Q:During deer rut,
a buck used his antlers to rub the bark off the trunk of a weeping
cherry that I just planted a few years ago. Can you tell me how to
save my young tree from this buck rub, and protect the tree during
the next rutting season?
A: It is
amazing how much buck rub damage trees can survive. Damage that
completely encircles the tree's circumference is more deadly than
damage up and down. This is because the tree's vascular system is
just under the bark. Young trees have very thin bark that offers no
protection from such damage. The bright green layer under the bark,
called the cambium, is only a cell or two thick, and it gives rise
to the tree's vascular system.
When a tree is damaged around its entire circumference, it is said
to be girdled. Trees that are girdled often die because they can no
longer transport water and nutrients. If the damage is most severe
up and down on the trunk, the tree can survive, although the growth
on that side might be less vigorous than the undamaged side.
Cherry trunk with
Trees are capable of healing a surprising amount of damage on their
own. Avoid the temptation to use a wound dressing. It may make you
feel better -- like putting a Band-Aid on the wound -- but it can
actually interfere with the tree's ability to heal itself.
Patching-up a buck rub
The best practice is to use a sharp knife, such as a grafting knife,
to cut off jagged pieces of bark around the edge of the wound. If
you can trim the wounds into an elliptical or football shape
oriented vertically on the trunk, it will help the tree recover more
quickly. Do not dramatically enlarge a wound to accomplish this,
though. Just clean up the edges as best as you can because they will
heal easier than the ragged damage left by the buck's antlers.
Bucks rub their antlers on young, flexible trees to remove the
velvet that initially covers them. It is a popular misconception
that the drying velvet is itchy and they are trying to get it off;
antlers have no nerve endings. Bucks rub their antlers on trees to
attract receptive does and to demarcate territory and warn other
bucks to stay away. They also simulate battle with other bucks on
these trees, perhaps to strengthen their neck muscles in preparation
for the real thing.
wrought iron guard protects this newly
planted tree from deer "in rut" shredding the bark
with their antlers
Future deer seasons
It is possible that this buck will come back to rub on your tree
again, so it is important to take steps to protect it. You should
surround the tree with a sturdy fence or barrier that can keep a
determined deer away from the tree trunk. A 6-foot-tall barrier of
welded wire mesh, supported by 8-foot-tall rebar pounded into the
ground at regular intervals around the circumference is a reliable
way to keep bucks from rubbing on young trees. Another option is
corrugated plastic drainpipe that has been slit along its length and
placed around the trunk. You can also purchase ornamental metal
grates designed for this purpose. They are more expensive but much
more attractive. While deer repellents can help prevent deer
browsing, they are not very effective in controlling buck rubs.