Deer love eating apples and apple trees. Many plant apple trees for themselves, some for wildlife, including deer. No matter whom you expect to harvest the apples, one thing is for certain: If you do not protect the newly planted and young trees from deer, the trees will never reach maturity to bare fruit. Deer can eat all of the foliage or use their antlers to kill a young apple tree. So what is an orchardist to do?
Here are some suggestions:
1. The best way to keep deer away from apple trees is to build a fence. Before you read further, know that this option can get expensive. If you wish to read about these fences, skip to the bottom portion of this page.
2. Put a wire hoop around each tree that is 4 feet in diameter and about 4 to 5 feet tall. Put two sturdy stakes in the ground to hold it steady. It can be removed when the trees are much taller.
3. Try taking a bar of Irish spring soap...cut into 4 pieces....pierce with an ice pick.....tie it to each tree using nylon string. This usually works for a several weeks until a better plan can be made (example: the wire hoops)
4. Some sprays do work.....I don't know all of them. I use Thiram, an older fungicide that may be a little hard to find, but is excellent. I mix about 1/2 quart of the chemical in 5 gallons of water. I add about 1/2 cup of a Sticker-spreader, such as "Nu-Film 17". This mixture is not harmful to you or the deer, but it smells distasteful to the deer (and rabbits) and the sticker -spreader will keep the chemical on the leaves and tree for 2 to 4 weeks. After you have spayed it 2 or 3 times, you will have some residual left on the tree which will may each subsequent spray more effective. This will work, but you may have to spend about $100 to get the chemicals. The good news is that you will have purchased enough chemical for 3 to 6 years of deer protection if you have 100 trees.
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MAJOR FENCE DESIGNS
There are many fence designs, here are three:
-----Fence #1. Place one strand of electric fence wire (17 gauge) around the trees planted. The fence should be about 30 inches off of the ground. Attach the fence to an electric fence box. Read all instructions on the electric fence energizer carefully so that it will operate properly. Every 50 feet, place a 4 inch by 4 inch square of aluminum foil on the fence with a sturdy paperclip. Smear a mixture of peanut butter and vegetable oil on the foil. The deer will lick the peanut butter, get shocked, knock the fence down in that spot…….but will be scared from going to the same spot in the future. This works if the deer pressure is not too great.
----Fence #2. Use high-tensile fence wire (about 12.5 gauge) and construct a major fence. (this is one of the two fences that I use) Use large wooden posts at corners, gates, and about every 100 feet. The wooden posts should be about 11 feet long. Plant each in the ground at least 30 inches, preferably 36 inches. Smaller, metal “T-posts” can be used between the long expanses of wooden posts. Six to eight wires should be strung from the ground to about six feet in height. The first strand is 10 inches from the ground, the others are spaced evenly to the six foot height. Two more strands of lighter-weight 17 gauge wire are strung up to the full height of the wooden posts. These wire will not attach to the metal posts. Flagging ribbon is then tied every 50 to 100 feet from the top wire. Construct the fence so that the bottom six wires can be electrified with the fence energizer. You may need to us the peanut butter method as described above to initially train the deer. This fence works well with moderate deer pressure.
----Fence #3. Construct a fence with woven wire at the bottom (four feet high) and two or three strands of high tensile wire at the top. The fence will be about 8 feet high, so the wooden posts will need to be 11 feet tall, with three feet in the ground (8 feet sticking out above the earth). There will be no electricity on this fence and it requires less maintenance, but there will need to be many more wooden posts used which drives up the cost and labor involved. (note: deer would rather go through a fence than jump it, so this fence works much better than one would think. I have one fence of this type around my largest orchard and it works very well.