How I Protect Trees From Deer Rubbing Damage

How I Protect Trees From Deer Rubbing Damage

In my second year with our garden I experienced the joys and wonders of living with deer. In the three and a half years since I’ve learned a lot about protecting plants from deer but I still suffer from their exploits frequently. Most notably this year the deer discovered my vegetable garden for the first time. Maybe you noticed the lack of vegetable garden posts in 2010? The combination of super heat in July and August, marauding deer, and the ever continuing dryness pretty much knocked it out by the end of July. (If this dryness ever ends I might actually get some greens going!)

Needless to say the deer have been my nemesis. That first year in our garden I planted several trees. Mostly maples but also a Yoshino Cherry, a dogwood, and a purple leaf plum. That fall I experienced my first deer rubbing. Well I actually didn’t – the trees did! You see in the fall antlered deer like to rub the fuzz off their horns against soft young trees. I didn’t know this back then but I do now – you have to protect your young trees if you have deer near. In that season the deer killed the dogwood and nearly killed all the others by scratching the cambium layer right off the trunk. Fortunately the trees that survived were left with enough bark to continue their natural processes without any impact but that dogwood was one unlucky dog. That year I learned my lesson and you can believe that after seeing 5 deer near our yard – one of which had 4 points – I’m going to protect them.

How do you protect a tree from deer rubbing?

I like to use a plastic mesh that allows air to circulate around the tree yet is enough of an impediment to prevent the deer antlers from messing with the trunk. I bought a 15’x3′ roll of the mesh and cut it into three 5 foot sections. Then I cut each 5 foot section into 2 18″x5′ sections. I used the longest side to wrap vertically around the trunk. Then I used twist ties to bind the mesh together. It works much easier than cutting through thick perforated pipe but is another effective way to prevent deer from rubbing the bark.

How do you deal with the deer?


Dave has written since 2007. He gardens on an acre and a half where he raises his 4 children. He enjoys growing vegetables, herbs, and propagating plants. Dave has a side business growing and selling heirloom vegetables and herb plants through Blue Shed Gardens and works as a real estate agent in Spring Hill, TN.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. I don't envy you the deer problem. Glad you found a way to protect your trees from damage. Sorry to hear about the veggie garden getting sampled.

  2. I have had the same experiences you have… including the complete destruction of an expensive linden from antler rub. I do the same thing you are doing, I wrap the trunks in mesh (I use green plastic mesh fencing material cut up). I wrap the plastic mesh around the trunk and secure it with twist ties. I only need about a 3 foot vertical length, as they don't rub at the root flare or right under the branches, just at mid level of the trunk. Damn deer.

  3. I'm glad it works out for you. Losing a tree like this would be most frustrating. No deer problems here-knock on wood. We do have voles though and they are pretty bad. Wish I could fix them!

  4. Nice job Dave. Looks good too. Sorry for you lose of the Dogwood. They are pretty trees.
    I've seen the damage that they can do. No deer problem here in town.

  5. One thing is certain with deer: it's different every year. We have been gardening at edge of woods where deer trek through our property for 30 yrs but they have habits which are knowable.
    You have to try to plant things they don't like around the edges, where they pass, but they will eat just about everything but Lavender & Artemesia in my garden.
    We fenced in our small vegetable plot; it's been safe so far. For young trees you have to guard them as you're doing. I use chicken wire cages to protect young trees/shrubs.
    I have tried spraying against deer and know of one garden where the Hostas are saved by it but it's much work to keep it up. Liquid Fence is one that we've used.
    This year for some reason they didn't eat the Echinacea which I really enjoyed, it looked like a tiny wildflower meadow. I always ask if a plant is deer-tolerant; no point falling in love only to have your heart broken. I have three roses that I must have and those are netted over; it looks horrible but I do love the flowers.
    I love Heuchera but I'm not so sure I can have those unless I plant them near the house.
    I did notice there were less deer this year; as always change is the constant….don't give up!

  6. Rabbits are my gardening nemesis. Thankfully, we don't have deer problems, but I have a couple of clients who do, and Liquid Fence works pretty well keeping them out. It's not cheap though, and has to be reapplied regularly.

    My mom has lots of deer, and her veggie garden is protected with an electric fence. It does an excellent job keeping deer and other critters out.

    Deer fencing, which is relatively inexpensive and unobtrusive works pretty well for a couple of friends who have lots of deer in their area.

  7. Last year bucks hit just about every young tree or shrub that I had planted in the back yard. They killed the top half of two redbuds, half of a mountain laurel and one step of a clumping river birch. This year I went to the local home supply store and picked up the solid gutter drains that are 6" by 10', split those down the middle and placed them around my trunks. They have plenty of space for air and make the tree larger than what the deer are looking to rub. I still don't have a solution that will work for the small shrubs.

  8. Have you actually gone through a fall and winter with the plastic mesh around your tree trunks? If so, did it keep the bucks from rubbing them?

    1. I've gone through several seasons now protecting my younger trees with the mesh. So far no deer has damaged any tree with the mesh on it.

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