November 19, 2010

Damn Deer Damage

This year I have tried to make peace with the destructive forces in my garden.  I looked away when the rabbits pruned my perennials, leaving them lopsided and funny looking, but alive.

I stopped spraying vile scented sprays on my ornamentals.  I couldn't stand the mess and smell.  Instead I placed wireless battery operated zappers around to deliver a slight shock to any curious deer in the vicinity, and then I looked the other way when some of the shrubbery was nibbled.

I tried hard to be patient about waiting out the drought, less obsessive about eradicating the bittersweet that chokes saplings in the meadow, and more at ease with the loss of some plants to voles.  I have many plants; my garden is getting full now, and it is maturing. I can afford to lose some things and see others stunted or chopped down without losing the whole effect.  I can.

But this I cannot tolerate.  I can not make peace with this:
The male deer come through my yard each November and rub their shedding antlers on the trunks of trees until the inner bark --- the phloem layer (food transport) and cambium (the growth layer) --- are exposed.  They don't nibble or browse or sample.  They destroy.  Sprays and zappers do not deter them; they are not looking for food.  They have other things on their minds, and they have an urgent need to scrape the covering off their antlers.

The shredded sapling is my katsura tree, a Cercidiphyllum japonicum that I planted in 2009.  It put on such lovely growth this season.

Ever since I lost an expensive linden to antler rub in 2008, I am careful to wrap the trunks of the larger saplings in plastic tubing each fall.  But I had not wrapped the little katsura tree because it was still so small; the bucks have always gone after the 2+ inch diameter trunks that have heft and sturdiness, not the whippy bendy young stems.

And the katsura has multiple trunks that branch low; the bucks seem to like the single straight stems that offer more area for rubbing.

I was wrong.  The katsura should have been wrapped, with its multiple trunks encased in plastic all around.  It is now --- but that's rather like shutting the barn door after the horse escapes; I'm bitterly aware it's too late.

Although the linden never made it back after being rubbed raw, this little katsura may survive.  From another angle you can see that there is a second trunk that had branches pulled off but did not have its outer layer of bark stripped as badly as the trunk on the right.

The bark will heal and form a callus around the wound.  Maybe only one vertical stem will survive, but maybe both will.

Cercidiphyllum can grow to be a wide spreading major tree in maturity.  We saw an ancient katsura at Arnold Arboretum in Boston this summer, and you can see how its low branching limbs spread way out.

Katsura trees smell like burnt sugar in early fall.  This one at Arnold Arboretum did!
Mine, if it survives and grows, may not have such wide spreading low branches as it ages; the damn deer may have made this a single trunk tree.

But it may send out more low branches and get its form back.  Young trees are adaptable, and I have many many years yet to watch mine grow.

Many years, that is, if it survives.

And if I can survive the angst and stress of this destruction.  I'm trying not to let it anger me so much.

I am trying.


  1. I am sorry about your little katsura tree. i think it has a good chance to survive and prosper. I hope so. I am fortunate that, while i have privacy and woods and acreage, my property is actually surrounded by a city subdivision, so no deer! Before the subdivision was built, there were deer, but that was before my gardening days.

    I have been away, so I am just now catching up on blogging. I also enjoyed your last few posts. About taking down a tree you planted as a twig: I have a Japanese maple that I planted as a tiny sapling, and now it is obvious I put it in the wrong place. It is about twenty feet tall, and I am going to cut it down this winter, if i can convince my husband. He acts like I am going to kill one of my children, but, really, it must be done.

  2. You need to start deer hunting. Cull out those rascals. I hate that they have damaged your tree. It is deer season here now.

  3. Deborah, thanks for the sympathy for my damaged tree! And I will be interested to see how and if you really do cut down your maple.

    Lisa, deer are a scourge in almost every part of the country. I'm learning to love hunters.

  4. Deer are so incredibly frustrating, I don't miss them at all. Unfortunately their territories are diminishing and our gardens are a wonderful buffet that feeds them year round. I had a fig tree in an old garden that was damaged by rubbing antlers and it did manage to survive. I hope your tree does too.


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