Deer and aucubas

Earlier this morning, sipping a second cup of coffee I watched through the kitchen window as seven young deer trotted past the garden. In recent weeks I’ve seen much more of this group, though usually only one or two at a time.

There’s not so much to eat in the garden in February with deciduous shrubs bare and the top growth of perennials dormant. There are plenty of evergreens, but many are needled or thorny plants that deer avoid, and others are protected by a deer repellent.

Gold Dust Aucuba in the snow

Gold Dust Aucuba in the snow

I do not protect the liriopes, and now most have been nibbled to the ground, which is convenient so that cutting them back isn’t added to my list of chores to be accomplished in March. I noticed this afternoon that foliage of one of the Japanese aucubas has been nearly stripped bare, with a few leaves left on a second, and a bit eaten from two others.

This is disappointing since I tried something a little different in autumn. Instead of spraying the regular repellent, I experimented with a tablet form of capsaicin that is taken up through the roots, and purportedly would protect for as long as a year. This worked fine from September until last week, which is about the timing when deer become the hungriest in every winter. Perhaps the aucuba leaves were a bit spicier than usual, but apparently this was not a deterrent.

Now, I wonder if I should run out to spray the other aucubas and camellias, and with temperatures barely reaching freezing, will it even stick? The choice is to let them be, which is likely to result in the remaining aucubas being stripped, or to try the spray.

Winter's Joy camellia in early December

Winter’s Joy camellia in early December

A time or two in recent years I either neglected the November repellent application or forgot one plant or another, so this will not be the first time the aucubas have been eaten. Recovery is slow through the spring, and it’s not until the second year they look right again.

The last time I looked, Japanese aucubas were not on the list of plants highly susceptible to deer browsing, but in winter deer are not quite so picky. The same with camellias. Later in the afternoon the seven returned, and this time they stopped for a bite. When I opened the window to shoo them off, the largest of the group dropped a camellia leaf he was munching on. He picked it up, then bounded away with the rest of his buddies. Certainly they’ll be back, so if I’m going to spray the repellent I’d better do it tonight before dark.

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