I'm growing a small backyard potted-tree nursery (~20 trees from seedlings to <1in. saplings at this point). I recently moved to a new house, not very far but far enough where the deer browse has increased significantly. Unsurprisingly, the tree nursery has suffered severely every night since the trees were moved to the yard in this new location.

Autumn is upon is and some of these trees' leafs were already turning colors and drying up. After just two nights in the new location, many of the trees have lost most of their leafs to deer. Thankfully the deers are not eating all the buds, mostly just leafs, though they have chomped the terminal stem of an apple tree...

What's the best thing I can do to protect these trees at this point?

I realize in this new location I will need deer control - I plan on putting up a steel post deer fence ASAP around the tree nursery and in the long run putting up a wood fence and/or living fence around the whole yard. With a fence up I also plan to upgrade the tree nursery, planting trees out of pots to grow out in beds before bare root transplanting, and setting up air pruning beds for seedlings. In the mean time what can I do...just put the steel fence up ASAP?

Another idea is to move the trees into a garage which gets some western light but very little. While living in a garage is not a long-term solution, my thinking is the trees are already losing leafs (from seasonality and more rapidly from deer browse) so being in the garage is not all bad and regulates temperature; in the mean time I can setup a fenced area for them. If I went the garage route, should I move the trees back out as soon as I have a fence up, or wait until spring to move them out (I'd think the latter - wait until spring to bring them out)?

The trees in question are:

  • Hazelnut
  • Elderberry
  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Black currant
  • Linden
  • Lilac

Hardiness Zone is: 5

8 Answers 8


For 100% certain protection put the fence up asap. Orchardists have been researching this for years and fencing is the only guaranteed protection. An 8' tall fence if vertical, or 5' height if slanted outwards at 45 degrees, have become standard. It may help to not have a defined upper limit to the fence (such as a solid 2x4 to rail). If the deer cannot readily see and ascertain the top of the fence they are less likely to risk jumping. Of course, electrifying the fence helps.

Short of fencing there are a couple of odorants that I have personal experience with. Plantskydd is a commercial spray, based on blood meal, that is supposed to deter ungulates as it reminds them of a fresh predator kill. I have found it moderately effective. The downsides are that rain will wash it off and you must regularly reapply it. As it has a high nitrogen content you might not want to spray it on non-dormant leaves late in the season as it could encourage vigorous new growth that would not harden off well and therefore be susceptible to frost. Lastly, it is not inexpensive.

I have also used Irish Spring soap with very very good results. Poke a hole through the bars and hang them up with string or wire around the perimeter of the orchard. No one can say why it works, except that is seems deer just don't like how it smells. Again though, in my experience, it works. It is also relatively cheap and lasts quite a while.

The garage solution is an iffy proposition. Most fruit trees have complex dormancy requirements, both endo and eco. The dormancy requirements vary with temperature. That is to say, the periods differ if the temperature is just above freezing, vs in the the 40's, which would also be different than temps in the 50's, etc ...

It is likely that just putting them in your garage, if it is at all heated or insulated, is going to mess with the trees dormancy. Without fully understanding, tracking, and providing the proper dormancy periods, your trees will lag in growth and not blossom or fruit.

The same goes for cold hardiness which is a separate biological process.

Since your "small back yard potted tree nursery" doesn't seem to large and you have the advantage of movable pots you could also rig up some other short term physical barrier until you can finish your final fence construction. Try bunching all the pots into a small area, surround with pallets, and put snow fencing over the top. Or put up a temporary snow fence around and on top of them. A good physical barrier will keep the deer out but please leave your nursery plants outside.

So, fence it or rig a physical barrier asap and apply Irish Spring and/or Plantskydd until you can.


  • Great thorough answer! The garage is a bit insulated and could definitely confuse the trees about seasonal temperatures. I don't expect any of them to fruit for another few years though; would it be that bad of a disturbance to them in the long-run? In any case I'll try to get a simple fence up for them at least until leafs are all off and/or frost is about to hit
    – cr0
    Oct 21, 2017 at 5:00

For immediate protection, I can highly recommend motion detecting, animal repelling sprinklers. I have used the scarecrow to protect rose of sharon shrubs for several years. I know it works because occasionally I'll use the hose for something else and forget to reconnect it. 24hrs without the Scarecrow on and the shrubs will get hit badly.

There are other brands/makes of such sprinklers, and I'm sure they'll all work. You just want to make sure you've got the perimeter covered.

But for real protection, the deer fence is your best option. You can use 10' long metal posts pounded 2' into the ground to give you 8' of post to hang deer fencing on. The fencing can be plastic, as it doesn't sound like you've got a large enough or delicious enough area for them to put in an concerted effort.


