Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Deer Country: Freeing our trees

Buck rubbing tree with 24" protector
(galvanized hardware cloth)
I’ve been freeing many of our young trees when weather permits, which has been frequently this balmy winter.  Readers of this blog know that deer abound at Meadow Glenn and to grow trees requires that I cage them in their early years with metal stakes and welded wire.

I make the cages with two iron fence posts and a circle of 36”-wide welded wire that’s about two feet in diameter.

Many of the trees I’ve planted over the last six years were four- to five-feet tall, so most of their leaves were at a perfect height for deer browsing.  That’s why I began building cages—to separate leaves of young trees from mouths of hungry bambits.

As the trees have grown, I‘ve pruned their lower limbs so the lowest now are above the “browse line,” the imaginary line about five feet from the ground above which deer seldom browse.  It’s time to remove the cages, which, frankly, as landscape accents never will be featured in Fine Gardening magazine. 

Sumac that snapped
when buck rubbed it
Though browsing deer are no longer a major problem, rubbing deer are.  Rubbing deer are bucks in the fall—generally October or November—that wants to rub off the dead velvet that covered their growing antlers and then to polish their new racks.  Bucks prefer young, springy trees and shrubs for that purpose and generally rub vigorously about a foot or two from the ground.  Points of their antlers can damage the trees, even kill them if the rubbing severely damages the bark around the whole tree trunk.

Bucks here at Meadow Glenn seem to prefer to rub trunks up to two inches in diameter.  Local favorites are sumac, maple, and oak.  Small maples and oaks usually are tough enough to survive most damage, but sumacs often snap a few inches from the ground. 

Because of the rubbing problem, when I remove cages from our trees, I still must protect their trunks.  After trying a variety of trunk-protecting materials—including 24-inch galvanized hardware cloth and 36-inch welded wire (2”x3” grid)—I’ve settled on 36-inch plastic hardware cloth (1/2” grid).  The plastic hardware cloth is easier to cut with wire cutters and to handle, and bucks often adjusted to the 24-inch size by rubbing just above it.

Plastic hardware cloth
and bag of cable ties
I cut the 36-inch plastic hardware cloth in lengths that make a circle that’s between four and five inches in diameter, which leaves room for the trunks to grow for several years.  I secure each protector in place with two eight-inch cable ties, one about six inches from each end of the protector once I’ve wrapped it around a tree.

I haven’t found rigid trunk protectors locally, but several varieties are available on the Internet.  Search: “tree trunk protectors.”  Some are short to protect bark from string trimmers.  Others range up to four feet in height.

I checked prices today at Home Depot to see what the raw materials currently cost.  A 15-foot roll of 36-inch “Black Plastic Hardware Cloth” (1/2-inch mesh) sells for $16.44.  A bag of 100 eight-inch black cable ties costs $5.99.  A roll that long would make 13 protectors four inches in diameter.  Cost would be just over $1.30 for each protector and two ties.  That’s about a $5.00 saving on each from Internet prices (plus shipping) of comparable products. 

Do I hear a Frugal Gardener shouting, “Yes!  I can save a few bucks— some serious dough—if I make my own!”

Plastic protectors in place
in Deer Country
Deer Country puns aside, I’ve already removed cages from more than 20 young native trees that I’ve planted since 2006—red maples, tulip poplars, American dogwoods, American redbuds, and black gums.  Maybe in another five years I’ll be able to remove the trunk protectors too.

That’s all the excitement I can report from Meadow Glenn, where I cage the trees and the deer run free.

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