Welcome to Book of the Week – a weekly feature offering you a glimpse between the pages of an Acres U.S.A. published title. Get the Book of the Week email newsletter delivered directly to your in box! This week’s Book of the Week feature is Preventing Deer Damage by Robert G. Juhre.
Many times a homeowner needs to protect trees or shrubs that may be outside a deer fenced area or may be specimen plants in an unfenced locale. Here are some methods of protection to consider. Most are simpler and less costly than securing a large area.
Young trees are vulnerable to a deer’s browsing habits, especially when they are relatively small and easily reached. This is particularly true of non-native trees not indigenous to your locale. All fruit trees and many flowering ornamentals are on a deer’s tasty list.
A cage will protect a single tree, but it must be high enough to prevent a deer from reaching it when standing on its hind legs. It must also be installed wide enough to accommodate the tree’s natural spread, as it becomes tall enough to outgrow a deer’s reach. The mesh should be small enough to prevent the deer from reaching through the mesh openings to grab a limb. If you are trying to protect a small orchard, then a conventional type deer fence is probably the desired option. If protecting a few trees, the barrier method is possibly the way to go. Here are some options.
Metal Post with Sheep Wire
Mark a square around your tree and remove any sod or weeds that may be there. Make the square large enough to accommodate future growth until the tree is of a size to no longer be deer feed or to the tree’s ultimate size, if the fence is to be permanent. Set a metal post in each corner of your square and attache 6′ mesh fencing with post clips. Attache one end in a manner that will allow easy removal at a later time as you may want to be able to enter the enclosure to weed or fertilize. It is not as important that the tree barrier be as tight to the ground as a regular fence, as it is unlikely a deer will crawl under the barrier into an enclosed area. Four inch mesh is an acceptable mesh size, but 2″ is even more secure.
To reduce cost and labor you could set a single post and encircle the tree with the mesh wire. The other three sides can be held in place with short stakes. This is not quite as sturdy, but in most cases will deter a deer as well as the more substantial four stake method. When the mesh is no longer needed as a tree barrier, it can be moved to the vegetable garden and become an intensive method garden support. Set the circle of mesh in your garden and plant cucumbers, pole beans, peas or tomatoes around its perimeter. Put any garden debris and grass clippings inside the wire enclosure. This will keep weeds from growing. You have also effectively recycle your tree fence. Maybe you don’t want to wait to recycle and should try this gardening method anyway?
Wooden Posts with Boards
This is the same concept as the previous fence. A wooden post with board fence is more substantial and will protect your tree against elk, horses, cattle and deer. It is more expensive, but also more attractive. Use treated posts or cedar for longevity. The fence can be kept natural looking or painted like the large horse farms in the east. the wood post and board fence is generally used when a permanent fence is desired. A post and pole fence works, but is generally not as strong.
Your tree may not be attractive to a deer’s taste buds, but is still susceptible to bark damage from horn rubbings. By wrapping the trunk with a commercial tree wrap, you can avoid this problem and also protect the young tree from possible mice and vole bark chewing. Tree wrappings will also prevent winter sun scald, which can be a problem in some areas.
Tree tubes are not too well known and are relatively new devices for helping young trees get a start. From all reports they dramatically increase the growth and survival rates of young trees. They also prevent browsing and trunk damage.
Tree tubes are polypropylene tubes that are three, four or five feet tall. They are placed over a seedling at planting time. The seedling is forced to grow upward towards the light. The branches are contained within the tube. Check with your local extension service or arboretum regarding this method of protecting seedlings from damage and also enhancing growth.
There are various no-tangle soft nets that can be used to cover trees and other ornamentals. These are usually described as bird nets, but they can be used to protect new growth, strawberry patches, other berries, and fruits at harvest time. Don’t spray edibles with most commercial deterrents.
Netting comes in a variety of widths and lengths and in various mesh sizes. It is usually green, which makes it virtually invisible. Deer just don’t like to bite into netting. This can be a viable solution for temporary or seasonal protection. The netting can be used over many seasons, so it is fairly cost effective.
Protruding Wire Ends
I don’t like this solution for many reasons, but I will present it because in some situations it has an application. Short wires can be tied to branches with the ends protruding. It is time consuming, somewhat dangerous to humans, but it will prevent deer from poking their nose into areas where you don’t want them.
Floating row covers have been around for a long time. They have offered gardeners a way to protect their vegetable crops from the invasion of insects, as well as protecting crops against cool weather and frosts. Row covers also help retain moisture in the soil and moderate soil surface temperature. Light and water readily pass through the porous surface of the floating row covers. They also prevent deer from eating emerging plants. The row cover can actually be left on plants all season, as long as pollination is allowed and the row doesn’t become too hot. Most gardeners use row covers only early in the season for their help in germination and for insect protection, but remove them later for appearances sake. Who wants to grow a bunch of white rows of fabric, when you should be looking at beautiful plants?
Similar to row covers, hoop houses can be constructed from one inch PVC pipe and covered with plastic sheeting.
Moveable Deer Cages
If you are into raised beds you can make a mobile lightweight deer cage. If they are the usual 4′ wide beds, make a light frame of wood and staple on 1″ chicken wire. You can make it as high as that particular crop will grow or just make them 2′ high, which will accommodate most vegetables.
If you are planting corn, make the cage four foot high and then use the intensive method of planting four kernels per square foot. Plant short height corn inside. Regardless of the height, you still need to make a screened top to prevent the deer from reaching inside.
Monofilament Fishing Line
This fence is practically invisible which will please the most discerning gardener. Use lightweight bamboo garden stakes and attach strong monofilament fishing line to it at four feet and two feet heights. This works if the deer are not too persistent.
A gardener in east central Florida insists that a monofilament fish line stretched taut at a hight of four feet will keep deer at bay. Dr. Dickman writing in American Rose Society magazine offers the conjecture that the taut fishing line might vibrate at a frequency only heard by the deer.
About the Author:
After 50 years of gardening in deer country fro New York to North Carolina to Washington state, Robert G. Juhre has tried just about every repellent and barrier option there is and shares his many tips abou twhat works and what does not. On his remote mountaintop property near Kettle Falls, Washington, Juhre successfully secured four acres of gardens and orchards from deer, bear and elk and left the rest of his 16-acre property for the wildlife to inhabit. Battle won!