Orchard Fencing and Trellises
Installation of a quality fence is a necessity for any Montana horticulture crop. It is an important investment for the lifetime of your orchard. Installing a fence should be your first step in establishing an orchard as it will not only provide protection for young trees but also prevent animals from becoming habituated to the area as a feeding ground.
The type of fence you choose will depend on your wildlife pressure, your personal aesthetic, and, of course, your budget. There are several resources listed below that will help you determine the best design for your situation but there are some basics that any Montana orchardist should know. Keep in mind the height of the fence and the materials you choose will depend on your situation and pest pressure. If your orchard will only be visited by deer a 6-foot fence with a top rail is adequate, an 8-foot fence eliminates the need for a top rail and increased protection. Adding a top rail will provide additional protection as a visual barrier from deer jumping over it and stability to the fence overall but will be an added expense. If elk frequent the property, you will need an 8-foot fence with a top rail as they can jump higher. For bears, the fence must be electrified to a minimum of 0.7 joules as they can climb fences and are undeterred by lighter shocks.
Several options are available for materials, however growers should consider this as an investment that will hopefully last the lifetime of their orchard. At a minimum pressure treated wood posts or steel pipe should be used. In the case of organic orchards, producers should consult with their certifier as to what materials are permitted to be used on fencing. In some cases, treated wood is permitted for fencing but not for use in trellises. If treated wood is not permitted, steel should be used in place of wood posts which, if untreated, will deteriorate quickly.
Panel fencing also comes in a range of options including knotted field fence, woven plastic and welded wire. Keep in mind that you pay for what you get, and in the case of fencing materials and installation, it is best not to cut corners. Lastly, if cost is a consideration, keep in mind that fencing is based on the linear foot, so a square perimeter will enclose more area per linear foot than a rectangle. This Fencing Cost Calculator will help you determine the best materials and design for your budget.
Additional fencing resources:
If you are planting a high density orchard, you will need to install a trellis to provide support to your trees. Proper installation of your trellis is of utmost importance, as failed trellises are costly to replace and result in loss of production as new trees must be planted in place of those damaged by trellis failure. As with your orchard fence, a trellis is an important investment and should be treated as such. Several resources exist to assist growers in designing and installing sound trellises that can support the hundreds of pounds of fruit their trees will eventually grow. This Growing Produce article, "Don't underestimate the importance of a solid foundation in your orchard," provides helpful information growers should consider when installing a trellis. Ontario Apple Growers also published a thorough and helpful guide for designing and installing apple trellises: Best Management Practices for Building Trellis Support Systems for High Density Ontario Apples. Information from this publication is also presented in the Trellis Support Systems for High-Density Apples Powerpoint. As these resources demonstrate, installing a trellis is much like installing a fence, in that the time and resources you spend on doing it right in the first place will pay off in the end. Considering the multi-decade lifespan of your orchard, it is best to make this investment up front.
PHOTO: A failed trellis in a Washington apple orchard. To ensure proper installation of trellises several factors must be considered inlcuding soil type, wind, mature crop load, weight of irrigation, and other management additions. Once a trellis fails, the only choice is to start over resulting in loss of income and additional costs to replace trees and trellis. (Photo credit, Karen Lewis, Washington State University, from "Don't underestimate the importance of a solid foundation in your orchard").