deer won’t get in your garden,” the local gardening expert said, “is to enclose it with at least a 6-foot fence.”

She also noted that deer are creatures of habit and routine, with fairly set paths that they take as they forage for food.  If a new plant is in their path, they’ll taste it at least once to see if they like it. If they do, they’ll keep coming back. She suggested that new plants known to have fragrances or tastes that they don’t like will tend to alter or change their habits.

“There are things that the deer don’t like,” said Stewart. “If you can incorporate more of the deer-resistant plants and fewer of the ones they love, then you are in the game.

Stewart shared that a deer’s dining tastes have changed as available forage has declined.

Cullie Tarleton, left, didn’t pull the winning joker from Sabine Miller’s shrinking deck of cards in the 50-50 game.

“We used to be able to say, ‘Oh, they aren’t going to touch your roses.’,” she recalled. “But about 10 or 12 years ago we had a 3-year dry spell, and the deer started coming in and eating more plants and various kinds of plants than they ever had before. They started eating holly, and rhododendron. The problem was that there was nothing in the woods for them to eat.”

From laying out strips of old VHS tape and sticking glittery pinwheels in the ground, both of which make unnerving sounds for deer when the wind blows even a little bit, to retail sprays, Stewart offered several suggestions for Blowing Rock residents to try as deer deterrents.

In other Rotary club business, Jim Clabough gave an optimistic report on Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show advertising sales, while Bill Leahey announced that so far only three Horse Derby tickets had been purchased.  Joe Dyer also reminded volunteers about the Career Day on Thursday (April 12th) for all 7th grader students in the county, an event that was first organized by The Rotary Club of Blowing Rock in 2002.

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