Deer are the largest and most dramatic wildlife most of us see on a regular basis.
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.
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.
If only the number of deer and buds were in balance.
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.
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.
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?