September 15, 2013

Protecting Young Trees

From Whitetails in Our Backyard
The single biggest reason for the loss of new trees in my garden and on the hillside behind us over the past seven years has been damage from antler rub.

Not browsing of young leaves, not voles chewing the bark or rabbits eating the small saplings down to nubs, although all of those wreak some havoc on new trees too.

Not disease, or bugs, or storm damage, or hot dry summers when it was hard to keep them watered. Those calamities have been worrisome, but rarely killed my new trees.

I have lost more trees to deer using the slender trunks for scratching posts.

In late summer the male deer come by and use the trunks of young trees to rub the velvet off their shedding antlers.

At first I did not think it would be such a problem, and seeing a stag prancing through the yard on Thanksgiving morning was pretty awesome.

The bark on several trees looked shredded after an attack, but not like a fatal wound. But after a few years I found that sometimes the trees healed over, but more often the wound did not heal the following year, and by year two or three after the injury, the tree died.
The spring following rubbing by a male deer the wound
didn't heal and this beautiful linden died.

I lost a beautiful large linden in the front yard, a yellow flowered magnolia, a katsura tree, several maples on the back hill, a tuliptree in the meadow, and others.

The stags prefer smooth, thin bark against their antlers, and they like small caliper trunks about two to four inches that they can wrap the curves of their antlers around.

The big established trees, and trees with shaggy or peeling bark like river birches or paperbark maple are not targets, but new maples and lindens are sought out eagerly, and rubbed right down to the core.

So now every September I know I must put protective wrap around the trunks of most trees in my yard and in the meadow, and leave it up through winter. Faithfully, with no exceptions! I missed one young maple one year and of course it was the only tree in the whole area that got rubbed raw.

Worse, I had actually wrapped the trunk of the poor linden in fall, but took the protection off on Christmas Eve, as the tree was in the front yard and I wanted the decorated house to look nice for the holiday.

Christmas morning the fatal shredded bark was evident.

I use green plastic mesh fencing from Lowe's which is easy to cut with scissors (I tried hardware cloth and I have tried chicken wire, but that stuff is awful to cut into shapes, and just as awful to bend into a cylinder).

I make a tube around the trunk, and to fasten it together I use plastic clips. They are technically called orchid clips, I guess for florists to hold potted orchids on small stakes. They work just like hair clips.
These are the kinds of orchid clips I use.

They are easier and quicker to use than tying the mesh together with twine or twist ties -- that was too awkward for me. I just wrap, clip, and go. They hold all winter.

I hate the way it all looks, especially in fall when the trees color and come into what I think is their best season.

Here is my blackhaw viburnum, V. prunifolium, which I limbed up rather prettily. The mesh cylinder had to be large enough to go around the multi stems. It isn't terribly obtrusive, but it's there. Ugh.

This year I have another worry. A Japanese maple 'Bloodgood' that has grown into a lovely shape over the past seven years now has a terrible looking wound at the root collar. It has some kind of canker at the graft point but not above.
You can see the sharp division line where the graft and the tree meet.

The area is weeping and wet, but not soft or rotted in any way. The tree looks great -- leafy and full, but a severe canker can kill it.
How I would hate to lose this tree now that it is so fine looking.
In fall the 'Bloodgood' maple is coppery but in spring the leaves are a gorgeous garnet red.

Over the years I have learned to protect all the young trees I have planted from antler rub, but I am not sure how to protect this Japanese maple from a graft canker.

Why is growing trees to maturity so hard?

19 comments:

  1. Good question, Laurrie. Unfortunately, there's no satisfying answer; just a conclusion: No matter how many times destruction happens, gardeners respond the same way ants do – by going back out there and rebuilding. Don't stop.

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    1. Lee, yes, we plant, we lose some, we plant some more. The same cycle nature uses, but it's so much work for the gardener! I won't stop, though : )

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  2. What a challenge! You, among others whose blogs I follow, have made me extremely grateful that deer have not found me. They are close by, but they would have to cross several roads and go through a couple of subdivisions with barking dogs to get to me. A friend of mine has a prized Japanese maple that he has to keep wrapped year round to protect from his greatest nemesis: beavers! It seems there is always something. We gardeners must have resilience and fortitude!

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    1. Deb, you make me envious, not having deer in your garden. I am very glad, however, that I do not have any trunk gnawing beavers nearby!!

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  3. I'd rather see the plastic wrap than lose an expensive tree. That's a good solution to the problem.

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    1. N.H. Gardener, I agree. I don't like the mesh wraps, but I want to save the trees!

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  4. I am always looking for solutions and tips to deal with deer, rabbits, and other creatures. Thank you so much for sharing your solutions and your experiences.

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    1. Charlie, If you have a problem with deer, I hope this system works for you too.

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  5. It would be so disappointing to lose your trees to antler rub. Too bad they come into your garden like that. I am surprised that flexible plastic fencing keeps the stags at bay. Trees seem so strong one forgets they are quite vulnerable in their infancy and teenage years. Best of luck this year.

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    1. Lisa, the flexible plastic seems awfully flimsy, but I think the oddity of it around the trunk deters them. It doesn't look or feel right, so they move on. The plastic itself would not protect the bark if they rubbed it.

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  6. I think people will be too busy looking at the beautiful foliage to even notice the plastic fencing. If it deters rabbits, I may just run out and get some myself. The Japanese maple is far more concerning, if you ask me. I would hate to lose a tree that is so pretty, and so slow-growing!

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    1. Sarah, I am worried about that Japanese maple. The infection looks damaging, but I just don't know.

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  7. I wish I knew more about trees...I hope your 'Bloodgood' recovers...it's a stunning tree.

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    1. Scott, the Bloodgood maple is one of my favorites, and I have watched it grow from an awkward little container plant into its elegant shape now. I sure don't want to lose it.

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  8. What we need is the deer version of a cat scratching post! Your poor trees. :(

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    1. Heather, I thought about sacrificing one tree -- a linden, their favorite -- and leave just that one unwrapped. Let them use it for their antler activities, and leave it standing after they kill it. Would they be happy with just that one and leave the others alone I wonder?

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  9. I feel your pain Laurrie. Learned about antler rub the hard way when we lived on the west coast and the deer killed a young fig tree. So frustrating to lose so many trees though - katsura, linden, magnolia ... I might cry.

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    1. Marguerite, I did cry!! But then turned around and replanted and figured out how to thwart the deer.

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  10. Laurrie, I love all your trees you've shown. The red leaved maple is wonderful! Your idea of net using is very clever, I have this net for clematises.

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