Fruit trees, as well as many other trees, can be injured by antler rub. Sometimes the damage is extensive enough to kill the tree. It may die because the open wound provides an opportunity for infections or because it allows insects to invade the tree. In some cases, the antler rub destroys the tree's ability to move nutrients from one area to another, and the tree literally starves to death.
Description of Antler Rub
Male deer grow new antlers every year. When antler growth is complete, the bucks rub their new antlers against trees and shrubs. Sometimes they even imitate a battle, with the tree standing in for an opponent. The bark of the tree is partially removed by the antler rub.
Function and Timing of Antler Rub
Rubbing antlers in the fall removes the "velvet" from the new antlers, leaving it hard. More important, an antler rub leaves scent, which marks the buck's territory. It attracts does and warns other bucks away. The mock battles may strengthen the buck's neck and shoulder muscles, preparing him for real battles with other bucks. In the spring, antler rubs help the buck shed his old antlers.
Unfortunately, an antler rub always damages the tree bark, and that is dangerous for the tree. Although the outermost layer of bark is made up of dead cells, the inner layers are living tissue. Cell reproduction takes place in the cambium tissues. One layer of bark contains suberin, which prevents water loss and provides protection from infection and insect damage. Another layer is composed of phloem, a tissue that conducts nutrition up from roots to branch tips and back. All these layers can be damaged by antler rubs.
Girdling and Tree Death
If only one side of the tree is rubbed, the tree can usually repair the damage. Growth on that side of the tree may be stunted. If the bark is damaged all around the tree, a pattern known as girdling, the tree will die.
Use a sharp knife to trim the ragged edges of an antler rub, leaving a smooth, clean edge. Try to give the damaged area an elliptical shape, if it can be done without removing much more bark. Do not paint the area or use a wound dressing on it. Contrary to conventional wisdom, this only delays healing. The tree will not grow new bark over the damaged area, but it will seal the wound itself.
To protect the tree from more antler rubs, create a barrier at least six feet high that surrounds the tree. Wire mesh attached to iron posts or rebar works well. Scent and taste deterrents usually do not prevent antler rubs.