During the winter, animals who don’t migrate or hibernate forage to find food to ensure their survival. Unfortunately, some of them may seek out the bark of your young trees for a wintertime snack. Deer, squirrels and rabbits tend to be the main culprits. You might also find some local bucks rubbing their antlers on the trunks of the trees to mark their territory.

If you see this type of damage occurring on your young trees, you should monitor their health and take preventative action to stop ongoing damage that could kill the tree. You may not see any effect in the upper parts of the tree at first. But stopping the damage before it gets all the way around your tree is key.


Here’s what to look for:


Signs of Deer Damage – Vertical scrapes on saplings and shredded bark will expose the xylem, phloem and cambium tissue of the inner wood. This is the trees vascular system, which is essential to carryiing water and nutrients upward into the tree. If these types of scars occur only on one side of the tree, the tree has a good probability of survival. However, if the entire circumference of the tree has been rubbed the tree will probably not live.

Protect your tree against deer damage. Deer repellants are only effective until the deer becomes used to them and realizes they won’t hurt them. However, it can still be helpful to use some to save your tree through the winter season. Some options include odor repellants (predator urine), contact repellants, fencing, wire mesh, netting, ultrasonic sound machines, electric deer-shocking devices, among others.


Signs of Rabbit Damage –Young trees are particularly susceptible to rabbit damage because rabbits strongly prefer tender bark they can gnaw through. The chewing marks of a rabbit look like horizontal striations in the base of the tree, approximately 12-20 inches from the ground. Rabbits enjoy fruit trees and ash, birch, hawthorn, juniper, maple, poplar, spruce, willow, serviceberry and dogwood.

Protect your trees against rabbit damage. If your only problem is rabbits, you only need to protect your tree at the base (30’’ and below if accounting for snowfall) Some of the most effective deterrents for rabbits include woven wire, hardwire cloth, spiral tree guards, plastic trunk protectors, chemical rabbit repellant, and others.


Signs of Squirrel Damage – Squirrels are more likely to gnaw away at the bark on the limbs of the tree instead of the root bark. However, they can also chew on the bark closer to the roots. Most limbs can recover and close up bark wounds if they are only part of the way around the limb. Those limbs that have been chewed more aggressively should be pruned, as it’s unlikely the tree will be able to heal the damage. Leaving damaged sections of wood in the tree leaves it vulnerable to invasion of pests and parasites.

Protect your trees against squirrel damage. Because of the ingenuity and natural mobility of squirrels, it is not easy to keep them off a tree, especially of it is within leaping proximity of another tree. To deter a squirrel from a tree, the best option is to wrap the base with the tree, at least 5 feet high, with metal or PVC sheathing that a squirrel cannot climb.


If you’re unsure if your young tree is experiencing damage from deer, squirrels, rabbits, or other animals, have our professional arborist come out to review the trees before irreversible damage is done. We are local tree experts serving Glen Arm, MD and the surrounding Baltimore and Harford County areas. With decades of experience in tree service, we’ll be sure to provide excellent advice during our consultation.