Monday, December 8, 2014

Protecting your Trees from Deer

When you think of fruit tree pests, the first thing that comes to mind is probably an insect, blight, or fungus. In many urban and rural areas though, deer will cause significant damage to fruit trees, making them a destructive pest for some gardeners.

Deer are a Common Fruit Tree Pest in Many Urban and Rural Areas

You can easily identify damage caused by deer. Deer do not have incisors on their upper jaw so they will grab hold of a branch with their lower incisors and upper gums and jerk their head to break off the branches they eat. If you have deer damage on your fruit trees, you will be able to see many broken branches up to 5 feet from the ground. Deer are capable of standing on their hind legs to reach taller branches, but only do so if they are extremely hungry, there is a large population in your area, or a shortage of food. If deer are really hungry, they will also use their lower incisors to strip the bark of your fruit trees for food. Deer are usually a larger problem in the winter because they congregate in lower elevations to avoid deep snow and to seek out new food sources.

Fruit Trees are More Desirable to Deer in Winter Months

To protect your fruit trees from deer, there are three types of products on the market.

First is blood. Spraying blood around your property sounds kind of gruesome, but it is an effective way to deter deer because the smell of blood will trigger their natural flight responses because it usually means a predator is in the area.

Second is urine. Predator urine can be purchased and sprayed around your property and works in a similar manner to blood. The smell of predator urine will naturally deter deer as they will avoid the area for fear of their life.

Third are taste deterrents. Like any other animal, deer will eat what they think tastes good. So if you make your fruit trees taste bad, in theory, they will go elsewhere for food. If deer are really hungry this type of deterrent becomes less effective because deer will eat almost anything if they are starving, whether it tastes good or not.

All three of these deer repellents are natural and quickly break down in the elements. For this reason they do not work for long periods of time, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Deer are intelligent animals and will quickly learn your methods, especially if you are using the same product over and over. They become accustom to tastes and smells, especially if there is no real danger. It is important to rotate these products throughout the winter months to keep the deer on their toes.

Rotating Control Methods Will Improve Effectiveness
Another problem with deer that is less common in urban settings, but will happen on occasion, are deer rubs. Deer will rub their antlers on small trees when the velvet begins to peel. This behavior is also a way for male deer to mark their territory and show dominance to other male deer. When deer rub trees, it will cause severe damage to the tree and may even snap the tree off at the trunk. To protect your fruit trees from rubs, you will need to build a small fence around the tree trunk.

Building a Temporary Fence is Great Way to Protect Your Fruit Trees
It is possible to protect your entire yard from deer if you build a tall enough fence. Deer are capable of clearing eight foot fences so a fence taller than eight feet will need to fit into your overall landscape design. 

So, whether large or small, pests come in all forms and all compete with you for the same food source. Luckily, you are now better prepared to stop the four legged ones that wander onto your property this winter.

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