I knew better. I’m a veteran of this horticultural horror. After all, it was the first week of October. I was taking my leisurely stroll around “the grounds” enjoying my autumnal garden when I saw it- a pile of wood shavings at the base of my young Red oak. I looked up knowing full well what I was going to see. It looked as though a woodworker had planed one side of the trunk overnight. Not good, but not the first time this has happened given the wooded nature of my neighborhood.
For those lucky enough not to have White-tailed deer as repeat garden diners (this is not a good time to tell me how beautiful they are) here’s what goes on in fall. Mating season is just around the corner and testosterone is spiking. Antlers are growing quickly and bucks need something to remove velvet (the fuzzy covering) and sharpen the points. What better candidate than a smooth-barked deciduous tree, 3” or less in trunk diameter, with the first limb five feet off the ground.
They simply lower their heads and move in on the trunk, rubbing up and down, shredding the life-giving bark from the tree. If you’re lucky they’ll get distracted and just do one side. Often they’ll do a side, back up, move around and do another side. I’ve seen trees where they’ve damaged all sides.
So, what do I do to prevent this? The picture above shows the damage. The four stakes are my solution. Unfortunately, this time they were placed after the raid. I use metal temporary fence posts. Most garden centers sell them. They’re easy to drive in the ground. On one side they have little ridges where you would slip fencing if you were using it for that purpose. I put those facing outward so if bucks decide to give it a shot those ridges would snag and prevent them from sliding their antlers up and down. I put the posts about 18-24” away from the tree trunk. Please learn from my experience and get them in the ground the last week of September.
I like my post solution, but you can also wrap the trunks with burlap or corrugated tree wrap. Generally, if the ground hasn’t frozen you can pull the posts by mid-December if you don’t want to look at them all winter. The rut is over by then.
By the way, should anyone think this is a fluke the picture below occurred the same night. He went around to the back yard and completely snapped off a rare weeping Ginkgo. Not a good night for my landscape. While the oak will heal over in a few years the ginkgo’s a goner. My 29 years of personal experience indicates that evergreens are typically not candidates for antler enhancement. They’ve never attacked any of my conifers for that purpose.
All whitetails will eat evergreens over the winter. When snow cover increases and yummy fresh greens aren’t available they’ll turn to: arborvitae (Thuja) and yews (Taxus). My favorite solution is black mesh deer netting strung over and around these seasonal delicacies. You decide whether or not you need to tack the edges to the soil with landscape pins. Deer’ll scalp a bed of purpleleaf wintercreeper (Euonymus coloratus), a ground cover, but that’s just like a hard prune so it will bounce back quickly come spring.
If you’re protecting a straight row hedge or screen you’ll need stakes to attach your material of choice to. In this case burlap is also a good deterrent. Exclusion saves you from going out several times in the winter to re-apply repellents. Your choice.
Deer damage is preventable. Don’t let your garden be a victim of the damage deer do.
P.S. – This year I learned (yes, the hard way) deer really love tuberous begonias and tropical hibiscus. The pic below was an incredibly beautiful hibiscus, fully-leaved and flowered. The buck walked onto my breezeway to strip all the leaves, flowers and buds from this plant, sitting against the house five feet from the back door. Same buck, same night. That takes… testosterone.