Updated: Oct 29, 2021
When planting native, many are discouraged to find that deer are often a little too grateful for our efforts. I think it's important to plant things they will eat, too, as they are part of a balanced ecosystem, and may someday be valuable to us as a protein source. Here is how I protect new plants from deer browse:
4-5 foot metal fence stake ($4-$5) or 4 foot round steel fence post ($2 at Menards & TSC)
Rabbit/other fencing or chicken wire, cut into 2-4 foot lengths
Cut fencing into varying lengths to accommodate the different sizes of new plants.
"Knit" them together by bending the cut edges. No need to cinch every level - just 2-3 "stitches" will suffice: one on each end and one in the middle. This allows for easier removal as the plant bushes out later.
Pound or step the stake/post in until the entire anchor plate is buried. This helps prevent or slow heaving out during freeze-thaw cycles.
Use a cage that is slightly larger around than the new plant you're caging.
If the plant is taller than the cage, situate the cage higher on the stake, leaving a gap at the bottom of the cage. The goal is to cover the area that deer are most likely to browse as they pass by. If your cage is too low, they WILL nose into the top of your cage to nibble.
Check your cages periodically. As the ground freezes and thaws, the stakes will loosen over time. When the ground is soft, stakes can be easily pushed back in by applying pressure to the anchor plate with a well-placed boot heel.
I'll have to admit I haven't removed many of the cages around my plants, but having been here for 6 years, I'm assuming it's getting to be that time. I would appreciate others' input on when they determine the timing is right to set their caged plants free. Please comment here so others can learn too!