Growing Trees More Naturally In the Presence of Deer

Hungry deer are a present reality for many gardeners. In the past decades deer populations have skyrocketed as predators and wild habitats have declined.

Deer frequent rural gardens and suburban gardens. Deer are increasingly present in many city limits, especially near wildland-urban interfaces. And it seems like they are hungry and ready to eat the leaves of any tree we want to grow!

When I apprenticed and volunteered at over a half dozen farms and homesteads in the Pacific Northwest, gardening in the presence of deer was a concern for most of my mentors.

Like most gardeners and homesteaders I assumed I would need to install a permanent deer fence around my orchards. But when I discovered how many thousands of dollars one family spent on their deer fence my jaw dropped!

Since then I’ve been researching and considering cost effective alternatives to protect our family’s personal fruit and nut trees.

I’ve also been called to seek more natural ways of gardening.

Excluding deer from orchards with a large fence is very effective but unfortunately many other animals are also excluded. Deer fenced orchards become more isolated from nature while wildlife have less habitat in which to live.

Through my journey I’ve enjoyed dovetailing my heart’s call to garden more naturally along with the practical goal of protecting trees on a budget.

Ann and I both are very experimental when it comes to growing trees, flowers and herbs in the presence of deer, rabbits, gophers and many other wildlife.

Growing and planting many extra trees, flowers and plants started from seed, for example, has afforded us a higher tolerance for risk. While we’ve lost quite a few plants and trees, many others have thrived. We’ve come away enriched from this experience with knowledge and joy.

Today a smaller portion of our gardens are deer fenced while the larger plantings of fruit and nut trees are individually protected from deer and rodents.

Deer, along with many other furry and feathered forms of wildlife, have safe passage through most of this land that we steward. Our fruit and nut trees co-exist more harmoniously with the wildlife while they remain individually protected from being over browsed by deer.

Through this journey I have enjoyed becoming less rigid about defending our trees and more accepting of sharing land and plants with wildlife—On a tree by tree basis I’ve learned to observe how much deer browse each young tree can afford while still maintaining the ability to thrive.

I am so glad that I opened up this conversation with the deer over 5 years ago. My heart has opened more to the wildlife that surrounds us, seeing them less as problems and more as friends and cohabitants. I respect them more and have greater appreciation for their right to live here too.

Though as a human I have the privilege of using tools and logic, I am not so unlike deer and rodents. Besides being mammals we are also all gardening alongside eachother.

With their tongues and teeth deer and rodents prune the plants they enjoy, which in turn stimulates new growth. I do the same thing each year as I prune our fruit and nut trees with my shears and pruning saws.

Perhaps we can share space on this land after all as we each take our small part in helping to steward the Earth.

Want to grow trees more naturally in the presence of deer? You don’t need to install a costly deer fence around your entire orchard or property. Protect your fruit and nut trees individually from deer. Fine tune deer protection based on your goals, habits of your local deer and any inherent deer resistant qualities within your trees. Allow deer and other wildlife safe passage through the land you steward.

See our course Protect Fruit and Nut Trees from Deer and Rodents for details!

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