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There is no time more critical in a young fruit tree’s life than when it is planted.
The second most crucial time is the first winter (and a few succeeding winters after that). Young trees need to be protected their first few winters from both the weather and the critters that come around in the winter.
What Not To Do For Winter
Fruit and nut trees benefit greatly from pruning. However, especially with young trees, pruning should not be done with freezing temperatures. It’s best to wait until late winter or early spring.
Not only is early spring a great time to prune before the sap begins moving, but it’s also the best time for a tree to heal. Also of great benefit is that beginning buds are easily found to use as markers for your cuts.
Most obviously, wind can blow and snap young branches. Less obvious is the root damage caused by winds.
Strong, shifting, and/or persistent winds can cause a young tree to sway. At a young stage, persistent or extreme swaying can prevent the roots from establishing their grip in the soil.
To prevent damage from winds, many young trees are tied to a stake. Stakes can be made from so many things. What’s important are that they aren’t made of something that would be toxic to the surrounding soil, and that they are straight and secured into the ground firmly at a 90 angle to the ground right next to the tree, but not stabbing into delicate roots.
Use a string or wire to tie the tree to the stake. If you are worried your wire or string will cut into the tree, run them through a plastic pipe or rubber hose where they will be touching your tree trunk.
No matter where you are, you have some kind of wildlife that becomes interested in your trees once winter has set in. This could be mice, rabbits, deer, or other.
For small critters, you’ll want to make sure you have a special breathable tape wrapped around your young trunk. Start at the bottom all the way to the ground and wrap around in an upwards direction.
Wrap up at least two feet. I try to wrap all my young trees up to the first divide in the trunk. Follow the directions on your trunk tape, but most call to be tied in a single knot at the top. This is the tape that I use that promises not to restrict any growth. It also protects from sunscald. (I wrapped 18 trees with one roll this year.)
Make sure as you are putting your mulch on, you keep it away from the tree by a few inches. This will also deter small animals from chewing at the bottom of the trunk.
We have deer, moose, and the occasional elk walk through our orchard. I can tell you from experience, a heard of deer can eat 10 young pear trees to death in only one night.
A moose will trample anything less than a 3 year old tree, snapping them off at the ground without even blinking. When a heard of them comes through, your orchard doesn’t stand a chance.
The best line of defense is a 10 foot tall strong deer fence all the way around your orchard. Since this is only needed for a few (5? 6?) years, most people don’t put all the money and time into one of these.
The next line of defense is using whatever materials you have to make individual tree protection. We have used cow panels to make triangles around individual trees, or net wire wrap around trees.
If your wire has holes large enough for a deer to get it’s face through, then you want it far enough away from your tree that they can’t munch through the wire. However, deer will jump high to get to anything. To avoid them jumping into the tree surround and eating your tree branches (and tearing up the wire surround when they jump frantically to get back out), make sure your border is just large enough to protect the trees.
Deer have a funny sense of depth perception. If the tree cage looks too small for them, they won’t try to jump in. They will reach over and eat what they can reach though.
If you don’t have ground crawling critters (like rabbits), you may consider raising this surround a foot or so off the ground. The extra height discourages the deer from reaching over, and they don’t go under.
A well visible border will keep a moose away. We don’t have problems with the moose eating our trees, just walking through them.
Are you considering starting your first orchard? Be sure to read Fruit & Nut Tree Considerations For Beginners.