One of our subscribers asked "When you are planting younger trees, how do you keep the deer from eating them?"
Deer damage is one of the largest challenges with getting new fruit trees started. Deer love apples, and they eat their share in the summer and fall, but the real problem is the buds they eat over the winter. One deer can eat thousands of apple buds a day. Inside every apple bud are all the leaves and apples for this coming season. Every bud they eat contains dozens of valuable photosynthetic leaves and up to 5 apples. Therefore fruit growers must do everything in their power to keep the deer away from the trees during the winter if they want to have a crop to pick.
During the winter months, the buds on the fruit trees are still green and juicy, and apparently tasty if you are a ruminant. I read a study a few years ago where a forestry department was researching which tree buds deer most preferred. There were over 100 varieties of tree buds tested, and white tail deer preferred apple buds over all the others.
The only proven method for keeping them away is fencing at least 8 feet high; however that is not always possible due to space or cost restraints. In areas we cannot fence we hang a deterrent on the trees. It needs to be something that repulses the deer such as moth balls, perfumed soap, human hair, egg solids, or an organic fertilizer called Melorganite which is made from bio solids.
All of these methods provide some control for a season, but by the second year the deer get used to them and begin feeding on the trees again. Therefore rotation is a must. There are also commercial products that can be purchased that contain hot pepper extract that work well when sprayed on the leaves every few days. This works well for a homeowner, but it is not cost effective on a large scale basis.
If you have a question about fruit growing, send me an email and I'll try to answer it in a future "Farmer Tad's Notes".