Q: I’ve noticed the deer rubbing their antlers on some of my trees. Is this going to hurt the trees?
A: This is a very timely question! Recently, my neighbor and I were admiring four large bucks in the backyard. The velvet fur on their antlers makes them standout as kings of the species. But these critters stand out in another way too: rubbing the velvet-like fur from their antlers is a process they do every year, just prior to the mating season. It generally starts in late August to early September and lasts for 60-90 days. This rubbing action frequently causes enough damage to kill a tree.
Usually the deer attack deciduous trees. Trees with smaller diameter trunks are most vulnerable. The bark is softer and more easily penetrated. Larger trunked trees such as aspens are a prime target too. Sometimes small upright junipers can be a target. You would never expect this but I can attest to this being true.
Protect, protect, protect! When you have added trees to your landscape, valued at $300-$500, then we as gardeners must be proactive to save our investment. Using hardware cloth is a great investment. Buy it in a large roll—20-40 feet in length. The height of the hardware cloth should be three or four feet. I like a ½“mesh because the cylinder that you will construct is sturdier. The larger the mesh, the more flimsy it becomes. Additionally, a larger mesh wire allows the deer to insert their antlers points into the mesh and destroy the cylinder—maybe the tree.
The recipe goes like this. Place cylinders around vulnerable trees and do it now. Construct the cylinder using the 1/2″ mesh hardware cloth so there is about 3” between the cylinder and the tree trunk. Protect the tree trunk up to six feet; most young trees will only be three to four feet between the ground and the lowest branches. Lastly, secure the cylinder with anchor stakes. This keeps the cylinder in the desired position and saves your tree to live another year.
Contributed by Don Bunce, Colorado Master Gardener, and Colorado Wildlife Master. For answers to your horticultural questions, contact the Master Gardener Help Desk at 520-7684 or CSUmg2@elpasoco.com. Access fact sheets and seasonal information on the El Paso County Horticulture website http://elpasoco.colostate.edu/horticulture/.