Living in a deer paradise, I have struggled for years to have a garden while the adorable ruminants think I’ve been growing their fresh salad bar. Honestly, I garden for the joy of it, and the idea that it needs to be constant warfare is disheartening. Last fall I gave myself a present and had had a fence professionally installed. It was expensive, but the benefit was wonderful.
Fence after installation.
The fence is 7 feet tall, and encloses an area 35 feet by 40 feet. Local code requirements are such that I can’t have a taller fence built without a permit and an engineer (!). The clerk at the county permit office said, if that is not enough, I can attach little extensions on top, but I did not.
The plan has been to have about 1/2 vegetable garden and 1/2 miniature fruit tree garden. I started espalier and columnar trees along the sides and corners, and grafted some of my favorite apple varieties onto Bud-9 and Geneva-222, and bought a few miniatures too (genetic dwarf peaches that I can cover during the winter, and a Cosmic Crisp on M27).
This turned out to be very empowering for me. This year my vegetable garden was the best that I ever had. While converting to this area, some things that don’t need deer protection took up some space (mainly potatoes), but I also grew things that I never had enough room for in my make-shift fenced garden (snowpeas, beans) and some plants did far better than they did outside the garden, despite reading that deer and rabbits wouldn’t eat them (squash, garlic and onions).
This garden was total joy. it is the best, most diverse, most productive garden that I have grown. The fence is much less hassle than the make-shift fences that I used before. It also looks better for the neighbors. The freshly grafted fruit trees grew very nicely. now that it’s fall, I have started planting them in the ground.
This week I made one big mistake. After a year of being highly vigilant about closing the garden gates, I left them open for ONE NIGHT. I had opened it to work on new raised beds, and was tired and a bit ill, and just forgot. If anyone else uses it, I nag (and get pushback) and check and recheck, but this time I just forgot. Overnight, deer entered my garden and completely defoliated every apple tree - all of the columnar, all of the miniatures, all of the espalier. They also removed a few raspberry leaves.
It is an interesting test of some other plants. They did not touch the miniature peach trees or the peach tree planted with plans to have a fan style along the back fence. They did not touch the Jalapeno plants, even though they have eaten those completely in the past. Cucumbers were left alone. They ate those too. Maybe it’s that these are end-of-year leaves and not so tender and fresh. Strangely, they did not eat the fresh volunteer show-pea plants that sprouted all over after recent rains.
It’s difficult to photograph something that’s no longer there - the leaves of these apple plants.
I feel very disheartened. Like I said, gardening should not have to be warfare. I’m contented to let the deer have occasional leaves and plant the rest of the garden with their habits in mind. They are part of the climate, so to speak. But these were something that I nurtured for a year, and are my hope for a future fruit garden. I suppose that this being mid October, they were about to head into dormancy and will be OK next year. A few years I bought some bare root nursery stock that had obviously not been dormant yet when dug and shipped (Chinese Haw), and that did fine. However, it’s a sobering lessen - never ever leave those gates open!
I suppose I could install some sort of spring on the gates so they close automatically. It would make it less convenient and more awkward for me.
My main worry is those little defoliated fruit trees. They all look like the photos. Many trees around here are changing color and dropping leaves any way. As long as they go dormant, they should be OK. We’ll find out in about 5 months.