Deer are the largest and most dramatic wildlife most of us see on a regular basis.


This fellow was exceptionally unconcerned when I came upon it in the woods.

This summer we enjoyed watching a mother and her two fawns regularly explore their botanical buffet within feet of our bedroom window.  They were incredibly endearing at such close range, but a cloud hung over the tableau.

I knew only too well that those same sweet creatures will ravage the helpless plant world this winter.  A 2006 survey of Wisconsin Conservation Reserve Program hardwood plantings confirmed that deer browse is devastating the survival of hardwood seedlings.  I know it’s true.  I’ve seen it again and again on our land.  Promising young white oaks eaten back to the kindling each winter.


A mighty oak branch that will never be.

 For obvious reasons, winter is the most nutritionally stressful time of the year for deer. Browse (defined as the leaves, twigs, and buds of woody plants) is the staple of a white-tailed deer during those long, cold months when greenery is only a memory, and white oak is a favorite.

I tried an oak bud one winter out of curiosity, and found it amazingly appetizing.  I didn’t care for the flavor much, but it was tender and juicy and crisp.  But buds are so small, I can only imagine how many it takes regulate a deer’s temperature in the cold.

So long, excess deer!

So long, excess deer – I wish!

If only the number of deer and buds were in balance.

Hardwoods can be bud capped during the dormant season.  Last year we gave it a try, covering the buds of some young white oaks with aluminum foil.  uutighs0

It seemed to work.  The deer passed over the foiled buds, and the trees lived to have a good growing season.

So here we go again.

We are trying to encourage white oaks up hill from Underhill House.

We are trying to encourage several dozen  little white oaks up hill from Underhill House.

The tricky part is when to take the aluminum foil off.  Buds often get browsed during the early growing season when the treelings need that foil OFF their new vegetative shoots.

It’s a game we are playing again this winter and hoping we will again be able to leave the foil on till there are enough other options for deer the oaks we are encouraging will not get nipped.

Hang in there, Prairie Spy!

Hang in there, Prairie Spy!

We also are foiling the buds of two heirloom apple trees I grafted a few years ago – a Black Gillyflower and a Prairie Spy.  In the past, we tried to protect them with chicken wire cages, but recently the deer flipped the cages yards away and feasted on apple buds.

By next year we plan to have our little “orchard” and the adjoining garden fenced, but for now 0.2 mm of aluminum will be their only protection.

 How do you keep the deer away from your botanical pals?

3 replies

  1. We normally wrap our trees in bubble wrap, but they were small and the winter harsh. So far this year, the winter has been mild and so we haven’t wrapped them. Our orchard is surrounded by a wire that has been electrified in the past, we might just leave it be this year and see what happens.

  2. We’ve been wondering how you’ve been doing in the house with this bitter “Polar Vortex” cold spell. Some days have been sunny (allowing your passive solar design to work) while others have been cloudy.
    Also, any strange noises in your house as it reacts to the cold? Our old house was popping at one point on Sunday night. I heard that the police were called to some houses because the occupants thought someone was breaking in… but it was just the cold.
    I’m interested in the link between this cold spell and the 80 degree March we had two springs ago with an increasingly meandering jet stream caused by a relatively warmer arctic due to climate change. If we can expect more “global weirding”, do the insulation and heating standards for green homes have to be increased?

  3. Happy New Year to you folks at Digging in the Driftless; I’m so glad I’ve made your’ blogging acquaintance and enjoy the prose & pictures describing a life I admire – and so different from my own.

    By the way, I hope you’ll report more about your addition to black walnuts to your local food list. Should you ever want to turn it into a nut butter that you’d offer for sale, I’d be honored to be your first customer! (It doesn’t seem like selling products is what you do, but you do seem to have quite a source of black walnuts there.)

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