Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Even more deer damage to young pecans

    The local deer herd is driving me crazy. Just when I think I’ve figured out how I prevent deer damage to my young trees, these pesky creatures find a new way to destroy new plantings. This past fall, we planted some small, container-grown seedlings in openings within our native pecan stands (photo at right, tree between yellow flags).  We tilled up a small area of soil and set the tree in the center of the cleared ground. Since the trees were barely 2 feet tall, I didn’t think buck rub would be a problem, so we left the trees unprotected. Within a month of planting the tree, the tilled soil around every tree was covered in deer tracks—an ominous sign (photo above). 

   Later we discovered some of the newly planted saplings ripped out of the ground and laying on top of the soil (photo at left). When I picked up the uprooted tree, I discovered that the very top seedling had been chomped and broken. It seems that our well-tended nursery trees proved to be an irresistible snack for browsing deer. When a deer chomped down on the shoot tip and pulled up to take a bite, the entire tree was lifted out of the loose dirt.  Next time I plant seedlings in the fall, every tree will be protected by a welded wire tree cage (photo below).
Welded wire tree cage

     In a previous post, I showed you the plastic trunk guards we have been using to prevent buck rub. This past August, we installed these guards on some young trees that were about 5 feet tall. The stems of these trees are roughly 1 to 1 ¼ inches in diameter—the perfect size for bucks to rub.  We’ve had good success with these tree guards in the past so once installed around our trees, I thought our deer problems were over. 
    Today, I was out inspecting the grove and discovered the deer had removed several guards and then proceeded to rub the bark off the young trees (photo at left). How did that happen? If you look at the tree in the photo, you’ll note that the tree is just a single stem without and side branches. Most likely,  a buck removed the cage right over the top of the tree while trying to rub the trunk. So here’s another lesson learned from the school of hard knocks. I need to use a welded wire tree cage around trees that are not yet large enough to produce the strong side shoots needed to keep deer from removing the plastic tree guard.

    In our orchard, deer are an increasing problem. Based on this year’s deer damage, I have decided on taking the following steps. 

> Install a welded wire tree cage as soon as a seedling tree is planted. 
 > Switch to a 3 foot plastic trunk guard once the seedling has enough clear trunk to hold the guard and enough stout side branches keep the guard in place.

Plastic trunk guard
    You might ask, why bother with the plastic trunk guard at all, just stick with the tree cage.  Once a tree starts to develop side shoots, branches often grow out through the cage making it nearly impossible to train the tree properly. I recommend a strict regime of summer pruning young trees to shape the young tree (the 2 foot rule) and develop a strong central leader.  So, the sooner you can move the deer protection to just the trunk, the easier tree training will be. I leave the plastic trunk guards in place until trees grow to 4 inches in diameter (photo at right).