There is one difference of note between shrubs and trees that I cage. The shrubs—by definition woody landscape plants relatively short in height—generally don’t outgrow their need for protection from either browsing or rubbing. Most trees, by contrast, eventually grow tall enough that deer cannot reach their lower leaves and have trunks that are too large for bucks to rub efficiently. That's why my tree cages generally are smaller in anticipation that trees will outgrow their need for the cages, and my shrub cages are generally larger in anticipation that shrubs will not grow large enough to eliminate the need for protection.
I use light-weight, 5-foot iron posts that I buy at hardware stores, mainly because the 5-footers are reasonably tall and relatively inexpensive. Taller, heavy-duty posts cost significantly more but, of course, are more resistant to bending by the deer.
Yes, deer at Meadow Glenn bend light-weight iron posts at ground level when I use plastic fencing or “chicken wire.” The deer learn that if they lean in on the soft fencing, it gives. They lean in still more to reach more edibles, and at some point leverage bends the iron posts at right angles at ground level. Wooden, aluminum, or plastic stakes often are nearly as expensive as the more resistant iron posts and generally aren't designed for attaching wire.
|Deer-wrecked iron post/chicken wire cage|
After lots of trial and error and wrecking early-model cages with my lawn mower, I generally make larger, rectangular cages for shrubs and circular cages for trees, with the fencing beginning about a foot above ground, which gives my Kubota's mowing deck room to cut fairly close without tangling with and wrecking the cage. With five-foot posts and four-foot fencing, protection extends about five feet above ground level.
|The "browse line"|
Experience also has taught me that two iron posts per caged tree work better than one iron post and a less expensive plastic or wood post. The iron posts are designed to have wire attached, and the more stable cage weathers summer and winter storms better and endures deer exploration better. I've also learned that I should space the iron posts three to four feet apart when I make a rectangular cage for shrubs. Longer distances between posts yield a more "giving" cage that deer will be tempted to breach.
But don’t forget the second problem—rubbing. Your shrub cages are permanent, so no problem there. But if in time you remove cages from growing trees, remember to protect their trunks until they’re of sufficient size to discourage rubbing. I see rubbing on 3”- to 6”-diameter cedar and tuIip poplar trunks in our woods, though the bigger the diameter, the less chance the tree will be terminally damaged by rubbing. I make trunk protectors from hardware cloth, but plastic protectors of various designs are available commercially.
In Deer Country 8, I’ll focus on deer-resistant shrubs, and in Deer Country 9, I’ll do the same for trees.
If this is the first Deer Country posting you've read and you want to learn more, I suggest you click on the "Deer" label below. You'll get a list of posting that have mentioned deer. I suggest you start with "Deer Country 1" and read your way through the "Deer Country" series.