Now is the Time to Stop Deer Damage To Trees

Deer damage to trees is both heartbreaking, and expensive. Deer rub their antlers on trees in early fall and it’s important to protect your trees- whether they’re newly installed or as large as six inches in diameter!

White-tailed deer with antlers covered in velvet

Why do bucks rub?

Bucks go through a yearly cycle of growing antlers, loosing the antler’s velvet, and then shedding their antlers. As that velvety coating begins to shed, deer rub their antlers on trees with low branches, in a process called “buck rub”. This coincides with mating season, which can begin as early as September and can last into February. Most deer damage occurs before the peak of this season in September and October.

In addition to removing velvet, bucks rub trees to mark their territory. A bucks rub his forehead or preorbital gland on an overhanging limb to leave his scent. If the mood strikes him, he’ll even rattle the branch with his antlers. Only mature, dominant bucks rub large trees, but younger males still cause damage on small trees.

Deer damage from buck rub

When bucks scrape their antlers on outer layer of the tree, it damages the bark and deeper tissue. Not only is this unsightly, it interrupts the movement of water and nutrients through the plant and in severe cases, kills the tree.

So, in order to protect your new trees, take action in September before buck rub starts.

How do you protect trees from deer damage?

There are several easy ways to protect young trees from deer rubs.

One simple way is to place large tomato cages around your young trees. Instead of storing your tomato cages for the winter, place them around your smaller trees for the fall and winter. By the time you want to use them again, deer will have dropped their antlers for the year. Just make sure the cages do not rub on existing tree branches.

Another method is to use rebar or stakes placed around the trunk. Drive three or more stakes into the ground around the tree to keep deer from rubbing the trunk. Just be careful to avoid the root flare or any major roots as you drive the stake.

Tree tubes or tree shelters are another alternative, and are especially useful on large scale plantings. These shelters can be purchased online fairly inexpensively, and should be used in conjunction with a stake.

Protecting trees with fence and stakes
Tree cage for deer protection

For large plantings, install fencing around the whole group of trees and shrubs. Black deer fencing and several stakes are not highly visible, and usually enough to deter deer. Since deer do not like to jump into areas without substantial landing room, fencing smaller areas can be effective, even if the fence is not too high.

Remember, check tree protection measures in the spring, and will no longer be necessary when trees reach approximately 6” in diameter.

Winter Deer Damage

After mating season, bucks lose their antlers and no longer rub on trees. But in winter when there is less food available, deer may eat plants that they do not bother the rest of the year. This occurs especially in winters with heavy snow. Trees with fragrance or sharp leaves will usually keep deer at bay, but during harsh winters they’ll eat just about anything, including American Holly, (Ilex opaca).

Deer are a real problem in our landscapes, especially in the fall and winter. With some preventative measures now, you can protect your trees and shrubs from extensive damage over the next several months. As always, if you need help, contact us.