Save Money: Use Trees as Fence Posts

While building a deer-proof fence for my orchard, I've put trees to use as fence posts, significantly reducing the cost of the project.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

In recent weeks, I’ve started building an 8-foot fence to protect my young orchard from being unceremoniously consumed by the dozens of deer that frequent my farm. Because I have a long and strained relationship with deer—through the years, they’ve chewed on more of my trees than I care to count—I knew I’d need to construct a formidable fence around my orchard to keep my trees safe. It was just a question of cost.

Fortunately, I’ve found a few ways to cut down on expenses. One big advantage? The field where I planted my orchard is surrounded on three sides by forest. In addition to lines of mature trees, there are countless young sugar maple and green ash trees scattered through the edges of the forest. Ranging in diameter from 2 to 4 inches, they’re perfect replacements for stakes or fence posts. Maybe they’re even better, because they are rooted firmly to the ground, and the larger trees hardly give at all when you push on them. This also saves the time of using a post-hole digger to prepare the ground and set the fence posts.

So basically, I’ve been able to fence in my orchard on three sides without introducing the cost of stakes or posts. I’m using long plastic zip ties to attach the fence itself (made of tough black plastic) to branches and tree trunks, leaving a little bit of wiggle room for the trees to grow. Eventually, I might have to replace the zip ties as the trees grow larger, but that is several years away, and the zip ties might well be nearing the end of their lifespan in the fence by that point anyway.

In a few places, I’ve had to attach the fence to mature trees, and in these instances zip ties don’t work as well because I would have to string a bunch of them together to go around trunks measuring a foot or two in diameter. Instead, I attaching the fence to the mature trees using horseshoe nails. I don’t love the idea of pounding nails into the trees, but I figure it’s no more harmful than tapping maple trees for their sap to make maple syrup.

Of course, in a few places the forest opens up a little bit and there are no suitable trees to serve as posts. For these sections, I’ve installed metal T-posts to support the fence, but I don’t expect to use more than 10 or 12.

Arguably, the trickiest part of this project was clearing a path for the fence to follow. Rather than run the fence across the front of the tree line—which would prevent me from easily accessing the beautiful mature trees on the edge of the forest—I chose to set the fence back within the forest about 10 to 20 feet. This required me to take my pruning loppers and bushwhack an opening through the forest about 4 feet wide and 8 feet tall. It took some time and effort, but the results have been worth it—unraveling the fence along the path has been easy and straightforward.

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After working six afternoons, I’m about 75 percent through installing a quarter-mile of fencing. I’m pleased with the results so far; the trees are holding the fence straight and tall, and I’m optimistic that I’ll finally come out a winner in my ongoing battle against deer.

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