Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Gardening with deer, groundhogs and other critters; Part 1: Location, location, location

Depending on whether your garden is on the edge of the woods or in the center of a city, it will be plagued to varying degrees by wildlife.  For some gardeners, it’s just a matter of deterring fruit-eating birds and bulb-digging squirrels.  Other gardeners must contend with regular visits from deer, groundhogs (aka woodchucks) and rabbits too. 
In my case, a deer trail runs on top of a steep hill behind my house. 

My first few years gardening here were met with mixed success.  Not used to living in deer-country, I was dismayed to find the tomatoes I planted were eaten just as the fruit ripened.  Over the years, my family tried various strategies such as surrounding our garden with snow fencing, which proved cumbersome and not terribly effective. 

One year I successfully grew a few butternut squash plants deeply intermixed with plants that deer normally do not eat.  Unlike planting a mass of edibles all together in a garden plot (which seem to shout to the deer “We’re here!  We’re here!  We’re here!”), edibles that are scattered individually often remain below the radar of deer.  Perhaps the critters did not find it worth their while to invest the energy to come and eat them.

Every year at the end of June, apples from an old tree drop onto the corner of our property, and without fail the apples become a deer magnet.  In the evenings, we see deer munching on the fallen apples. Once the deer have made the detour to forage under the apple tree, they check out what else is edible around our house.  Daylilies and other plants that were thriving in early June are eaten in one fell swoop at the end of June.

Garden in nooks and crannies:  Make use of microenvironments that are inaccessible to deer and groundhogs.
When my daughter was eleven, she wanted to plant tulips- red ones, and lots of them.  Unfortunately, tulips are like candy to deer, and where we live, tulips don’t stand a chance.  However, thinking about deer, we realized that we did have a place that the deer would not venture.  We have a high rock wall, with a picket fence on top leaving just a few inches of soil between the edge of the rocks and the fence.  As a general rule, deer do not jump into confined spaces that are too small for the deer to take a running leap out.  Here was the perfect tulip nook.  We selected the tulips – Red Hunter Species Tulips, which are hardy as far as tulips go, and World’s Favorite Darwin Tulips, and we planted them on top of the wall that fall.  Our tulip nook worked – the deer left them alone, and they looked stunning next to the garden phlox that cascades over the wall.   Years later, the tulips still put on a show.

Tulip nook on top of rock wall is inaccessible to deer

Bird's eye view of tulips and phlox growing between the fence and the top of the rock wall

Phlox on top of the wall being pollinated by a tiger swallowtail butterfly

Garden near your house.  
Many times (but not always) animals will not venture up onto a front porch.   A friend of mine, who often has deer in her backyard, is able to grow tomatoes in containers on her porch.  Growing deer-favorites in window boxes and hanging baskets are options too.

Have you found ways to outsmart the deer by taking advantage of thorny bushes, high walls, small spaces, and other conditions that make an area inaccessible to deer?   Have you ever planted at low densities and managed to sneak below the deer radar?  Please share your attempts in the comments below. 

This post is the first in a series about gardening with deer and other wildlife and was shared on Green Thumb Thursdays.

Read the other posts in this series:
Gardening with deer, groundhogs and other critters; Part 2: Cage in the plants to keep the pests out!


  1. I agree that whenever I don't get to weeding an area, the flowers hidden in the weeds last longer. Once I start to weed, just like you say, they start screaming Here we are!
    Unfortunately, the deer come right up to our porches. But we've got a few tricks to outsmart them :-) .

    1. I'd love to hear about some of your tricks to outsmart the deer!

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  3. I don't have problems with deer but other critters. I have loads of day lilies that I have had for years and have never had anything touch them. They have bloomed beautifully throughout the summer - I have many different colors and varieties. Last summer something ( I have had them for many years and never had them ever touched by any animal before) started eating the entire flower off just as it came into full bloom and then they started snipping the buds off. I had a terrible battle which I did not win.
    I bought the sprays to deter animals and only worked for a short time - I guess they got use to the horrible smell and decided that the flowers tasted better - I even made sure I resprayed after rain and often. Then we started using live traps and caught 3 raccoons, 4 groundhogs, 1 opossum but by then most of the daylilies were destroyed. I even used cayenne pepper and that didn't seem to bother them.

    So this year we have set the trap been making my own spray at least I wouldn't be wasting money on the bought stuff that got really expensive after using so much of it.

    Some of the day lilies are just starting to bud. I sure hope I can deter them from destroying my beautiful flowers. I would appreciate any ideas that anyone has to deter groundhogs and raccoons. I can't use a fence because the flowers are scattered all over my yard which is quite large and on all my banks.

    I am visiting from Healthy Happy Green & Natural blog hop.

  4. O0hhh, I wish I had a place like where you put your tulips! Dang deer ate my Hostas and tiger lily's...again! Great post!

    Thanks for linking up with Green Thumb Thursday. I hope to see you back this week!


  5. I live in an urban environment so this is so interesting to me! I am delighted that you shared your informative and valuable insights on gardening with deer, groundhogs and other critters with us on the Healthy Happy Green and Natural Party Blog Hop. I'm pinning and sharing.


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