Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Buck Rub

close up of a buck with antlers

Hello Fellow Readers, I recently helped JoAnn of Blairstown plant five new maple trees. Sun Valley Red Maples to be specific (Acer Rubrum ‘Sun Valley’) as their exceptional red fall color is in its glory later than most. It occurred to me that it would be wise to protect their trunks from buck rub. That’s right – not only do we have to contend with Bambi dining on our plants, but the males can also kill a young tree by shredding the bark when rubbing his forehead and antlers against the trunk.

Buck rub occurs late summer into fall when male deer rub the velvet off their new antler growth during rut season (mating season) to mark territory and attract females. Young trees are especially vulnerable as scraping can damage the systems needed to transport water and nutrients.Deer-Rub

Protect new trees by wrapping them

You can protect trees by wrapping chicken wire, paper tree wraps, plastic mesh netting, spiral wraps, plastic piping, or corrugated drain pipe. Cut a section of the material the length from the ground to just under the first branch. For corrugated drain pipe, cut to split the entire length. Be careful as drain pipe is difficult to open, so use gloves when installing to prevent injury to the bark and your fingers. To install chicken wire or netting, wrap it around the tree securely and close with zip ties. All material should be kept a few inches from the bark to allow for air circulation.

I’ve heard of folks cutting the tops and bottoms off of water or soda bottles and slitting them down the sides, then stacking them on top of each other to protect tree trunks. All of these options may not be beautiful, but they’re functional and only need to remain in place during the deer rubbing season.

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This Maple was able to heal from Buck Rub.

Deer Repellents aren’t likely to prevent buck rub, BUT …

While deer repellents can help prevent deer browse, they are not effective in controlling buck rubs. But while you are out there, you may as well put out your arsenal of spray as deer are also in their feeding frenzy this time of year. While they’re rubbing, they often chew on the lower branches, then paw at the soil below and urinate around it to mark territory. Plus, they are creatures of habit and return to the same trees and repeat the same behavior. That’s right, Miss Ellie, you’re not the only critter that leaves p-mail. Garden Dilemmas?

     Note:  Trees can survive buck rubbing, as did Marcia and Ed’s October Glory Maple pictured here. Trim off loose shredded bark and prune broken branches to a main branch or trunk. Over the growing season, new bark should develop to cover exposed wood. Still, prevention is best!

     One of my favorite ready-made solutions, an old standby for garden supplies, AM Leonard’s catalog, and online, has rigid plastic mesh tree guards for as little as a few bucks each (pun intended :^)). They’re more aesthetically appealing than other guards as black mesh tends to blend into the landscape.

Column updated 11/1/2020

Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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