Deer rubbed shrub

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Sheryl Kammer caught these photos of deer in her garden. When they're so accustomed to people that they drink from birdbaths right out in the open, and pose for the camera, it's a good idea to protect shrubs and trees in advance from buck rubs and general browsing. Photos ©2012 Sheryl Kammer 

Deer are silent but cause many cries of anguish

This winter I staked 3-foot burlap screens around 4 lilac standards when I discovered the trunk of one was severely damaged by a stag's horn rubbings all the way up and down. The bark has been removed by this rubbing and the white cambium underneath has been exposed. Can I/should I do more at this point to protect it? Do you recommend wrapping, for instance? The stakes and burlap were all I had during the winter so I went with them. -W.W. -

That's what we do. When the damage is already done we put tall, sturdy stakes all around the plant a foot or so out, close together so a deer can't easily get his head between to rub. Plant the stakes firmly enough that if a deer wants to rub he can rub on those.

We try, and see that arboretums in deer country try, also, to put preventive protection around trees and shrubs once they're about an inch in diameter up to about 3 inches. The deer seem to like things about that size, thick but with enough flexibility to spring back when rubbed.

Dang deer. So beautiful, such trouble! KammerDeerWellFed.jpg

If you find a rub (or rabbit- or mouse chewed bark) right when it's happened, you can try to protect the exposed cambium so it stays moist. Then, hope the plant can grow quickly enough in spring to seal over the wound.

However, the reality is that once exposed, cambium dries quickly and then dies.

When you choose something as a cover, keep in mind that dry air, not cold, is the main problem, even in winter. The cambium cells harden during autumn to protect themselves against freezing. The bark provides some insulation but the cells underneath still have to be prepared for freezing temperatures. So wax paper held in place with an ace bandage may be better protection than something that doesn't fit tight, such as rigid tubing.

Hmmm. We're wondering whether the cool wax used to remove body hair might work as a quick bandage?