Walnuts can easily be grown from seed, but the best quality nuts are produced on grafted trees.

How to Protect Walnut Tree Seedlings

by Brian Barth

Walnut trees (Juglans spp.) are a delight for the family each fall when they carpet the earth with their golden yellow leaves and tasty nuts. They also make strong, beautiful shade trees and are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9, depending on the variety. It takes a while for walnut trees to reach the size where they begin to cast shade and produce nuts, and many forms of wildlife can damage or destroy the seedlings along the way. Sometimes several forms of protection are needed to keep walnuts alive.

Plant walnuts in a “gopher basket” to protect from gophers and ground squirrels. These are cages constructed with a wire mesh similar to chicken wire. Use a 15-gallon size basket, and plant so that 3 or 4 inches of the basket extends aboveground to prevent the animals from going inside the cage at ground level.

Enclose the trunk of the seedling in a cylinder of aluminum flashing to prevent rodents from gnawing on the bark. With a hammer, drive a 24-inch wooden stake 6 inches deep into the ground at a point about 3 inches from the trunk. Cut a 20-inch section of 18-inch-wide aluminum flashing, and overlap the ends to make a cylinder 18 inches tall and about 6 inches in diameter. Secure the two overlapped ends of the flashing to the wooden stake using four or five sheet metal screws.

Protect young walnuts from deer with a 5-foot wire fence around each tree. Cut a 20-foot piece of the fence to make an enclosure of 6 feet in diameter around each tree. To keep deer from pushing the wire cage over, drive two 5-foot “T” posts into the ground with a sledgehammer or post pounder on either side of the tree, and secure the wire fencing to the clips that are built into the T-post.

Items you will need

  • 18-inch aluminum flashing
  • 24-inch wooden stake
  • Hammer
  • 3/4-inch sheet metal screw
  • Electric drill
  • Gopher basket
  • 5-foot welded wire fence
  • Wire cutters
  • 5-foot metal “T” posts
  • Sledge hammer or post pounder
  • Leather gloves


  • If your local garden center does not carry gopher baskets, hardware cloth can be used as a substitute to make your own gopher cages. Do not use standard chicken wire because the size of the holes are large enough for gophers to squeeze through.
  • Leave flashing in place around the trunk as the tree grows to prevent squirrels from climbing the tree for nuts. Be sure to remove it before the trunk reaches 6 inches in diameter to avoid girdling the tree.
  • As an alternative to fencing individual trees for deer, the entire area containing walnut trees can be fenced in. For this method, use fencing a minimum of 8 feet tall to prevent the deer from jumping over. A 5-foot fence is sufficient for individual trees because deer will not jump into the tiny enclosure.


  • Be careful when cutting flashing – the cut edges are razor sharp. Use gloves and plenty of caution.

About the Author

Brian Barth works in the fields of landscape architecture and urban planning and is co-founder of Urban Agriculture, Inc., an Atlanta-based design firm where he is head environmental consultant. He holds a Master's Degree in Environmental Planning and Design from the University of Georgia. His blog, Food for Thought, explores the themes of land use, urban agriculture, and environmental literacy.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images