The first tender shoots of crocuses peek up through snow, and often the flowers are soon showing through. Crocuses are hardy bulbs that make their first appearance in late winter to early spring. Deer have usually had a hard time finding fresh greens to eat, and the arrival of crocus foliage is irresistable. It is a common gardener gripe that deer eat all the new vegetation and damage plants and trees. The animals are unaffected by 6-foot-tall fences and most repellents do not seem to faze them.
There are approximately 50 species of crocus and they are all of the iris family Iridaceae. Crocuses will flower in spring and have a cup-like shape. The leaf is grass-shaped with a white stripe along the center. There are numerous colors to chose from, but the cool pastels and white are the most popular. Crocuses grow from bulbs which can be attractive to squirrels and other pests. Water rot and split bulbs can also be a problem for the flowers. Deer present a different problem in that they like the plant itself and the grassy looking foliage is a tasty treat after a long winter.
Deer Dining Habits
Unless you see the deer eating your crocuses, it could be another animal. To be certain, look for hoof prints and scrape marks on trees from male deer cleaning their antlers. Hoof prints look like broken hearts and are 2- to 3-inches long. Deer have no front incisors, so they rake their teeth up the foliage and tear the leaves. This leaves twin tracks and rip marks. Deer damage is random and not clean cut, as rodent damage would be. The deer will eat both the foliage and the flowers of the crocus.
There are very effective repellents on the market, but you should be cautious about application because they can affect ground water and domestic pets. Most of these are filled with bad-tasting or bad-smelling chemicals, some of which are natural and some that are not. Many of these products are not appropriate for use near food crops, and application instructions when treating the crocuses should be followed. The Illinois Walnut Council did a study on deer repellents and a few of their best performers were Deer Away, Deer Off and Deer No No.
As a substitution for a deer fence, a quick and effective repellent is deer netting. It is a strong mesh protectant that can be set up as fencing around the crocuses, or even laid over them. It is cheap and durable, but a determined deer can usually figure out a way to get around it. An electronic fence can be costly and requires a bit more preparation, but is a useful deterrent. Ultrasonic devices emit a noise the deer don't like and chase them away. Even more effective is a motion-activated water sprayer that will blast the deer with water if it comes near your plants.
A University of Minnesota Extension gardener has this deer repellent recipe to make at home: Combine six eggs, four hot peppers, six to 12 cloves of garlic and 5 cups of warm water. Place the mixture in a blender and mix well. Place the container outside in the sun for a couple of days. Either strain out the solids and put it in a sprayer to treat the crocus bed or just pour it around the area. Additionally, the Walnut Council Study found Dial Soap hung in trees to be as effective as the best chemical sprays and powders.