Two falls ago (Fall of 2008) a lone buck came wandering through our yard. It was a magnificent sight to behold. Nature at its best…and its worst, at least for this gardener. You see this wandering deer was going through its normal fall ritual of rubbing its antlers for the winter. Their favorite target – young trees. That year I had planted several trees (maple and dogwood) that became natural scratching posts along with a Yoshino Cherry tree I planted the previous year.
When deer rub on trees it is often a death sentence for the tree. The antlers easily scratch through the bark and remove the cambium layer. If enough of the cambium layer is removed the tree cannot transport water up through the trunk to the areas above. No water means a dead tree. The lucky thing is that the deer didn’t remove all the bark around all the trees. The only fatality was the ‘Appalachian Spring’ Dogwood that was just too small to withstand the beating. (Losing that tree still bothers me today since I haven’t been able to find it again locally!)
The amazing thing about trees is that they grow new bark over the old. The new bark and new cambium layer form and gradually the wounds close from the outside of the wound. It’s a slow process and would take several years on older trees but small young and healthy trees, like I have, could possibly close the gap in just a few years. The old layers of bark form the tree rings or growth rings that we typically see when we try to measure the age of a tree. Each ring corresponds to another year of growth or really another growing season of the cambium layer.
Here is how my Yoshino Cherry Tree looks now. The wound is closing significantly and probably is only a sixth the size of the trunk. It’s good progress but until the wound is closed it could remain susceptible to insects or disease. I’ll do my best to keep the tree healthy and happy!
What Should You Do If Deer Damage Your Tree?
- First Don’t Panic – It may not be the end of the tree.
- See how much of the tree is damaged. If a small amount 25% or less of the trunk is scraped it should be OK. If more than that is damaged it could still survive but may need some TLC.
- Cleanup the wound.With a sharp clean knife cut away the rough edges of the wound. Rough edges won’t transport water efficiently. They could also be a good spot for insects or disease to hide.
- Then let time have its way. Monitor the tree and treat it kindly – keep the deer away – and it could come back. The say that time heals all wounds is true in this case and just might be the best way to heal a deer damaged tree!
If you live in an area that is prone to deer consider covering the trunks of young trees with some sort of mesh that will prevent them from bothering the trees. Otherwise you might have the same experience!