Is Bambi cute? Or is Bambi venison? Are deer darling or destructive? The answer depends on the answerer. Hunters like to eat those cute, playful deer. Children like to feed them at petting zoos. And orchard owners hate them.
Deer damage trees in a few ways. They fray saplings by brushing against them repeatedly, especially along a trail they have made through an orchard. They nibble on the trees, chewing through the bark to the green wood. They also rub their antlers against the trees, stripping the bark, exposing the tree to pests and disease.
Another bad thing about deer is they don’t travel alone. Ten deer in your orchard for a long weekend can be very costly. If you want to be proactive, put a salt lick or trough of corn far away from your orchard. Once they get used to the free food, they’ll go there for their meals.
Deer aren’t very choosy, but if they find an orchard, any kind of orchard, they’ll make themselves at home with your fruit. That means your cash. Forest rangers have a very hard time keeping deer from wrecking new growth, but they have an entire forest to protect. An orchard, although sizable, can be deer-proofed with some persistence and a few key ingredients or hardware.
Let’s begin at the perimeter of the orchard. An electric fence is the best protection possible. Next to that, a plastic net type fence, also called a snow fence, works well, but it must be above eight feet high so deer can’t leap over it. If your orchard is too large and a fence isn’t an option, try placing a few motion detectors near the deer trail into the orchard. It’s not too difficult to figure out where they enter the grove. Have the detector blast a loud siren when it detects a medium-sized motion. That will keep it from going off when a squirrel runs past. A good loud horn will spook the deer. Usually if one deer gets spooked, the rest will get too.
Sprinkle some deer repellent lightly around the perimeter. Wolf urine, rabbit blood and cayenne pepper work well and can be purchased at the local garden center. It doesn’t have to be too concentrated to do the job. A witches mix of all of them is best. Chicken manure can also be scattered around the orchard to annoy the deer, who do not like the smell.
For more tree-centric protection, go to a barber shop or hair salon and ask them to save their clippings for you. Encircle the base of the trees with the hair. The smell of human hair will scare deer. Replace it regularly. Mix it with cayenne and wolf urine. Deer get used to any sort of repellent, so rotate your smells of choice.
Set up chicken wire barriers around each tree if necessary. Try setting up 4 stakes, each 6 feet high, around the trees. Then loop fishing line around the stakes, with about 6 inches between each loop. The deer will get their legs tangled in the line and won’t be able to pass through it easily.
Hang tin pans or pie plates from the lower limbs, like large wind chimes. This causes unpredictable clanging and reflects their image back to the deer, which scares them. Make scarecrows shaped like wolves or coyotes and place them where the deer will see them when they first enter the orchard. Alter the tactics until you find the best combination.
Deer can be controlled. It takes persistence and a willingness to discover what works for you. It also depends on how much you’re comfortable spending on the project. Fencing may seem expensive, but it would last for years. If the amount of damage isn’t worth the expense, try one of the other methods.
Darren Urman became a professional writer 15 years ago, when he retired as a building contractor. Darren joined the THF team of writers in July, 2009. He enjoys cooking, writing, and traveling.