Planting a variety of trees on your property can enhance it’s natural beauty, provide shade, and attract wildlife with shelter and food. We often recommend planting trees in the fall in Georgia, since this allows the root system of the plant to get established before the hot and dry demands of the next summer. One of the challenges of planting in the fall, however, is that food sources for wildlife become scarce, especially right at the flush of new growth in the spring. Deer damage, primarily browsing tender new growth and rubbing tree trunks with antlers, can significantly impact the health and long-term prognosis of trees in your landscape. Luckily, there is an easy method for preventing deer damage and ensuring your trees survive to maturity.

                If you’ve read my articles in the past, you’re familiar with the HERL acronym for nuisance wildlife management – habitat modification, exclusion, repellant, and lethal means. While many home repellants are on the market and claim to reduce deer damage, the only scientifically proven method is exclusion through wire caging or plastic tree tubes. These options are an investment of finances and labor ($5-10 per tree), but both methods can prevent unwanted browsing and rubbing. Wire cages are permanent and close to indestructible, while plastic tubes are more temporary and removed after the first few years of tree life. Tubes can also cause young trees to grow more rapidly due to the greenhouse effect they create on the trunk. Either method should be a minimum of 5’ in height to eliminate the risk of deer damage.

                One of the challenges with exclusion is that young tree saplings do not have the rigidity of trunk to support both themselves and a tube or cage, so they need to be staked for support. Stake materials should be rigid, durable, affordable, and removable when they’re no longer needed – my preferences is ¾” schedule 40 PVC, but there are options ranging from bamboo to steel rebar. Whichever stake you choose, be sure to cut or purchase them with roughly 1’ excess length so they can be anchored deeply enough in the ground to provided needed support.

                Even though exclusion structures are fairly simple, they do need to be checked on periodically to ensure there are no issues. First, double check the stakes and ties to make sure the tree is properly supported. Replace any broken ties or stakes as needed. Then, remove weeds that are growing in and around the exclusion and tree. Weeds compete with your trees for resources and can decrease sapling growth. You can hand pull weeds or use an appropriate chemical control. Finally, fire ants can be an issue, as they like to nest in the plastic tubes, causing water retention and trunk rot of the sapling which is fatal. If you notice an ant bed, destroy the nest, lift the plastic tube off of the ground, and secure it off the ground to the stake.

                Planting trees requires an investment of money, time, and labor, so don’t let deer damage kill them early on. Protecting trees with exclusionary measures helps them survive to maturity and saves you frustration and disappointment. For more information on planting trees or nuisance wildlife, contact the Lincoln County Extension Office at 706-359-3233 or .

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