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Recent entries

Kevin Hahn

Food Plotting

Orchards: Catering To A Deer’s Sweet Tooth

Thu, January 17, 2013

  I have been absent from this blog for a couple of months now but as I indicated in my introduction last fall, my plan is to write about my activities with my food plots in “real time” as I am doing them.  January is the month when I start thinking about fruit tree orders for the upcoming spring plantings. So this past weekend I grabbed a stack of the tree nursery catalogs that have been arriving in the mail almost daily since the first of year and I started putting my fruit tree order together for this year.
  When people think about establishing food plots, thoughts and activities are often limited to planting corn, soybeans, clovers, cereal grains and brassicas.  These are all great crops for food plots, but when you are in the middle of farm country like most of us that visit this website probably are, deer in our areas have many readily available food sources in the area farm fields and thus may have little interest in what you have to offer in your food plots if it isn’t different than the area farm fields. This can be especially true during the pre rut and even into the rut when often there is an abundance of left-over grain in the fields that found its way out the back of the combines during harvest. Or as often happens, there are many unharvested crops still standing in the fields. Catering to the deer’s sweet tooth with something that deer can’t resist such as apples and pears can work to your advantage by attracting deer away from these huge ag field food sources and draw them to a specific spot on your farm.
  In 2010, a year after we purchased our farm,  we planted about 2 dozen apple/pears in a small orchard.  I have lost a few trees for various reasons, but most are doing well and now have some fruit buds and should start producing fruit for the first time this year.  I have decided to expand the orchard this year and have been studying the tree fruit catalogs and websites for my April fruit tree plantings. 
  If you have been considering putting in a orchard and have never grown fruit trees before, my first suggestion is to start small with a maximum of 6-12 trees in order get some experience with what’s involved with growing fruit trees.  My reason for saying this is because there is a fair amount of work involved with the initial establishment of an orchard and there is no such thing as a low maintenance orchard once it is established. Fruit trees, especially in their early years, will require specific attention at specific times of the year.  However, by choosing the right tree varieties, your apple/pear orchard can be much easier to maintain. 
The following are my suggestions for making your orchard a “lower” maintenance orchard.

1) Variety selection.  First and foremost, choose the most disease resistant varieties available. Failure to do this can lead to much frustration with battling diseases—a battle which you will probably lose particularly if your orchard is in a remote location. The key diseases for apples are fire blight, scab, cedar-apple rust, and mildew.  For pears, the key disease is fire blight.  So I look for varieties with resistance to these diseases for my food plot orchard.  In addition to disease resistance, I also like to choose multiple varieties that ripen over a range of times to maximize fruit availability over a longer period during the hunting season.  These are some of my suggestions for apple/crabapple and pear varieties and nursery sources.

2) Size matters. Only plant semi-dwarf or standard tree sizes, do not plant dwarf size trees.  This is because dwarf trees do not live as long and they are too short in height and will likely suffer much deer damage from browsing. Because of the bigger and more vigorous root systems of semi-dwarfs and standard size trees, these trees are also more tolerant of poor soils and drought conditions and thus don’t need to be pampered as much as dwarf trees. 

4). Protect your trees. At the same time that you plant your fruit trees, take steps to protect the trunk of the trees with protective tubes to prevent rodent damage (rabbits, mice, voles), and place wire cages of at least 5- 6 foot diameter around each tree to prevent deer browsing.  Deer love to browse on fruit tree twigs and buds.  I failed to fence a couple of my trees back in 2010 because I ran out of fence and when I returned a week later with more fence, the two unprotected trees were browsed down to 6 inch sticks above the ground.  Also, bucks love to rub the trunks of small trees and can destroy a young orchard in one night.

5) Location location. Plant your trees in an area that receives full sunlight and where the soil is well drained. Ground with some slope and in particular south facing hillsides are ideal.  This picture is of my daughter Emily taken in 2011 while working in the orchard which is on a south facing slope.  Note that I have planted a white clover and chicory mix in the orchard.  This provides another food source for the deer and is also easy to maintain.  My orchard has switchgrass planted on 3 sides which provides excellent cover and bedding areas. 

6)Allow enough area for your trees to grow without crowding each other. Semi-dwarf and standard size trees will get about 15 -25 ft tall with about the same horizontal spread. You will need to choose an area that will allow you to plant your trees a minimum of 20 feet apart within a row or on grid if multiple rows are planted.

7) Conduct a soil test. Adjust soil pH to around 6 -7.5 with lime if needed prior to planting.

8)Prune.  Read or watch videos about how to prune your fruit trees.  Failure to prune (especially young trees) can greatly reduce the productivity of your orchard.  I will provide some resources on this subject this spring when I am pruning my trees.

9) Get a small hand sprayer . I don’t try to have blemish free fruit in my food plot orchard. However, even though you chose the best disease resistant varieties you will still have to occasionally deal with insect outbreaks or even a disease outbreak that will require spraying.  I really like the 5 gallon Stihl back pack sprayer with hand pump.  My sprayer shown here is with a 3 nozzle boom that I made and use for spraying the clover under the trees.  When I need to spray my trees, I remove the 3 nozzle boom and replace it with a adjustable single nozzle .


Dolgo is a great crabapple tree for deer.  It reliably fruits every year and is pretty tough. I use it for pollination of my other eating apples.

