Deer damage in the garden isn’t just limited to nibbling and trampling. Male deer cause damage in the fall when they rub their antlers on tree trunks, a behavior called rutting, but there is a simple and inexpensive way to protect young trees.
Rutting damage typically occurs between September and November, during the mating season for white-tailed deer, called the rut. Male deer, known as bucks, target trees with smooth bark and trunks that are between 1 and 4 inches in diameter. It is a way that bucks mark their territory to tell the female deer, known as does, that they are around.
As rutting deer rub their antlers on tree trunks, they strip the bark. This can be fatal to trees because beneath that bark is a nutrient and water transport system known as the cambium layer. If that cambium is removed all around the trunk, there is no way for the plant to survive.
There are products for sale designed to protect trees from deer rut damage, but they can be costly, and the price really adds up if you have many young trees. Also, they are often sold in fixed sizes, so they may lack the flexibility needed to get the best protection.
A cheaper option is a barrier system made from corrugated drainage tubing. It’s simple and convenient, and can be reused year after year. A 10-foot length costs only about $9, and that will be enough for three trees. All you’ll need is a tape measure, a marking pen, and a saw that is suitable for cutting plastic.
First, measure the tree from the ground up to the first set of branches. Then, mark that length on the tubing to make the crosswise cut. Use a hacksaw to cut across the tubing at the appropriate length.
The tubing has a colored stripe that runs its entire length. Using that stripe as a guide, cut the tube lengthwise.
That’s it! Your trunk shield is ready for installation. Wearing gloves, pull the tubing far enough apart to apply it around the tree, being careful that the cut edges don’t scrape the bark as you do. While the plastic does provide some give, it’s still stiff and the cut edges can damage the bark.
The shield can be removed in winter once the rutting season has passed — but keep the shield close at hand to reinstall the following fall.
Do you have a favorite method for preventing deer rut damage? Let us know in the comments below.
Links & Resources
Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.
Episode 060: How to Control Nuisance Wildlife in the Garden: Deer, Rabbits, Moles & More
Episode 119: Deer-Resistant Design: Fence-Free Solutions to Protect the Plants You Love
joegardenerTV YouTube: How to Keep Deer from Eating Your Plants – Deer Repellent Pros & Cons
joegardenerTV YouTube: How to Keep Critters Out of Your Raised Bed Garden
joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Three popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; and seed starting!
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Seed Temperature Chart
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Essential Gardening Fundamentals: The basics on healthy soil, planting, watering techniques, composting, raised bed and other gardening methods, fertilizer, the many benefits of mulch, and more.
Corona® Tools – Video sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com
*Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we would get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us. None of the items included in this list have any bearing on any compensation being an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast were based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Rain Bird, Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Park Seed, and Exmark. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.