Protecting Your Trees During Deer Mating Season

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When you look outside this fall, don’t be surprised if you see more deer activity in your back yard.

Deer mating season in Northeast Ohio occurs from roughly early September through November. During this time, male deer clean their antlers and mark their territory by rubbing against trees, a process known as deer rut. The buck rubs his antlers on trees to remove the velvet that covers them (although the velvet doesn’t cause any discomfort), as well as to attract females and mark their territory, essentially telling other deer to “stay away.” In addition to rubbing, bucks may also batter or thrash their antlers against trees.

Tree Damage Caused by Deer Rut

As you might imagine, this behavior can be detrimental to your trees. As the buck rubs his antlers, much of the bark on your tree will be shredded and removed from about one to six feet above the ground.

A tree that has been damaged around its entire circumference is known as “girdled”, meaning the underlying wood is now exposed to the elements. When a smaller tree is girdled, the prognosis is generally poor.

Perhaps you noticed evidence of this tree damage in your yard last year but were unsure of the cause. If you did, you’ll want to take steps this year to protect your tree from additional damage. Once a buck has rubbed a particular tree, he will usually return to the same tree again and again.

How to Protect Your Trees

Fortunately, there are some actions that you can take that will protect your tree without causing any harm to the deer.

Perimeter Deer Fencing

Deer in garden

A good fence is the best way to keep deer away from your trees, shrubs, and perennials. Any kind of fence will work, although most people choose “deer fencing.” This is usually a black mesh fence made from heavy-duty plastic that’s typically 7.5 feet tall.

However, keep in mind that deer are jumpers; in most situations, the fence needs to be at least eight feet tall to truly keep deer out.

Fences can also be expensive, especially if you’re trying to protect a large area. And it’s not really practical to put a fence around every tree you want to protect from deer rubbing.

Tree Guards

Tree guards are placed directly around the trunk of young trees to protect them from deer antler damage. Tree guards are typically made of mesh plastic netting, plastic tubing, or special piping that wraps around the tree while also allowing it to grow naturally.

This is a good option if you have saplings or smaller trees that you want to keep safe. While a tree guard doesn’t prevent the buck from rubbing his antlers on the tree, it lessens the likelihood of damage to the bark. It’s also easy to apply and can be easily removed in spring.

Deer Repellent

Most deer repellents work by exuding a taste or smell that’s unpleasant to the deer, including garlic, rotten eggs, sewage, and predator urine. The problem is that some scent-based repellents are also unpleasant for us humans, so look for one that isn’t too offensive.

Keep in mind that this is only a temporary fix and will need to be applied regularly, especially after it rains. You should also apply a mix of different repellents each time you spray; deer can habituate to the scent of a repellent over time and it will lose its effectiveness.

A homemade remedy is to use cut pieces of strongly-scented deodorant soap (some gardeners swear by Irish Spring soap). Put the soap in a mesh bag and hang it from your tree’s branches or attach it to a stake. Just don’t hang it where the soap can drip down the trunk; that attracts rodents who will eat through the bark. Deer will happily nibble plants within 3 feet of smelly soap so you may have to use a lot of soap!

We’ve also heard of people using human hair; apparently it triggers an alert reaction in deer and they tend to stay away. However, hair loses its scent within a few weeks so you’ll have to replace it monthly. And in more urban areas where deer are used to people, it likely won’t be as effective.

In Summary

So this fall be on the lookout for amorous bucks “attacking” your trees! If you notice any damage, or see a lot of deer on your property, take steps now to protect your trees.

And if you have a serious issue in your yard with deer rubbing, contact the experts at Independent Tree. Our goal is to help you protect your trees and ensure their healthy growth during (and after) deer mating season. Give us a call today!

We Can Help!

Worried about the health of your trees thanks to deer damage? Contact Independent Tree to schedule a tree inspection. We can assess your trees and give you options for how to best help your trees recover.

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About The Author

Alan Kraus owner of Independent Tree in Newbury, Ohio

Alan Kraus

Alan Kraus is the founder and owner of Independent Tree, a full-service tree care company in Northeastern Ohio serving Eastern Cuyahoga, Geauga, Portage & Lake Counties. Alan is a certified arborist with a lifelong love of trees and with roots in the community he serves.  More About Alan >


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