A few years ago, I had a row of Little Gem Magnolias planted along the side of my driveway to serve as a screen for the garage area. I have been anxiously awaiting the day when these small trees would mature into a somewhat reasonable size. The first spring they did pretty well for a newly planted tree. Then, lo and behold, this past winter, a buck that loves to visit my yard nearly sheared one of these babies completely in half. (I call him Uncle Buck – because he is like the family member that you dread to have visit). 🤣
Well fast forward to today, and the deer mating season is fast approaching for my area, and I am getting ready for Uncle Buck with these deer guards.
Tree Guards for Preventing Deer Rubbing…
You can see it in action in my YouTube video above, or just read the details below. This was my very first YouTube video done several years ago – back before I had any intention of utilizing videos in my blog. So, it is far from being professionally done. But, I have since started adding videos regularly, and taking it seriously. Please take a moment to head over to my channel and subscribe, or just like a video! 🙂
My Magnolia and What Uncle Buck Did…
Why Deer Rub
First, I guess I should back up a bit and explain why deer seem to be on a mission to take out any tree that’s less than 4″ in diameter. I have read a lot on this subject, and I can tell you that there seem to be two different consensus. First, the deer are rubbing the velvet off of their antlers, preparing them for the upcoming fights that are to come. This is the most popular thinking.
The second is that they are marking their territory, rubbing glands located at the base of their antlers onto the tree in an attempt to warn other males away. Both make perfect sense me, but neither reason garners much sympathy when the object of their destruction is located in my landscape.
How It Effects the Tree
Aside from it making the tree look unattractive (or in some cases, completely taking the tree down), a deer rubbing on a tree can result in the death of the tree. Why? Well it all comes down to science.
Remembers those words from biology class – Xylem and Phloem? No? Well, let me see if I can jog your memory. Without getting too technical, the xylem and phloem are tubular like structures that run vertically within a tree. They carry everything that the tree needs from the roots all the way to the tips and vice versa, sort of the same way that our circulatory system does for us.
The phloem, the part that is most likely to be damaged by a deer, is located just beneath the tree bark at the location of the cambium. It transports the sugar that is created during photosynthesis from the leaves to the other parts of the tree and roots. The xylem is located further in on a tree and it transports water and nutrients from the roots upwards.
So what happens when a deer rubs through the tree bark? Almost always, part of the phloem is destroyed. That means that the root structure that relies on that portion of phloem will die. And in return, the part of the tree that depends on those roots will suffer and possible die as well.
If the damage penetrates all the way through to the xylem, the possibility of death increase substantially. A tree can usually withstand a small amount of superficial damage, but if the deer rubs more than half of the circumference area, chances are not good. Even less can cause eventual death.
Look again at this photo. You will notice on my tree that there are branches just beneath the damaged area. These are new shoots from this year. This is the tree’s way of trying to recover.
The nutrients are having a hard time making it past this damage, so energy is being focused below it. You can also see a couple of small branch twigs above the damage that do not have leaves. They have died, and there is a good chance that even more branches located on this side and above the damaged area will die off as well, but let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Prevent Deer Rubbing a Single Trunk Tree…
There are several methods out there for protecting trees from deer rubbing, but they all entail some sort of structure to prevent the deer from making contact with the tree trunk. For a regular tree, one with a single trunk that doesn’t have branches below the rubbing height, I like to use a corrugated drainage pipe.
This is one of the quickest and cheapest methods to guard a tree. I simply cut the pipe to the length that I need. Then, I cut a straight line down one side of the pipe with my utility knife.
Next, I wrap the pipe around the trunk. FYI – the average deer is 39″ from the shoulder to the ground. Since, they bend their heads down in order to rub, you will usually find that a length of 36″ – 39″ is adequate.
Very Important – The trees that I am using this method on are in my backyard. They back up to the wooded tree line of my property, and the trunks are sheltered from direct sunlight. If you want to use corrugated drainage pipe on a tree that is in full sun, do not use black. The black color of the pipe can over heat the tree trunk. So, take steps to alter the pipe or shield it from the sun, otherwise the tree will suffer.
PREVENT DEER RUBBING : Multi-Trunk Trees
On a multiple trunk tree, or a tree that has branches low to the ground (such as my magnolias), a corrugated pipe will not work. For these, you will need to create a barrier that circles all of the trunk and/or branched area.
I have seen several people using chicken wire, or garden wire attached to wooden stakes. You can use this method if you choose; however, I wanted to find something that looked a little nicer. I also wanted something that would allow me to be able to easily remove the barrier for maintenance at the end of the season, and still be able to quickly put it back in place when I need it.
So, what I came up with is to use these no-dig fence posts that are sold at Lowes. They are 39″ high and cost $3.96 each at the time of this writing. It is by no means the cheapest way to protect a tree.
But, what I like about this is that they can be removed from the ground, and quickly slid back as many time as I want, without needing to apply any effort. This way, I can take them out to mow, mulch, or to store away for the spring and summer. Next winter, I will be able to just slip them right back into the ground.
Let’s see how this works:
First, I removed the small screw at the bottom of the post – the one holding the post and stake together. (make sure all the posts have the stakes attached to them before purchasing. They do not come as separate items). The screw is purely for shipping purposes.
Then, I hammered the stakes into the ground around the perimeter of the tree. (I made sure to stay just outside of the drip line to lessen any damage to the root ball). All of the stakes are place approximately 6″ apart. (I don’t want them putting their head between the posts and getting stuck, so I didn’t want to go any farther apart.)
Once all of the stakes were inserted into the ground, I slid the posts down into the slot, adjusting as I went to get everything level. You will notice that these have just a little bit of looseness to them. That is just because the sleeve is not tight, but it will not effect the strength.
I will have no problems cleaning the leaves out from around the base of the tree trunk this fall, because I can simply lift these post out of the stake sleeves. This will also allow me to store these away when spring rolls around, and use them again next year when the time comes.