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Bear-proofing trees

By JoAnne Skelly

I can’t believe what I’ve been doing this past week. All gardeners realize there are a lot of repetitive, often tedious, tasks involved in gardening successfully. But seriously! I have been snipping off hundreds, no thousands, of crabapples. Most people let the crabapples stay on the tree for fall color. Believe me, I would like to do that, but…

The but here is that if I leave the fruits on the trees, the bears come, climb the trees and break off huge beautiful branches, destroying the aesthetic I’ve been creating for 30 years. All these years I have spent pruning the trees to give them an open out-reaching appearance, similar to an upside-down umbrella. It only took one visit from a bear to destroy one tree. That was three years ago at least, and I’m still trying to retrain a branch into the big open hole that dang bear created.

I don’t begrudge him having to eat, but after picking all the low-hanging fruit he attempted to climb to the outermost tips of branches that couldn’t support a cat, let alone a bear! Hence, I pruned out all the crabapples on three trees as a bear-proofing tactic. And it is tedious. Fortunately, my friend Peggy came to help. We spread tarps under the trees as much as we could, because the only thing as mind-numbing as picking each crabapple is picking up each one from the ground. The trick is to catch as many as possible on the tarp. That was Peggy’s wise suggestion. I got all the ones I could reach, and since Peggy is taller, she got the next level. After that, it was ladder and pole saw work where possible. My poor husband had to get the last level because at 6 foot 4, with a ladder his reach is mighty.

However, a part of me says, so what you cut out the crabapples on the front trees, what about those on the tree in the backyard, or the hundreds of apples on the two apple trees? It’s all probably an exercise in futility, but at least the backyard is enclosed by a fence that may slow the bear down a bit.

The moral to the story is, if you live in bear country, don’t plant fruit trees. If you have fruit trees and are worried about bears, you may want to remove them. Otherwise, be prepared for friendly visits from your neighbors.