Sunday, January 16, 2011

Deer Country 6: Eating & Rubbing Shrubs & Trees

Browsed shrub

Deer impact shrubs and trees in deer country landscapes in two ways. They eat them and rub them. For the first, all deer are guilty. For the second, only antlered males, the bucks are guilty.

I had great dreams for landscaping when we moved to Meadow Glenn nearly 15 years ago. One of my first purchases was three Nellie Stevens hollies that I planted at an angle going out from the front, south corner of our house—a line of ever-greenery that I envisioned would eventually frame our house for visitors driving down our driveway.

Imagine my shock when I went to water the plants one evening and discovered three sets of woody stems with a total of about four leaves. Hoof prints indicated the defoliators—deer. Welcome, Bob, to Deer Country.

I replaced the ever-green framing dream the next year with three eight- to ten-feet red maples, so large that I paid about $200 each to buy, transport, and plant the young forest.

Imagine my irritation when I went to water the three maples one day that fall and discovered the trunk of one with severely damaged bark about 15 inches above the ground. The culprit—a buck who had “rubbed” my new maple.

Tree healing one year after rubbing
Eating defines itself—and I explained in Deer Country 2 why deer prefer the tender new plant growth. Rubbing is different. In spring and summer, bucks grow their antlers for that year. At first, the antlers are covered with what’s commonly called “velvet.” In late summer, the blood supply to the antlers dries up, the velvet begins to flake, and the bucks rub their antlers on shrubs and trees to remove the flaking velvet. The bucks are polishing their antlers to impress the does—or competing bucks—in the fall breeding or rutting season.

When the bucks rub, they seem to prefer long, small-diameter stems or trunks with some “spring” in them, so they get added polishing action when they rub. If the buck rubs around the whole stem, he may remove enough bark to kill that stem. If he puts too much pressure on a stem, it may break. Rubbing victims here at Meadow Glenn include red maples, sumacs, butterfly bushes, dogwoods, American hollies, tulip poplars, and red cedars.

How can you try to prevent eating and rubbing? If you have just a few shrubs or trees, perhaps a deer- repellent spray will work. I discussed those in Deer Country 4. A practical answer is that you can cage shrubs or young trees with wire fencing and metal or wooden posts.

That’s what I use—cages. Welcome to the Clarksville Shrub & Tree Zoo, where plants are caged and the deer run free.

Posting Deer Country 7 will explain how I make cages for shrubs and young trees that deer love to browse. Deer Country 8 will show you several shrubs that are deer resistant, and Deer Country 9 will do the same for trees.

To review the Deer Country posting about repellents, CLICK HERE.


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