Deer like to fatten up on tulip flowers

  • Tulip flower buds are a favorite meal of deer. You can protect the bulbs with netting.

    Tulip flower buds are a favorite meal of deer. You can protect the bulbs with netting. Courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden

By Tim Johnson
Chicago Botanic Garden
Posted4/4/2021 7:00 AM

Protect emerging tulips from deer and rabbit damage by spraying with a repellent or covering with netting.

Deer will start eating tulip flower buds just as they are emerging from the ground. These animals may be more aggressive this spring in looking for plants to eat after the difficult winter.


Repellents will need to be reapplied after rain. Netting will need to be adjusted as bulbs grow and may need to be weighted down to keep from blowing away.

Animals do not typically eat daffodils, Siberian squill and ornamental onions.

• Use a pliable garden hose or a rope to mark out new beds lines that are smooth and flowing to improve the appearance of your garden and make mowing easier. Not all garden hoses will work, as some are too stiff to form into good curves.

Once the rope or hose is in place, marking the edges you want to create, you can either paint the edge with marking paint (special paint for marking the ground) or use a sharp, flat spade to cut the edge using the rope or hose as a guide. I prefer to make the edge around 2 inches deep, at a slight angle away from the turf area.

Be sure to remove all clumps of grass from the bed to avoid having it get established in your beds and becoming a persistent weed problem. Any clods of soil should be broken up and spread around the bed or completely removed.

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• New spades do not come with a sharp edge, so use an electric hand grinder to sharpen them, as well as your old spades. Move the grinder back and forth across the edge of the spade while keeping a consistent angle and gentle pressure.

Spades that have very thick edges or that are corrugated tend to require more pressure on the grinder to make progress on sharpening. Try not to hold the grinder in one place too long to avoid an excessive buildup of heat causing the metal to turn black.

I prefer to sharpen the inside edge of the spade. It is much easier to garden with sharp equipment. Wear ear and eye protection while doing this work, as there will be a lot of noise and sparks.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden,

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