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Sep 15, 2022

Buck Rubbing: What it is and How to Prevent it

By Lori Draz and the Rumson Shade Tree Commission

Buck rubbing – no it’s not the latest dance craze or the new centerfielder for the New York Mets, but there’s pretty good chance you’ve seen the evidence of buck rubbing while enjoying an early autumn walk. You may even have buck rubbing going on in your own yard. Everyone has seen trees with big sections of bark that have been ripped away. These are the scars left behind from white-tailed buck who have rubbed their antlers on the trunk or who have been buck rubbing. The Rumson Shade Tree Commission shares some advice on ways residents can prevent this natural, yet still destructive process.

Buck rubs begin when the bucks lose their antler velvet in early to mid-September. The velvet becomes itchy as it starts to peel away, so the bucks rub their antlers on young saplings to help speed the shedding process. As fall progresses and the bucks prepare to rut, the rubbing becomes more aggressive. The rubbing also marks their territory, works off aggression and intimidates other bucks.

Avid outdoorsman and Shade Tree Commission member Anthony Ciambrone shared, “During the rut or ‘mating season,’ male deer go to great lengths to defend their territory, including rubbing on young trees, but this behavior puts young saplings and larger trees at risk of being damaged or killed. Bucks will rub nearly any size tree, but they prefer smaller 1- to 6-inch diameter, smooth-barked trees like lindens, maples, birches and magnolias. Unfortunately, these are also some of the most popular species of trees used in new plantings in the residential landscape.”

Buck rubs damage the bark and outer layer of the tree called the cambium, which is the layer that protects the trees from insects and disease, as well being the conduit for the flow of nutrients to the tree. “Trees are able to self-heal minor wounds, but larger wounds may require corrective action from a licensed arborist. If the bark is damaged all the way around, it will not survive,” Ciambrone said.

Fortunately, there are a few simple solutions to help protect the trees in your landscape from buck rub damage. It begins with keeping deer away from newly planted trees even if they were previously damaged.

The Shade Tree Commission offers these easy and economical weapons in the war against deer damage. Installing a 42-inch or higher fence around the tree will protect its bark as well as the foliage from being eaten.

Another protection option is wrapping the tree trunk with chicken wire or one of the commercially available types of plastic tree guards. 

“Some tree guards are made of mesh plastic netting,” Ciambrone said. “Others are created from a vinyl spiral that wraps around the trunk but still allows it to grow naturally. They are usually available in rolls and can be cut to the required length. Because they can be cut to size, these tree guards can fit any size tree. Be sure to choose a white or light-colored plastic so it does not produce heat against the tree trunk from the sun.” 

The Shade Tree Commission has lots of great information, advice and pictures, so visit RumsonNJ.gov.