Deer Rutting = Tree Trunk Damage

As a designer of landscapes, I try to assess all of my landscape material choices wisely. This goes beyond simple choices of sunny or shade plants and moves into specific placement of hardscape or plant material for; flow, accentuation of house architecture, soil characteristics, aesthetics, safety and wildlife considerations. The areas that I work in are heavily populated by deer. I must consider the chance that any plant might get eaten by deer and stick to plants that tend to not be devoured by them (Links Below!)

Sadly, not all things can be assessed for. Some of the funnier instances that I don’t generally plan for is the inability of someone to pull in and out of their own driveway. Landscape lighting tends to get run down fairly often. Funnier still, my cure is to put an outcrop stone in front of it, which then just get pushed by the offending auto into the lighting fixture. At that point we move the fixture, can’t teach old dogs new tricks, it seems.

The situation in the photos was a new one on me. I’d seen it many times while hiking in the forest preserves. In the late fall, male deer feel the need to rub off the velvet on their antlers. It’s called ‘rutting’. Male deer do this for a multitude of reasons; mark territory, show dominance, tell does he’s available… It’s the Tinder of the deer world. This poor Ginkgo didn’t have a chance.

Bucks prefer to rub on trees and shrubs that have smooth bark and are one-half to four inches in diameter. All bucks will rub saplings less than two inches in diameter, however only older bucks will regularly rub trees six or more inches in diameter. Seeing a large-diameter tree that shows signs of steady rubbing, is a sure sign that at least one older, buck frequents the area.

In the South and Southeast, bucks seem to prefer aromatic species, such as cedar and sassafras. However, they’ll also readily rub alders, eastern juniper, cherries, witch hazel, winged sumac, striped maple, sourwood and pines.

The Northeast and Upper Great Lakes region bucks like trembling aspen best as the species has a smooth, soft bark that is easily stripped. The inner wood is very light in color and has long-lasting brilliance once it’s exposed. Along with the aspen, red maple, sumac, black cherry, balsam fir, pines and willows are frequently rubbed; whereas thick barked trees like, sugar maple, ironwood, beech and paper birch are usually avoided.

Why this action of scraping the trunk surface is so bad is that just under the bark is the xylem which carries water and minerals from the roots to the leaves and the phloem which carries manufactured food, like sugars, from the leaves to the roots. If the xylem or phloem is severed all the way around the tree (girdling the tree), food cannot be carried to the roots and they will eventually die, causing the whole tree to die.

It’s sad, however there is really no way to predict this happening. Clients aren’t going to circle their trees with protective fencing either. Unfortunately, we’ll just replace this tree and hope that it will not be bothered again.

Deer Proof Trees

Deer Proof Shrubs

Deer Proof Perennials

Β© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

45 thoughts on “Deer Rutting = Tree Trunk Damage

  1. This is not something I’m going to see here any time soon. That poor tree!
    How about marketing designer tree wraps – say Bright Pink, or Gold – whatever catches the owner’s eye? Keep the deer off and decorate the garden all in one. πŸ˜€

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I couldn’t bring myself to hit ‘like’ on this one, but I certainly do appreciate the explanation. My next door neighbor puts food out right off her patio in an effort to bring in the local deer. It drives me crazy, and she won’t listen to me or the state when the advisories comes out to not do that. The deer eat on the patio, walk around the house to the front, and every year one to six of them get hit by a car on the road in front. She creates a dangerous situation for the animal and her fellow motorists. And, that doesn’t even mention the damage they cause me when they stop for a breakfast buffet on the way to her yard.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ilex, I found this post fascinating as we don’t have deer where I lie, although there are wild deer in Australia. We have had a different problem here. Puppies digging up entire plants, which then vanish entirely. We have lost a blueberry bush this week.
    By the way, when it comes to careless motorists reversing out of driveways, my mirror clipped our letterbox the other day and it split in half. It’s half assembled so we can still receive our mail but it’s in a very sorry state. Could use a few bandaids.
    xx Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That has happened to us, too, as I had been too late to put some protective wire around 2 Bradford Pears along our driveway. Well, can’t be helped. It was my fault. It also happened with a Loblolly Pine, in spite of a fence I had put around it. The buck(s) must have found a way through that fence and then simply broke the little tree.
    But we love the deer in our garden too much. So we’ll continue to protect our young trees with fences, even if that spoils the view some. The slight drawnback: with all the deer around we’re quite limited in what we can plant.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My colleague just ties a few bamboo stakes around the trunk. They get stuck into the ground only a few inches away, and bound around the trunk so that there is no longer a ‘smooth’ surface. Unfortunately, it is about as unsightly as the protective devices.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. In Australia there was a huge increase in deer farming about fifteen years ago. It was thought that there would be a demand for commercially grown venison. But the bottom fell out of the market. So some of the deer farmers who were reluctant to kill their deer just opened the gates and let them roam free. The deer are now a really destructive feral menace in Australian forests. They foul waterways and destroy trees with their rutting behaviour and in many areas have become the worst environmental problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a huge bummer!
      I feel like you Aussies ended up getting a bunch of invasive species from your northern neighbors. I feel they dropped many things off over here also. Now it doesn’t matter, we’re all in the same boat. Boats are what got us into trouble in the first place…. πŸ—‘ Hope a can of worms didn’t get opened πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh deer, that poor tree…

    Thankfully all our rutters have stayed out in the woods. They were, however, a nightmare on my grandfather’s garden. We tried putting out corn deep in the woods to entice them to stay out there, but they have a love of field peas and cabbages that can’t be bribed.

    Liked by 1 person

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