Posted by aerosmith16 on January 17

There is a timber across from where I live and deer come in at night and eat my fallen apples. I haven’t seen one yet but I find their nightly deposits in the grass. Besides cherry, apple is my next favorite home made wine and it’s best to use different types of apples. Makes a great marinade, my recipe for smoked salmon calls for a white wine and I use my apple wine and along with apple chips when smoking it’s awesome.I heard you can even eat the darn things.

Posted by berlin on January 17

I just started the wine making hobby Berlin. I have a small orchard of 75 trees Apple, Peach, Pear, Sweet and Pie Cherries, Nectarine, Apricot, and Plum. I also have a lot of Blackberries, Raspberries, and Strawberries, so winemaking is a pretty good fit. I have Blackberry, Pineapple, Black Raspberry, and Peach fermenting in carboys right now. So far its really fun.

Posted by aerosmith16 on January 17

I bought and planted two peach trees a couple years ago in an area no where near normal deer traffic…right in front of my newly built shed.  I came back the following weekend to fence them in and the peaches were gone and the trees were eaten down to nubs.  Should I plant peach trees for deer over other fruit trees?

Posted by Treehugger on January 17

Treehugger…regarding your question about planting peaches for deer.  I have peaches in my orchard, but not for deer. They are for me for they are my favorite fruit.  But to plant them for deer, I would recommend not for the following reasons.

+ Peaches ripen in July through August depending on the variety and the fruit will not keep on the tree or on the ground very long before it rots. So the attractiveness of peaches for deer will come and go well in advance of deer hunting season.  On the other-hand, apples and pears will ripen during the deer hunting season but also the fruit can hang on the trees or lay on the ground for weeks without spoilage. Think about how long a store-bought peach keeps on your kitchen counter relative to apples/pears.

+Peaches are not reliable fruit produces year-in and year-out because cold weather in the spring can kill the cold sensitive flower buds once you get bud break.  You can loose your whole crop with a late spring cold snap.

+Peaches can be very frustrating to grow due to diseases and insects. Apples and pears are much easier in my opinion and experiences.

Good question, hope this helps.
Kevin Hahn (screen name Coooper)

Posted by Cooper on January 17

Excellent info Kevin.  Thanks.  As fast as they hit my little peach trees, I thought I was on to something.  It seemed to be the crack for deer.  Thanks for all your info and for saving me a lot of time and headaches.

Posted by Treehugger on January 17

Treehugger…Also keep in mind that opossum and raccoon love peaches so they may have helped to clean up on your peaches along with the deer.

Posted by Cooper on January 17

My problem was actually deer.  The area around both trees was littered with deer tracks.  It wasn’t a normal travel area by any means, but every time I plant something (grass, etc.) the curiosity of a deer brings them over for a look..and a taste.  Apple trees and pear trees it is.  How long till you can take down the cages?

Posted by Treehugger on January 18

Very helpful, thank you!  What about persimmons?

Posted by Nemo on January 19

Treehugger…regarding your question about how long to keep fence around trees. In my most recently planted orchard it will be a minimum on 5 years to keep the 5-6 ft diameter fences around the trees. After 5 years, I hope to have enough top growth above the deer’s ability to browse. However, at that time, I will keep a smaller diameter fence around the trunk to protect the trunks from bucks rubbing.

Nemo..I have persimmons on my farm, both naturally occuring and those that I have planted. I will do an article on persimmon at a later date??, but until then heres some information about persimmons.  You will want to only plant Amercian persimmon varieties—these are native to the US. Stay away from Oriental persimmons, they do not have the cold hardiness to survie our winters.  American persimmons have male and female trees and when you buy small trees that are non-bearing, you will not know which are male or female, so you will need to plant multiple trees to ensure getting females.  A source that I have used for American persimmon is the Missouri Dept of Conservation State Nursery  They provide quality field grown (from seed) whips. Whips are usually 2 year old trees that are about 18 -30 inches tall.  The price is very resonable 50 trees at 36 cents each or you can buy individual whips for $1 each.  I have not had a problem with deer browsing persimmon, but I do protect my trees from bucks rubbing once they get some size to them. Persimons naturally grow in small groups, resulting from the root suckers off the mother or father tree, so you can plant persimon in groups closer to together(10-15ft) apart and they will do fine. Hope this helps
Kevin Hahn (screen name Cooper)

Posted by Cooper on January 19

Hi Kevin, I have been thinking of planting some fruit trees but a i am afraid most of those Japanese beetles. What would you recommend spraying on fruit trees for this particular pest? I planted some apples awhile back i purchased from a place in Michigan. Most of them died and i was pretty disappointed. Thanks for your info on this matter. I will look into some healthier variety’s.

Posted by D.Douglas on January 20

Doug…there are several products to control Japanese beetles but I am going to recommend Sevin as it is readily available where lawn and garden products are sold.  Sevin will kill bees, so don’t spray during bloom, but this will not be an issue for you with J. beetle because they will not show up until late June/early July which is well after apple and pear trees bloom.  The key to controlling J. beetle is getting ahead of the infestation.  J. beetles emit chemicals which attract more J. beetles, thus when you first start seeing J. beetles, spray to kill those few beetles and thus you can prevent a major infestation which can happen over night.  Sevin has some residual activity but can be washed off the leaves with rain. It will take some persistence in monitoring and respraying your trees as necessary for a couple weeks during the peak flights of J.beetles.  Just be sure to read and follow the label directions.

Posted by Cooper on January 20

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