PHOTO: Daniel Johnson
September 18, 2018

Up on my northern Wisconsin farm, deer are a pretty big issue. Oh, they’re nice enough to watch frolicking in the fields or meandering along the edges of the forest, but they’re voracious eaters, very destructive and altogether too numerous. Have you ever seen 30 deer at a single time? I have.

So I’m sure you can understand my concern when I planted 10 young fruit trees to start a new orchard on my farm. It seems that deer like nothing better than to eat special plants standing out in the open—forget that there’s a whole national forest to consume, let’s focus on fruit trees—so I knew beforehand that my trees would be vulnerable to deer if left unguarded.

Because I had no intention of allowing my future orchard to be eaten by hungry deer before I’d tasted so much as a single apple or plum, I knew I needed to construct fences around the trees to keep the deer away. Because deer are stubborn, resilient and surprisingly capable of overcoming blockades, it would have to be a good fence.

Ultimately, I plan to surround the entire orchard area with 8-foot, deer-proof fencing that will eliminate the issue once and for all. But because a project of that scope takes time to prepare and construct, I needed to start with a simpler solution.

So, I wound up constructing variations of the simple, effective fence I built to protect the farm garden from marauding deer. The main ingredient, of course, was 6-foot welded wire fencing, which I attached with zip ties to a quartet of metal T-posts to form a square of protective wire around each tree. With the sides of the square measuring about 6 feet long (just enough to enclose my trees with some room to spare on each side), I needed about 25 feet of wire per tree, so 250 feet total plus 40 T-posts.

It might sound ambitious, but it was really pretty simple. Because I’m not as concerned about smaller critters in the orchard as I am in the garden, I skipped the step of adding hardware cloth to the bottom of the wire enclosures, choosing to install only the 6-foot welded wire. At this point, you might be thinking, “How will a fence just 6 feet tall keep out the deer?” Well, it’s true that deer can jump a fence of that height, but because I’m enclosing such a small area (with a tree filling most of it), it would take a very bold (or a very stupid) deer to enter such an unforgiving, restricted space.

In the end, it took very little time to construct a fence around each tree, and thus far the results have been perfect. I’ve seen plenty of deer wandering through my orchard, but I’ve found no evidence that they’ve interfered with the fences or tried to push through to grab a bite. Instead, my trees are happy and healthy, protected from harm while they wait for the taller perimeter fence to be constructed.

Because these fences are only temporary until I build that perimeter fence, I’m not too concerned about weeds coming up around each tree. However, in case weeds do start to get out of hand, I left one end of the wire around each tree disconnected from its stake, choosing instead to tie the wire in place. This means that it’s easy for me to open up the wire to access the inside of the fence, which is ideal for weeding and for adding or removing tree wrap and tree guards from the trunks.

Here’s hoping that the trees blossom and produce fruit next year.

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