How to Protect Trees from Deer Rut Damage

| Care, Video

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. 


Tree bark damaged by a deer during the rut

This tree trunk has been damaged by a rutting buck rubbing its antlers on the bark.


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. 


Tree with damaged canopy

The damage to the branches in the canopy of this young dogwood is due to nutrient cutoff as a result of a rutting deer rubbing the bark off the trunk.


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.


Applying corrugated tubing to tree trunk

Pull the tubing far enough apart to apply it around the tree. Be sure to wear gloves and be careful not to allow the cut edges to scrape the bark or your hands.


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. 


Buck deer

Bucks will no longer be a danger to tree trunks once the rutting season ends, typically by the end of December.  (photo: Russell Prentice)


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.

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Corrugated drainage tubing

Corona® Tools – Video sponsor and Brand Partner of

*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 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.

About Joe Lamp'l

Joe Lamp’l is the creator and “joe” behind joe gardener®. His lifetime passion and devotion to all things horticulture has led him to a long-time career as one of the country’s most recognized and trusted personalities in organic gardening and sustainability. That is most evident in his role as host and creator of Emmy Award-winning Growing a Greener World®, a national green-living lifestyle series on PBS currently broadcasting in its tenth season. When he’s not working in his large, raised bed vegetable garden, he’s likely planting or digging something up, or spending time with his family on their organic farm just north of Atlanta, GA.

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