Sunday, February 24, 2013

Oh Deer! Deer Fencing at Smug Creek


Deer seem to have ‘discovered’ our gardens last fall and this winter.  It is very annoying and whilst they cannot do much damage at this time of year we do not want them to make a habit of visiting.


When we first move here and contemplated gardens I suggested that the garden area should be ringed with deer defenses.  Kathy pointed out that if we fenced the deer out we were fencing ourselves in.  We wanted to be able to explore and enjoy the rest of our property and I agreed.  We have never totally surrounded ourselves with deer fencing.


The first thing we did was to put the eight-foot high plastic mesh fence around an area behind the garage where we intended storing the plants and shrubs waiting to go into the as yet uncultivated gardens.  We stapled and sometimes tied the netting to the trunks of available trees.   We then used the same type of fencing along the lot line fairly close to the back of the house.  Deer have never come through or over these fences all the time they have been installed.   They simply walk around them.  But, they were very nervous that they are walking into a trap and did so very infrequently.


The problems with this plastic netting are many.  Branches fall on it and drag it down, snow collects on it and breaks it and the cold makes it brittle. It can be fairly easily fixed but the real problem for us is that it is so expensive and we could not afford to use it everywhere we wanted a fence.


Once we had dug and planted the two top terraces we decided that we needed to keep the deer out.   In a heavily wooded area it is fairly easy to make an effective deer fence by wrapping fishing line around the tree trunks and running it from tree to tree.


The method that worked for me is to first mark the route of the fence.  I tied colored tape around the trees that I want to form the ‘fence posts’.  The trees have to be big and strong enough not to bend in the wind, but the trunks have to be thin enough to enable your arms to go around them in a bear hug.  They also need to be free of branches from the ground to about eight feet high.



If there is a gap of more than about 15 feet between trees you will need to put a fence post of some type in the middle of the gap.  Tie the fishing line around a tree trunk.  Walk to the next tree, wrap it around the trunk and walk to the next tree.  After a while turn around and walk back with the line at a different height. 


My advice is not to go more than three or four trees away before changing the height of the line up or down and going back towards the first tree, wrapping the line around each tree as you go.  By zigzagging back and forth at irregular heights you will eventually achieve four or five lines of fishing line between each pair of trees the lowest as near to the ground as you can get and the highest as high as you can reach and at least 7 feet.  Over the years I have added more and more line to this defense and in places there are as many as twenty strands between trees but it is still almost impossible to see.


I don’t think deer have ever jumped over this fence but they have scrambled under it and across it when a fallen branch has damaged it.


The sight of deer in the garden this winter led us to agree that we needed more deer fencing and I decided to build a fence similar to one that I had first seen in Elaine Rappley’s Michigan garden several years ago.   The fence is made from fallen branches and is cleverly designed to keep deer out without looking too siege-like.   It is based on the principle that, unlike horses that at speed jump low and long, deer jump higher but almost vertically.  They are not able to long jump great distances.


The fence consists of tripods made from three similar lengths of fallen branch tied together at the apex and with the legs stretched apart far enough to make it stable.  The tripods are placed between six and ten feet apart and other branches tied to the uprights at ankle and waist height are used to link them. I tied the horizontal timbers to the uprights with a variety of Boy Scout lashings, plastic cable ties and long screws.  A final substantial branch connects the apex of each tripod to the apex of the next.


The first fence of this type I saw was about four feet high and three feet deep but I decided that the deer in Michigan are wimps and that my fence would be much bigger.  After all you get an awful lot of fallen timber in 13 acres of wood.  I also had plenty of fallen wood to back fill the fence both vertically and horizontally.  I ended up with a fence that was between five and seven feet high and three and for feet wide at the base.  It looks a little stark in the winter but as soon as the trees and undergrowth leaf out in the spring it will not be so noticeable.


But does it stop the deer?  Nope.  They walk straight through it.   Well they did.  Various snowfalls this winter have allowed me to find the spots where they are able to penetrate and block them with more and more bits of fallen branch.  My most recent look around has revealed very little encroachment into the protected area of our woods.



Hopefully the combination of the three types of deer fencing whilst not keeping the area enclosed totally free from deer will deter them from making a habit of visiting us and eating our precious plants.