Heirloom Expert: Outsmart the Deer in Your Garden

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Photo courtesy of www.RareSeeds.com
‘Tahiti’ is one of the author’s all-time favorite double daffodils.

Last year was the first season I planted bulbs in the fall. I put in mostly tulips and was excited in the spring when they came up, but unfortunately the deer ate just about every one of the buds right when they were showing color. How can I grow the flowers of spring without feeding the deer?

I feel your pain and any gardener who has dealt with deer knows what it’s like to plant something like tulips — one of their favorite foods. I once planted a horseshoe bed with 300 ‘Triumph’ tulips and lost half of them to the deer when the buds were just starting to blush.

I add at least 1000 bulbs a year to my landscape. Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, my grandparents are buried at Lake View Cemetery. When visiting the graves in 1967 as a 7-year-old boy, I got my first look at Daffodil Hill. Planting began in the 1940s, and there were thousands of daffodils blooming when our family came to pay their respects. I was profoundly affected by those flowers and when I moved to Pittsburgh, I told my mother I was planting my own Daffodil Hill in honor of my grandparents.

Even though I’ve got a big herd of deer roaming my woods, I do still grow some tulips close to the house. So far, so good, and I have a little dog that chases the deer relentlessly. It’s a mystery though how the dog can run after the deer and still be afraid of the cat. I grow lots of varieties, but double varieties like ‘Tahiti’ and others have captured my heart.

The best way I’ve found to plant bulbs is using a bulb auger; it’s just a giant drill bit that fits on any portable drill. It makes planting bulbs easy and fun. But every gardener starts with the hand planter which I refer to as “cruel and unusual punishment” for gardeners.

If you must have tulips, spray them with one of the many deer repellents on the market as soon as the buds start to emerge. I’ve had good luck mixing up the sprays using Bobbex for a couple weeks and then Scoot Deer & Rabbit Repellent. There are lots of different brands, but when it comes to battling the deer, variety is the spice of life.

Every season has its challenges: don’t give up, and most importantly have fun planting, harvesting and just sitting in the garden.

Doug is the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Backyard Gardener (www.post-gazette.com/gardeningwithdoug) and co-host of The Organic Gardeners radio program on KDKA.

Mother Earth Gardener
Mother Earth Gardener
Expert advice on all aspects of growing.