November 3, 2012

1 - Young trees do indeed need protection against deer and rabbits in the winter.

Yard and Garden November 3, 2012


I started some saplings on my 1/8 acre lot in Silver City. I have chicken wire around them to keep the deer from eating them. I have been cutting branches off the trunks from the ground up, leaving a canopy on the top. Am I training them correctly! What is your recommendation? These are primarily lace bark elms I got from State Forestry in New Mexico.


Chicken wire protection around trunks of new trees and chicken wire around and over smaller trees is very helpful in protecting them from deer and rabbits. With winter coming, that is an important consideration.

There are several things to consider when using chicken wire to protect trees. When putting it around the trunk, it MUST be loose enough to prevent girdling and cutting into the bark as the tree grows or as the wind blows the trunk and branches against the chicken wire. Damage to the bark by the chicken wire may be almost as harmful as the deer and rabbits. You may need to use some tall wooden or metal stakes to hold the chicken wire upright and away from the tree. Some people just wrap it around the trunk and get away with it, but when doing this, the chances of damage are greater than if the chicken wire is held far enough away from the tree (a foot or so).

The chicken wire must be tall enough to keep deer and jackrabbits on their hind legs from reaching over the top to feed on the bark and lower branches. In the winter when there are snow drifts, rabbits can often reach over chicken wire if it is not tall enough. Damage to the bark is a much greater concern than having the animals browse on the tips of twigs. The twigs will regrow, but damage to the bark will cause permanent problems for the tree and may be fatal to the tree.

As far as training the trees by removing their lower branches: training is good, but must be done properly. If the trees are currently very small and multiple branches are developing at the base resulting in a shrub form, then pruning these branches away is helpful. If you are just "limbing-up" the tree, you may not be happy with some of the effects. Lower branches, as long as they are not competing for dominance with the main trunk, are good because they help the tree trunk develop girth more rapidly. This increases its strength and ability to hold-up to the winds so common in New Mexico. The lower branches may be trimmed back partly to maintain their secondary status, but leaving them for a time helps strengthen the trunk. Trimming lower branches back so that they do not become tangled in the chicken wire is a good idea, but you do not necessarily need to remove these branches completely in the early years of the tree.

When you do remove these branches from the lower part of the trunk, you must prune properly. You should cut them in a manner that does not damage the branch collar. The branch collar is a swelling at the base of the branch being removed. This collar contains tissue belonging to the trunk which helps protect the trunk from entry of diseases. The topic of branch collars and proper pruning has been discussed in Yard and Garden columns in the past. The past issues may be found on-line at the ACES website. You can also find pruning information for ornamental trees at Guide H-156: Tree Pruning Techniques.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


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