Tracks in the snow


The morning after a recent snowfall the back garden was crisscrossed by deer tracks. This was hardly a revelation. I can’t claim that the local deer community is comparable to areas nearby that are vastly overpopulated. By comparison, there are few in this neighborhood, but the small group of deer beds down in the thicket neighboring my garden, and hoof prints in the snow lead in every direction from this nearly impenetrable tangle of briars and brambles.Nandina covered by ice

It’s no secret that I’m too often guilty of failing to keep up with simplest and most basic  chores for upkeep of the garden, but, by some minor miracle I sprayed the deer repellent on evergreens in November when I was supposed to. Despite prolonged cold, ice storms, and several measurable snowfalls, I’ve seen little damage to foliage in the garden, and it’s likely that what I imagine to be a few nibbles, are in fact, not. A year ago I neglected to spray, and deer predictably ate every leaf of Japanese aucubas, azaleas, and camellias that they could reach, so that these shrubs spent most of the year recovering.Gold Dust aucuba in early December

Despite some minor setbacks, I remain convinced that spraying deer repellent is the easiest way to prevent damage from deer, while also enabling the gardener to plant anything he desires without regard to its resistance. In case you care to research the somewhat limited list of plants that are not prone to deer damage, Rutgers University provides a great service by grading a variety of ornamental plants (visit Unfortunately, the list is assembled alphabetically by common plant names, so occasionally I struggle when only the scientific name comes to mind.

While there are abundant deer in the garden, curiously, there are no geese, though dozens and often hundreds occupy nearby parts of the neighborhood. Along the southern border of the garden is a swath of forest bisected by a small, spring fed creek. The neighborhood was a farm not too many years in the past, and where the rolling hills descend into a damp sort of bottom land, a forest of swamp red maples and tulip poplars sprouted.Canadian geese in the pond

Up the hill, and on the far side of the strip of forest, is a farm pond that was constructed recently enough that it has an overflow pipe, but far enough into the past that the pond was not  in its infant stage when my wife and I moved in twenty five years ago. On any day, this pond might have a dozen geese, or a few hundred, and these very often wander onto the street and to make a mess of the neighbors’ lawns.

A drive to the grocery store on a Saturday morning frequently involves shooing many slightly panicked geese off the road, but in testament to the patience and good manners of the neighbors, I’ve not yet seen one that has been hit by a vehicle (though perhaps if one was done in, the evidence was quickly disposed of). The point of this circuitous tale is that while there will be dozens of geese directly across the street digging grubs from the lawn, they avoid my property as if our old coon dogs were still prowling about.Canadian geese in the farm pond

I’m certain that there are plenty of grubs in my sad excuse for a lawn, but why geese avoid the property is relatively simple, I think. The forest and thicket, and the dense planting of the garden provide excellent cover for not only deer, but also predators. My wife and I regularly see evidence of raccoons and skunks, and on occasion we see a fox or coyote  in the daylight. I suppose that geese prefer the safety of open spaces, though certainly there is temptation in a garden chock full of tasty treats.

I don’t get to decide on the trade off, but I think that I prefer having the somewhat manageable deer in the garden, rather than geese that hardly pay attention, even to the neighborhood’s dogs. They gouge holes in the lawns, and I can only presume the digging that would be done in the garden’s beds. Fortunately, my property has been declared off limits.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Don Peters says:

    Do you think the reason the geese don’t come to your yard could be due to the deer repellant you sprayed? I guess one way to check this out would be comparing this year to last year, when you said you didn’t spray repellant. Did you have geese in your yard then?

    1. Dave says:

      Through trial and error I’ve learned which plants need to be sprayed and those that are naturally resistant (at least, I’ve mostly figured it out). So, I save on time spraying and the cost of the repellent. The front lawn (where they are most likely to come into the property since the geese are thirty feet across the street) has almost no plants that require the repellent, so the geese could be aerating and ridding my lawn of grubs without coming close to a shrub that’s been sprayed.

      Also, we’ve had geese in the neighborhood years before I began spraying a repellent, though at the time I figured the geese stayed away because of our aggressive hounds. There was some time between the dogs being gone and when I began to spray, and still no geese. My wife and I guessed that the geese had long and painful memories of our dogs, with stories passed from one generation to the next, but we didn’t really believe it.

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