by Connie Oswald Stofko
I saw some beautiful gardens when I was in Atlanta a couple weeks ago to attend the conference of GWA: The Association of Garden Communicators. But since the climate is so different there, I wasn’t sure I would be able to bring back any tips that would help us here in Western New York.
Then we went to the home of Lee Dunn and her husband Mike. There I saw something that should interest gardeners who are desperate to keep deer out of their yards.
It’s what Mike Dunn calls a deer grate, and he designed and built it himself. It’s modeled after a cattle guard, which is used to keep cows and other livestock from getting into roadways.
Dunn’s deer grate is basically metal tubes set into a recessed area of the concrete driveway. The tubes are spaced just a little farther apart than the length of a deer’s hoof.
What happens when a deer steps on the grate?
“I’ve watched deer walk up to it, look down and walk away,” Dunn said. “I’ve never had a deer walk on it. They would have had trouble if they did.
“I haven’t had deer penetration in four years.”
Let me note that you need more than just a deer grate to keep deer out; fences are are a large part of the Dunns’ defense system. The deer grate just keeps the deer from entering along the driveway.
The Dunns’ large property, which they call Dunhaven, is set in a hollow and the land at the edges of the hollow slopes up. Tall fences are set near the top of the slope. Some of the fences are chain link, about 6 1/2 feet high, with wire strung about 6 inches above the top of the fence. Other fences are steel picket fences that Dunn welded himself.
Oh, and that’s another thing. If you want to install something like this yourself, you need skills in concrete and welding.
“If someone is pretty handy, they can do it themselves,” Dunn said. “There’s not a lot of precision involved.”
If you don’t have skills in concrete and welding, he estimates it might cost you $4,000 to have a deer grate installed. That includes $1,500 for the concrete, $1,000 for the steel and $1,500 for the welding.
To Dunn, the deer grate is worth the expense. One year he and his wife put in $2,000 worth of plants, only to have the deer devour the plants the same weekend. If you look at the cost of plants over the life of the garden, he thinks it’s a wise investment.
“Just the reduction in blood pressure alone is worth it,” Dunn said.
Beating the deer became a matter of pride as well.
“Deer have brains the size of a walnut,” Dunn said. “My feeling was that if I couldn’t beat them, I should give up gardening.”
(Fact check: Dale Hoffman of Cheektowaga, my brother-in-law who is a deer hunter, says a deer’s brain is probably closer in size to a tangerine than a walnut. Still, a human brain is much larger than a deer’s brain. And many gardeners who are dealing with deer can commiserate with Dunn.)
Without the deer grate, Dunn said his property would be the “Dunn buffet. The deer would come in and clean us out.”
Dunn had help from another person in constructing the deer grate. They dug about 8 inches deep, then poured the concrete. The recessed area is about 6 inches deep. Metal beams are set the long way on top of the concrete. Hollow metal tubes are set across the beams and welded into place.
Not only can the deer grate stand up to cars, it can hold tractors, trucks and cranes that come onto the property for tree maintenance and other work.
Since deer can leap 18 feet, Dunn made the deer grate 22 feet long.
“That launched generation one, but deer were still getting in,” Dunn said.
It turns out that the deer were jumping diagonally to get across the grate.
“I had to give them a little credit for that one,” he said.
But Dunn was persistent. He built ornamental half-moon shapes, which look like hand rails, to prevent the deer from jumping diagonally across the grate. Since then, he hasn’t had a single deer in his garden.
Next year GWA: The Association of Garden Communicators will hold its convention in Buffalo. I can’t wait to show them what we have here in Western New York!