Sounds as if you are due for a greenhouse. For your starts. There is deer fencing that comes in a package...plastic webbed fencing very very tall. Hard for deer to see and right there is a deterrent. You could get your starts thriving in 10 to 20 gallon pots (use potting soil....). By then you should be able to construct a deer fence; these fences are not vertical. They are at an angle, low on the outside...higher towards the garden you want to protect. I think, grins. Might be the other way...not sure! This mesh stuff should be 'framed' and made into panels. It is huge stuff for very little money. Deer will not 'break through'...

Well, deer fencing hasn't caught up with what is known about deer jumping fences. Found info on which direction to create the low end and the high end. deer fence specs


We protect our nursery stock and customers' landscaping with DeerPro Winter Animal Repellent. One spray in the fall protects all winter long.


I like the idea of the motion detecting sprinklers. I also know that electric fencing will probably be your best bet. You should look on youtube for this guy, but one man I saw, put in some metal t-posts and ran a strand of 15lb test fishing line at ~4' high. The idea was that that thickness of line was too thin to see and too heavy to easily break. The deer walk into it, attempting to get to your plants, and it "grabs" there chest and scares them off. He showed a ton of tracks where he said they passed through all the time and saw them all around, but never had garden damage. I saw another version with buckets and cans on the buckets that were tied to the horizontal strand. When the deer touched the horizontal strand, it dropped the cans off the bucket and rattled them, startling the deer.

I personally think you'll need a combo of the two. The only sure fire way to keep them out is to physically fence them out, but I think a combo of other options will work as well. I'd probably try the fishing line combined with the motion sensor sprinkler. Just make sure you don't get hit by it. I think two strands of electric would also be cheap and highly effective.

It's not like the deer will hit your trees non-stop, once you try a few things. They will only come back if it's always easy. If they get deterred a couple of times they'll look for an easier snack. You'll only have repeat offenses with new deer or if they forget and give it another try later in the year.


This late in the season I would put them in a garage or similar space. This would also give some weather protection ( in pots is not the same as in the ground). Then put up your 12 foot + deer fence . If it is a solid fence and the deer can not see the other side , you only need 6 feet. If you leave them out, the deer will eventually eat the buds. With snow cover , the rabbits will eat the exposed bark. PS; I found red currents to be the most pest free fruit -excellent jelly.

  • I've gone the garage route for now and will work on other options like deer fencing and motion sensing sprinklers, en route to ultimately building a solid wood fence. At this point in an unusually warm October, is it OK to keep the trees in the garage for the season until Spring 2018?
    – cr0
    Oct 20, 2017 at 15:08
  • I have a great video of 2 fawns playing in a sprinkler, then the mother joins in. The deer will like your sprinkler; It will scare them the first few times. but they get used to it. Oct 20, 2017 at 16:24
  • Yea I suspected that much - I think some fencing is the key. At this point, just wondering if the trees should remain in the garage until Spring, or if I should move them outdoors ASAP (once I get a fence up) until threats of frost set in.
    – cr0
    Oct 20, 2017 at 18:02
  • 1
    Do not drag your trees in and out. If they are used to the out of doors you HAVE to acclimate them to the indoors, a garage, a greenhouse. The other way applies as well. Do not take plants acclimated to a garage, the indoors, artificial lighting out of doors even for a few hours. If they've been in the garage, leave them. Reduce watering, NO fertilizer and acclimatize them in the spring carefully to the out of doors. Great time to prune out errant branches.
    – stormy
    Oct 21, 2017 at 0:31
  • Good to know, thanks @stormy. Since the trees are already moved to the garage I'll plan to keep them in there throughout the Winter and gently acclimating them to the outdoors in the Spring. I had plans to plant two of the ~3yr old Hazelnut trees soon, this Fall - think I'm better off waiting since they've spent almost a week in a garage at this point?
    – cr0
    Oct 23, 2017 at 14:34

Black plastic mesh deer netting, and don't skimp on height. The fencing is pretty affordable and visually minimal, but effective. Indeed, part of its effectiveness is that they think they can run through it, and bounce off it instead (it's strong - use good posts.)


Talk your Barber into allowing you to collect hair trimmings - bag up in small cloth bags or sprinkle loose hairs, moderately thickly, throughout the nursery.

Another choice, provide whatever else in your area is in their hierarchy of food ie #1) baled clover, #2) baled or collected hardwood twigs, etc (very localized). Place it in an area close to forest edge, (west facing best), downhill from nursery, perhaps even placing a salt block near the attractant. However if you make it too good you may attract other problems. If you know any GOOD deer hunters, you can ask them what they would use as bait if baiting deer was legal.

edit Thinking further, I've heard that hair from a lions mane is an excellent deer repellent. I know, ridiculous. But if you find a cooperative cat, you could experiment with cat hair. If you do try this, please send me a picture illustrating how to collect the cat hair.

  • Please use the edit link underneath your post if you want to update it with additional information.
    – Niall C.
    Oct 27, 2017 at 15:16

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