Tree protection – how to take care of apple trees

When thinking about how to take care of apple trees, tree protection is a big aspect. In this section, we’ll focus on protection your trees from rodents and deer, which love to eat the tree in addition to the fruit

Rodent Protection

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Mice and voles can be an apple grower’s nightmare. In the winter when food sources dwindle, they will turn to the bark of young apple trees. They can girdle the tree and cutoff any nutrient and water flow, killing it. They also love to feed on roots in the winter. Every new tree should be protected from these rodents, or you may lose your investment in year 1. This is a key aspect of how to take care of apple trees.

You have a few options for rodent protection. We recommend either ¼” hardware cloth 24+” in height or metal window screening.

Rodent protection procedure

After you tree is in the ground, cut a piece of window screen or hardware cloth. The larger the piece, the longer it can remain on the tree before the tree outgrows it. The screen or cloth will be attached to itself around the tree to form a cylinder. We prefer an 8” diameter minimum, or approximately 24” of cloth or screen to form the tube. The material can be attached to itself using light wire or twist ties. Once you have formed the cylinder, dig a small trench around the tree about 1” or 2” deep and place the bottom of the material into it. Then push the soil back in around the fabric to keep it in place. This will ensure that no mice are able to burrow under your barrier.

Deer Protection

While most of us are planting apple trees for deer, without proper protection your trees may be destroyed by these deer before they have a chance to mature. Protection is vital to allow your trees to reach maturity as fast as possible.
Wondering how to take care of apple trees with high deer pressure? There are two general methods of protection, individual enclosure and group enclosure. Each of these methods has their positives and drawbacks. Which is best for you will depend on your specific application.

Individual enclosures – for flexibility

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Fencing trees individually offers a high level of flexibility when planting apple trees. You have the ability to plant trees in almost any location. It is economical when planting only a few trees. It is fast, requires few tools, and doesn’t require extensive planning. One of the drawbacks is increased difficulty when tending to your trees. Pruning, spraying, and weed maintenance are all harder when you have a fence between you and the tree.
There are multiple ways you can fence a tree individually. A commonly used material is 2”x4” welded wire fence in an approximately 5’ diameter circle. This is relatively cheap and requires only two fence posts.

Additionally, cattle panels make great deer fences. They are very study and are self-supporting. They just need to be rolled into a circle and attached to themselves. Many properties have old cattle panels around that can be put to good use.

An economical way to protect a tree is with a mini-enclosure. This is a very tight piece of fence that requires only one fencepost. This post also can serve as a stake for the tree. Branches that grow through the fence will be bitten off by the deer. This is fine however, since these branches would be pruned off anyways with a good maintenance program. They also simplify the weed suppression process. They are my fencing method of choice.

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Group enclosures – for ease of maintenance

If you know you want to plant an orchard with trees located closely together, a group enclosure is a good option. This should be the method of choice if you are planting an orchard of small trees for personal consumption purposes. It requires preplanning and a fair amount of upfront work, but will save you much time in the long run while tending to your trees. We recommend 8′ walls to provide protection against deer jumping the enclosure.

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