Plant Smart in Fall for a Deer-Free Spring - Carolina Country

Plant Smart in Fall for a Deer-Free Spring

Plus Garden To-Do’s for October

By L.A. Jackson

Plant Smart in Fall for a Deer-Free Spring

Grape hyacinths can complement—as well as help protect — tulips.


While this full-throated utterance made famous by Charlie Brown is  the universal spoken standard for total frustration (where cussing isn’t allowed ), you wouldn’t think such an invective could ever invade the blissful, peaceful world of a spring garden. But it does.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that deer do love to chew through tulips. But, short of a nasty 12-gauge intervention, what’s a gardener to do?

And it happens every year, especially to gardeners who carefully, lovingly tuck away tulip bulbs into their garden grounds in the fall and spend the dreary winter months with excited expectations of colorful, gorgeous blooms opening in all their visual glory to signal the start of yet another enjoyable new growing season — only to find gnawed nubs where cheerful flowers are supposed to be.

Deer!! Aaugh!!

It is an unfortunate fact of life that deer do love to chew through tulips. But, short of a nasty 12-gauge intervention, what’s a gardener to do? The obvious answer is: don’t serve up tulip delicacies. Instead, plant spring-flowering bulbs they hate. In particular, daffodils (Narcissus sp.) top the list of bulbous plants that deer can’t stand to eat.

Daffodils do add dazzle to spring gardens, but there are other fall-planted, deer-resistant bulbs such as fritillarias (Fritillaria sp.), glory-of-the snow (Chionodoxa sp.) hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalus), Siberian squills (Scilla siberica), snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) and grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) that can also get in on the fun. And as a bonus, like daffodils, these beauties are not particular favorites of feasting rabbits, which, in some parts of the state, can be as bad as deer.

I should note that bulbs tagged with the term “deer (or rabbit)-resistant,” usually means that if Bambi or Thumper is hungry enough, they will at least nibble. It’s kinda like you heading to the refrigerator with an ultra-empty stomach and only finding leftover broccoli-liver casserole. Think about it.

But let’s just say, even with this sizeable list of alt-tulips to pick from, you still insist on planting tulips, too. There are liquid deer-repellents that can be sprayed on these Dutch treats to help keep munching beasts at bay — that is, if you can stand them because many of these formulations, at best, stink.

A prettier way to deter deer from chomping on tulips is to interplant them with any of the bulbs just mentioned that they don’t like. Such a mix will confuse, even assault, their taste buds to the point they could take their dining reservations elsewhere.

Garden To-Do’s for October



  • Autumn is a good time to brighten up the yard (as well as planters) with pansies. For maximum bloom power, select a sunny site and plant in well-worked, organically enriched soil.
  • Deadheading spent pansy blooms will also promote further flowering. Unfortunately, like tulips, pansies are adored by deer, but using liquid deer-repellent and planting close to the house or in a fenced area will help defend these pretties.
  • If you have a small, immature tree or shrub that is not parked where you want it to be, now is the time to prep it for a proper move late this winter by root pruning to make the transition easier on the plant and planter (you) early next year.
  • And just how do you root prune? First, stick a shovel fully into earth at the plant’s dripline, which is the furthest point the leaf canopy extends from the trunk. Then, using the dripline as a rough template, continue this ground gouging until you have completed a cut circle in the soil around the plant’s root zone.

About the Author

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. If you would like to ask him a question about your garden, contact L.A. at:

Comments (1)

  • Great advice Brie Author

    Connie Feichtinger |
    May 01, 2021 |

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