Darn deer! Why I cage woody plants in fall and winter

My 6-year-old nephew, who was here for Thanksgiving dinner, asked why I’d put cages around some of my plants. Isn’t it the silliest looking thing? Wire cages are not exactly my idea of fine garden decor.

But short of ditching agaves, yuccas, and other stiff-leaved or woody plants from my front garden, I may have to resign myself to cage them each fall through winter to protect them from deer. No, they’re not eating these plants. They’re antlering them. In autumn, bucks in rut will rub against plants to remove the velvet from their antlers, leave their scent, and engage in territorial displays. They may continue to rub through late winter to help them shed their antlers. In my neighborhood bucks tend to favor sapling trees, so everyone has to cage their young trees or see them get girdled (which kills them slowly) or shredded (a fast death).

I’ve discovered that deer also like the stiffness and maybe even the thorniness of certain of my agaves and yuccas. This damage occurred in early November to my beautiful ‘Green Goblet’ agave. I was aghast when I noticed it but grateful that the plant wasn’t completely destroyed and I still had time to save it.

One of my trio of ‘Margaritaville’ yuccas wasn’t so lucky. Antlering had crushed the plant, breaking off the central core of leaves and leaving it there like a squirrel flattened by a passing car. This damage occurred the same night that the ‘Green Goblet’ was partly shredded.

The next morning I found some rolled wire in the garage, leftover from some project or other, and wrapped it around my damaged plants and a few others that were as yet unharmed. I didn’t have enough wire for all my yuccas or agaves, however, so I practiced triage and left unprotected the ones growing near salvias and other fragrant-leaved, deer-resistant plants. So far so good…

…although in past years the softleaf yucca by the driveway has been hit hard. I generally spray my softleafs with deer repellent in fall and winter in hopes of deterring the bucks. I caught one buck in the act a few years ago.

It’s so frustrating to find plants that can take our extremes of heat and drought, only to see them ravaged by these horned devils showing off for their lady friends.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

19 Responses

  1. Jenny says:

    Just when we think we have found plants they don’t eat we find another menacing habit. I’m so sorry to see such damage to those lovely plants. They haven’t touched mine yet but they have chewed of yuccas. I never see a bloom because they are too tasty.

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    For goodness sakes. Who would have thought it??? The rotten buggers. I am glad you had some wire to deter them.

  3. Amen! Darn deer.

    They’ve ruined two Spanish Bayonets here. I hope IT HURT!!
    Not that I’m vindictive, or anything.

    I don’t like the cages. But, you gotta do, what you’ve gotta do.

  4. cheryl says:

    My 36″ tall Paulonia tree is now a 12″ stump thanks to some buck. We will see if they really DO grow fast from “stumps”. The buck or bucks also destroyed my Rockrose shrub. I wouldn’t feel quite so angry if they would only leave me an antler now and then. Grrrrrr….

  5. And I thought my neighbors cat was a foul creature…

  6. Anna, north of San Antonio says:

    I have the same problem. I found if you paint both sides of the wire with brown paint(use a roller)you can’t see the wire so much, especially from the street.

  7. Kris P says:

    It never occurred to me that deer would go after those plants – I complain about the raccoons but they clearly have nothing on deer. The cages are a very reasonable protection under the circumstances – maybe you could decorate the cages with lights for the holidays?!

  8. louis says:

    Crazy!!! that’s soo sad. Like you say, plants that can handle the heat and extremes of a climate only to be destroyed by deer is really disheartening. Hopefully they recover quickly.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      My fingers are crossed, Louis. I know the ‘Green Goblet’ will recover. I hope the yucca will. Still, it’s the long-term game of deer-proofing that I get tired of. —Pam

  9. I know the feeling, we have a herd of deer in the woods just outside our garden gates. I keep most hostas and my evergreen doogwood permanently caged.They destroyed a beautiful little Japanese maple during rut season this fall. Here’s a thought, maybe I’ll try it! Tomato cages upside down, decorated with solar Christmas lights. Voila, instant small lighted trees! Good luck with your yuccas. That’s one thing they haven’t touched here.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Our inherited Japanese maple by the house has some antlering damage on the trunk, probably from when it was smaller. Luckily they’ve left it alone since we’ve been in the house, so I haven’t had to cage it. I’m glad your yuccas are left alone. —Pam

  10. Great “in-action” pics for those who don’t believe. I still have clients who “value engineer” out protective cages for our voracious rabbits…whoops! Sounds like your deer and our rabbits do the worst damage in the cool season.