How to treat buck rubs on trees


Right now we’re seeing quite a few young trees damaged by deer.

Deer feed on tender new growth all year round, but the worst deer damage occurs during the deer rut season in fall and early winter. Young trees are helpless victims of the courtship ritual between bucks and does.

Bucks show off during rut season by scraping their racks against the bark of young trees and spraying a musky scent that attracts does. They particularly like trees standing out in the open, which they can watch from a nearby hiding place where they wait unobserved for does attracted to their handiwork.

Young bucks victimize saplings with trunks between an inch and two inches thick, older bucks with bigger racks can attack trees as big as four inches in diameter.

For years we’ve recommended spraying the trunks of young trees with Liquid Fence, because the awful smell of this product disrupts the courtship process.

Human urine has the same deterrent effect (just a hint for outdoor types) and so do some other deer repellent products. Monthly treatment during the rut season definitely helps. We’ve also had great success by surrounding tree trunks with wire fencing.

All these approaches have one thing in common: most people start doing them AFTER their trees are damaged. Better late than never, but now we have another challenge: how do we treat damaged tree trunks and save the tree?

The inner bark of trees is their pipeline for water and nutrients between the roots and leaves. Torn and shredded bark can’t transmit water up the tree. In extreme cases the damage is so severe the tree won’t survive.

A rule of thumb is that if the inner bark is scraped off more than halfway around the trunk, it won’t heal soon enough for the tree to ever grow normally.

Here’s how to treat buck rubs, step by step.

First, use a really sharp box knife to trim away any torn bark. Pay particular attention around the edges of the wound; you want to see a thin stripe of green cambium (the inner bark layer that transmits water) all around the wound, especially at the top and bottom. Once the wound is carefully cleaned, healing can begin.

Eventually the bark will grow over and close the gash.

In the meantime you have to protect the exposed flesh of the tree from insects and decay.

The best way is to apply a thick coat of tree wound paint, a black sticky goo that keeps weather and bugs out. Tree wound paint is available in a brush-top jar or aerosol spray. This paint will wear off, so you should repaint the area at least once a year until it’s healed.

Next, do what would have prevented the problem in the first place. Wrap a short section (18-24 inches off the roll) of wire fencing around the trunk, twisting the ends of the wire around to hold it in place.

Deer may try to rub, and may bend the protective fencing, but they quickly become discouraged and move on.

You should protect any tree with a trunk less than four inches thick at eye level.

Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in outdoor living spaces. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.

By Steve Boehme

GoodSeed Farms

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