Protect your trees with fencing

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courtesy Purdue Extension

Our family has mixed emotions about deer, and can be divided into two camps.  Those who hunt/observe deer and those who plant trees. My household falls into the planting camp, where we would rather not see deer eat the trees we have worked so hard to cultivate. (Although our dog fancies them so much he will chase them for days and days until he realizes he is lost.)

After years of trying various plants in hopes of finding those the deer don’t like to eat, we realized that fencing our plantings is really the best bet.  Up to now, we have tried alternatives to fencing with mixed results.

We thought our dogs would keep them away, but one ran away and the other got chased home by a doe protecting her fawn.  We put out scent based repellents, but these weren’t very effective.  I guess deer don’t find the scent of our hair very intimidating.  

We tried spraying the tips of the trees with repellents, but they tend to wash off.  We tried the repellents you put in the soil for the trees to take up into their leaves and branches, but the deer still took a bite out of our trees before finding it distasteful.  So, even though they didn’t eat the whole tree or shrub, they still damaged the plant and set the growth back.

Bud caps work pretty well, and are relatively cheap.  You can put a piece of folded cardboard over the tip of the branches when the trees are dormant to keep the deer from eating the buds.  Unfortunately, you have to take the caps off in the spring, and then the trees are vulnerable to browse.

So we settled on fencing our planted trees, to the amusement of our local neighbor “experts”.  They were convinced a fence was way more expensive than individual tree cages or shelters/tubes.  That can be true for fenced areas less than an acre in size, but, once you are above that, fences are the less expensive option.

There are all kinds of options out there for configurations and components, from vertical posts to angled outward posts and plastic mesh to electric.  Our first small trial involved 6 foot welded wire, even though all the recommendations out there are for at least 7 feet.  We haven’t had deer jump into the fenced area, but one wandered in through an open gate and easily jumped out when I chased it.       

We ended up going with 7 foot plastic mesh, which was easy to work with and relatively inexpensive.  I have heard the lifespan of these can be 5-7 years, but ours has been up 13 without any major degradation. Wooden posts are highly recommended since you can easily staple/tack the fence and supporting wires.

I should mention that we scouted the location of our planting before we put one tree in the ground.  We figured out how we would access the site, where stormwater was going to run off, and looked for any established deer trails.  Rather than plant and fence over an established deer trail, it is recommended to leave the trail intact and split the plantation into two with their own fencing.

Installation went pretty smoothly even over relatively uneven terrain.  The light, flexible fencing adapted well to the shifting ground level.  We put in supporting wires at the top, middle and at the bottom of the fence to make sure it stayed in place.

Rather than square corners, we went with 45 degree angles at the corners with the posts about 10 feet apart.  This made mowing all the way into the corner much easier. We also left plenty of room between the fence and the trees to maneuver our equipment around easily.

Maintaining the fence has been pretty easy.  We check to make sure the fence isn’t sagging anywhere and we keep the fence line weed free.  Some people like to leave plants growing around the base of and through the fence to help secure it to the ground.  If you go that route, never allow vines to grow on the fence as they can increase the wind resistance of the fence and lead to it being blown over.

Our hardwood trees are looking great with no losses due to deer browse.  We will probably end up tearing down the fence once the trees are well established, and recycle many of the components into the next tree planting we do.