REFLECTION: RALPH BARTHOLDT - Never be too prepared when it comes to saving trees from branch-busting deer

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I have lived around ornamental and fruit trees in deer country a long time and alas, complacency!

We usually get these trees from nurseries where we meticulously walk the rows of small, budding tree prospects whose futures are a gleam in our eyes, before picking one or two for what we perceive as potential.

The small and skinny specimens will grow to give the aroma of their magnanimous flowers in the spring, robust petals of varying hues will smatter streets when they fall. Their leaves will provide shade in the summer in which we can sip sweet tea from a chair someone has dragged to the shade for us to perch upon.

That’s how we envision it before handing over bills. Big bills at times. The kind with Ulysses S. Grant smirking from their front sides.

So we dig the trees twice, these newly nurtured woody sprouts. Once out of the ground at the nursery — and again into a hole in a place we have set aside for their interminable and seasoned growth after calling the power company to make sure there are no underground lines.

We watch the trees grow all summer, mulching them, pruning, and generally, glowingly espying their maturation each morning from the kitchen window where we stand barely clad with a steaming cup of Java, smiling proudly inside.

Then …

Yes, “then” eventually comes.

One day in the fall we wake and stretch and breathe deeply the new dawn, and see that a small, buck deer overnight has rubbed clean the bark from those $109 trees with his antlers, girdling and killing our pride.



I say complacency because I saw the 4x4 buck on the street corner under a light coming from a neighbor’s garden one morning as I headed to the mountains and thought, he’s going to rub his antlers on my trees.

I then — that word again — did nothing to guard against it.

I say “small buck deer,” because I want to give the vile, prolific, garden-gnawing ungulate the benefit of the doubt. He’s still young and doesn’t know any better, but that’s malarkey.

He and his doe-eyed ilk, and the flashy-tailed, cutely spotted fawns have been garden and tree killers since I learned to walk.

The onus, of course, is on moi.

I did, for the record, take some measures to prevent this.

They were minimal I admit, and unfocused.

After last year’s honey crisp was wrecked, I acquired a couple small plastic culvert tubes, the black kind you can cut with a draw knife.

I stored them in the shed.

And I paid good coin for deer repellent.

The culverts — 8 inches wide and long enough to cover a small tree trunk — are still in the shed. The deer repellent was used in the summer then set aside.

So, that’s that.



I have lived around ornamental and fruit trees in deer country a while and don’t particularly mind when tree-bullying white tails climb into the apple trees in the fall, knocking down fruit and breaking limbs, unless the trees need a lot of doctoring afterward, and they usually don’t.

But this killing of trees glaringly highlights my lack of awareness, and I can’t have that.

So next year, I’ll probably get some deer fencing and store it in the garage.

And maybe some stronger deer spray. That should do the trick. And maybe mix up that Dalton Garden egg and vinegar concoction someone told me about years ago and put it in back of the fridge by the yogurt with the blue film.

And tie a string on my finger.

That should do it.

When it comes to preventing deer vandalism, you can never be overly prepared.


Ralph Bartholdt can be reached at

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