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Question of the Week © 2017 Mike McGrath
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Deer: A Threat to Cars, Trees, and People
Q. I love your show and am hoping you can help my 'de-barked' pine trees. The trees are about five feet tall, were planted last year and have been de-barked (most likely by a deer) about two to three feet above the ground. The scars are about a foot wide. In your expert opinion, what is the best way to save my trees? Any ideas on how I can prevent this in the future?
---Connie in Reston Virginia
A. I will begin by explaining that deer have really not liked my car this season.
First, I'm driving in Pittsburgh on my way to deliver a keynote address at the fabulous Phipps Conservatory (great place; you must visit if you're in or near Pittsburgh!) and something goes mad wrong for the car in front of me and I wind up driving overtop of the deer they hit. Then I get back to the East Coast of Pennsylvania; I'm driving on a busy state road at rush hour and a deer decides to run into traffic in front of my car. That's what I get for not following the guy in front of me too close! Luckily my deductible was only a hundred dollars because I hit a deer and not another car or a tree.
Anyway, back to our question about trees…
Young male deer "velvet" the fur-like covering off of their newly-emerged antlers by rubbing their horny parts against trees, which can do a lot of damage, especially to "newly-planted" trees, which pretty much means anything less than three to five years in the ground.
Connie sent photos. They show a line of really sad looking little trees that were left unprotected out in the open and thus destined to be either rubbed to death by horny bucks or nibbled on by deer of both sexes, rabbits, mice, voles and/or other miserable munchers.
If the antler rubbing removed a complete circle around the trunk, that rubbed tree is doomed. And any trees that do survive are still going to look really sad. I would plan on replacing them in the Spring. The bark on young trees is really soft and fragile and easily damaged. And it's much more edible than the bark on older, more mature trees. But what can you do? Caging them would be so ugly!
Not uglier than trees without middles. You could spray a strong solution of deer repellant down low to discourage smaller vermin—just remember to account for snow. If you get a foot of snow on the ground, rabbits and mice are going to start a foot up, so spray high or spray again after a storm. Then you'd also spray at browsing height—about three feet off the ground—to discourage nibbling by Bambi and The Bucks.
But would repellant repel antler rubbers?
No, and there's the rub. Unless you install real deer fencing to protect the entire property, you have to cage young new plants. Look for fencing that's coated with green vinyl or spray paint it green so it blends in. Or drive some stakes into the ground and wrap burlap around the stakes; that'll protect new plants from desiccating winter winds as well as browsing and rubbing.
Ah, but with burlap (or cages with wide openings) mice and voles can still get at the tender bark down low, so you also need to add a low layer of hardware cloth or spray deer repellant down low.
And next year is guaranteed to be worse. As we have been warning people on the show, the huge nut drops being reported from all over the country are going to fuel massive increases in mammal pest populations…
Deer, mice, voles, rabbits—all thrive when oak trees produce a lot of acorns, which our listeners have reported happening in droves; same with hickory nuts. The massive amounts of black walnuts that also seem to be dropping everywhere are mostly going to bolster the Evil Squirrel population, but those menaces to mankind are just a nuisance, while deer and mice destroy landscapes and foster an increased number of disease-carrying ticks.
Yes, ticks. So, as we have been stressing, clean up this 'forest food' and trash it—or as one listener discussed in our soon-to-be-legendary 'all black walnut' show, bury it. Especially acorns. Unlike black walnuts, acorns mean more deer, more mice and more ticks.
And deer hitting cars is no joke; people die. To avoid it:
• Drive with your brights on whenever you're alone on the road; deer's eyes are very reflective, and you'll have more time to react.
• If you see one deer on the road, slow down, stop or pull over; odds are good that there are others coming.
• And try to avoid driving at dawn and dusk if possible—both of my Prius punishers pounced at twilight.