I view many setbacks as lessons learned, and don’t mind. Many nurseries seems to sell a lot of area-inappropriate plants, so those have been false starts. Some lessons were hard-learned but the biggest thing was, I did not understand e destructiveness and disheartening effect of deer, their persistence (hunger!), or that they are a permanent feature. There are like an ongoing biblical plague of locusts. 300 pound locusts. I’m not just in zone 8a, I’m in Zone 8aD, for deer, and should have planned better.
Most of my orchard trees are in after-the-fact deer cages. The cage dimensions are roughly 8 feet by 8 feet, so fencing is 4 feet from the trees. That does not leave room for riding mower between caged, so the trees should have been at least 12 and probably 16 feet apart (4 feet from trunk a plus 4 feet mowing space plus 4 feet from trunk b). Depends on mower size. But mine are 10 feet apart, which means I have to walk mow, and Im not up to that like I used to. So weeds, including 5 foot thistles, Himalayan and native blackberries, get out of control. The cages need a steel mesh for strength plus a 1" plastic mesh so the massive “locusts” don’t pull branches through. Don’t believe websites that say your fencing can leave 6 inches open at the bottom for maintenance - deer can and do push under it.
Those cages are more difficult to maintain, interfering with pruning, weed control, thinning fruit,
and harvest. Plus they are ugly.
I finally started grouping some trees in larger cages, but never, never forget and leave a gate open. They are watching for that. My gates are all makeshift, and awkward to use.
I finally decided to go all-dwarf and preferably all-mini dwarf starting this winter. I’ll maintain most of my original orchard for the next 5 years, then selectively remove most trees or branches that I can’t handle. Some species are not available in small sizes but I can reduce the ones that are.
I failed to appreciate that miniature size trees are more productive per ground space, compared to larger size trees. So I can have more varieties, with longer harvests, easier maintenance including thinning, pruning, protecting, weeding etc, if I convert to very small trees. They just need to be in a larger fenced garden, together.
Bottom line- zone designation should include “D” for deer, and practices should be thought out with that in mind, from the start. I failed to appreciate that and gardening is a lot less fun sometimes as a result.
p.s. My new deer fence, by all rights, should be 8 foot tall. However, the county requires a permit and an engineer, even for this relatively small square foot area fence. I can’t afford that so am seeing if they can do 7 foot and, according to the county desk person, that does not need permit or engineer and she said I can attach “something” to raise the top to 8 feet to deter the animals. I will also have spring closures on the gates.