If you are planning a food forest, an orchard, or just a few fruit trees, it is a good idea to observe your site for evidence of deer. My wife & I live in a semi-rural area just outside of a small town. We have farms and single family homes around us. I really didn’t think much about the deer when I originally planted (50) fruit and nut trees out in my pasture. I knew they could be a problem, but I thought with the busy road and my neighbors around me, they would not be interested. I couldn’t have been more wrong about that!
Buck rub damage on my maple tree. This of course occurred before I installed the pictured fencing.
My first year, the deer damaged all of the trees in the pasture, killing about 25% of them. When I first noticed the damage, I tried a deer deterrent recommended by Adams County Nursery. They are supposed to be repelled by soap. So, I got some of this special soap from Adams County that comes with small mesh bags that you put the soap in and tie around each tree. The deer were not deterred by the soap. In fact they ate a lot of the soap and my trees!
This chestnut tree thrived since fencing
Then I decided to individually fence each tree. This was the cheapest way to fence 50 trees that were pretty spread out. I used 4 foot wire fencing and (3) green T posts per tree. Deer of course can jump over a 4 foot fence, but they are not interested in jumping into a confined space. I put the fencing just outside the drip line, so I did not use that much wire per tree. It cost me about $7 in post and wire per tree. In the two years subsequent to fencing the trees, they did much better. The deer did not damage the trees, and some of the heavily damaged trees began to recover. They all grew much quicker and healthier.
This Spring I added another 600 trees & shrubs out in the pasture to go along with the 50 trees to build my swale based food forest. This posed a serious issue, as it was no longer practical to individually fence trees with that volume of trees. I had to put up an 8 foot tall deer fence around the entire property. Since my property is now deer proof, I was then able to remove all the trees with individual fences as well.
So, I have personally used two fencing solutions that have worked well for deer. There are other options though, but I cannot personally attest to their effectiveness. Sepp Holzer uses a bone salve that he paints on the trees. I decided against this option after watching it being made on YouTube. It looked like a pain in the butt to make the salve, and you get very little with a lot of bones. Also, when the new foliage and branches come in, you have to paint again, so it ends up being a constant chore.
Another popular option is to have an outside dog chase the deer away. I decided against this one as well, because a buck in rut could kill a dog very easily, and even if it couldn’t you still have to rely on a dog to actually do the job.
Geoff Lawton spoke of a client that baited her single strand electric with peanut butter for the deer. After getting a jolt, they were never heard from again. I can't personally vouch for that one, but it is certainly creative.
~ Phil Williams
Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website foodproduction101.com. His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.