Preventing and Treating Deer Damage
Bucks can’t resist sapling trees and will shred them as part of their mating ritual during the fall rut season starting in mid-September. Known as “buck rubs”, this wanton damage to young trees and shrubs can be prevented very easily. Shredded trees can be treated to prevent permanent damage, but prevention is well worth the trouble. Here’s how to do both.
The easiest deterrent to manage over time is commercial deer-deterrent spray. We have had great success using “Liquid Fence”, a mixture of smells deer cannot tolerate, in an easy-to-use pump sprayer. Once it dries, “Liquid Fence” resists washing away and will continue to work for about a month. We start by spraying it on any new planting, so that deer are discouraged from day one.
Starting in mid-September we spray the trunks of all our young trees once per month during fall to prevent buck damage. Continuing to spray regularly through the winter helps prevent deer nibbling on trees and shrubs. We’ve never found any other solution that is as effective and easy to use as Liquid Fence, so for years we’ve sold it in our garden center.
We’ve also had great success by surrounding tree trunks with wire fencing. Starting with a roll of galvanized fence with a mesh of 2x4 inches or smaller, we simply cut off a short piece (18 inches seems to work best) and wrap it loosely around the tree trunk (see photo), wrapping the cutoff ends of wires to hold it in place. Bucks may try to rub, but they quickly become discouraged and move on.
Both approaches have one thing in common: most people start doing them AFTER their trees are damaged. Better late than never, but now we have another challenge: how do we treat damaged tree trunks and save the tree? The inner bark of trees is their pipeline for water and nutrients between the roots and leaves. Torn and shredded bark can’t transmit water up the tree, and the torn flesh attracts borers. In extreme cases the damage is so severe the tree won’t survive. A rule of thumb is that if the inner bark is scraped off more than halfway around the trunk, it won’t heal soon enough for the tree to ever grow normally.
Here’s how to treat buck rubs, step by step. First, use a really sharp box knife to trim away any torn bark. Pay particular attention around the edges of the wound; you want to see a thin stripe of green cambium (the inner bark layer that transmits water) all around the wound, especially at the top and bottom. Once the wound is carefully cleaned, healing can begin. Eventually the bark will grow over and close the gash.
In the meantime you have to protect the exposed flesh of the tree from insects and decay. The best way is to apply a thick coat of tree wound paint, a black sticky goo that keeps weather and bugs out. We sell tree paint in a brush-top jar or aerosol spray. This paint will wear off, so you should repaint the area at least once a year until it’s healed.
Next, do what would have prevented the problem in the first place. Wrap wire fencing around the trunk of any tree with a trunk less than three inches thick at eye level.
Steve Boehme and his wife Marjorie own GoodSeed Nursery & Landscape, located at 9736 Tri-County Highway, near Winchester, Ohio. More information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call (937) 587-7021.
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