Bulb 101-Tips for Growing and Deer Strategies

September means ordering bulbs and getting ready to plant in October and November. I plant bulbs in my garden every year to increase my varieties and numbers as I like to bring fresh cuts in to enjoy. The average vase life for tulips is a good 10 days! But many people ask what varieties I like the best and which ones will deer leave alone?

Plant your bulbs where they are highly visible
One of my favorite tulips is Absalon tulip, an heirloom from 1780. Intricately patterned with swirling flames of dark chocolate and chestnut on gold from Old House Gardens


Tulips are my favorite spring bulbs but consider this deer candy. Tulips will attract deer to your property so if you don’t have any deterrents such as fencing and fierce dogs –  forget about it. You could force them into bloom which means planting them in pots, storing them in a garage to chill, and bringing them inside to enjoy in the spring. But if you don’t want to go to those lengths, pick a host of other bulbs that deer won’t eat.

I fell in love with ‘North Pole’ Tulip at Keukenhof

I have a fenced-in yard which deer cannot access so I grow a large variety of tulips, and many I treat as annuals, and pull up every year. Growing them mostly for arranging, I want to try new varieties every year.

To get a longer stem for arranging, remove the entire bulb and cut close to the bulb

Tulips are getting showier and larger, and many people want them to come back. The secret to fat tulips that come back year after year is to plant them a lot deeper than the recommended 3 times the diameter of the bulb. Plant them 6 times the depth of the bulb – 8 to 10 inches deep. The chilly environment this deep will keep the bulbs cooler during our hot summers, they will perennialize more readily, and you are less likely to disturb them when planting other plants.

Tulips are a pleasure to arrange with

Bulbs should be planted soon after arrival  and when the soil has cooled to 55°F and nighttime temperatures consistently drop to 40–50°F, but before the ground freezes. Planting about 5-6 weeks before the ground freezes allows the bulbs sufficient time for root development.

Fringed tulips are my favorite. This is ‘Crispy Reddino’ from Keukenhof

Flirty Fleurs

I love the ‘Flirty Fleurs’ collections of assorted bulbs from Longfield Gardens. These curated collections include a variety of different bulbs, including tulips, that bloom around the same time together which can then be combined to make stunning arrangements. As a floral designer, these collections are right up my alley and even if you don’t arrange the flowers, they form nice combinations together in the garden.

‘Flirty Fleurs’ Somerset Collection from Longfield Gardens


Planting my ‘flirty Fleurs’ bulb mix from Longfield Gardens
‘Flirty Fleurs’ in the garden just coming up
‘Flirty Fleurs’, with some orange ranunculus in an arrangement from my flowers
‘Go Go Red’ tulip seen at Giverny is on my list to plant this year

Deer and Other Varmints

Many people are dealing with deer incursions and think that the only bulb they can grow is daffodils. Daffodils are one of the ones that deer avoid but there are many others. Hyacinths are number one on my list for fragrance and deer avoidance, and I often wonder why more people don’t plant them.

Planting of Hyacinths at Keukenhof
Planting of Crown Fritillary and Hyacinths at Keukenhof

Here is my listing of deer resistant spring blooming bulbs:

  • Hyacinths
  • Spanish Bluebells
  • Crocus
  • Daffodils
  • Alliums
  • Leucojum (giant Snow Drop)
  • Iris
  • Camassia
  • Grape Hyacinth
  • Glory of the Snow
  • Fritillaries
  • Siberian Squill or Scilla
  • Snowdrops
  • Anemones
  • Winter Aconites
Hyacinths potted up at Keukenhof
If you have deer, you should be planting tons of alliums
A pairing of deer resistant bulbs, Leucojum and Grape Hyacinth

When I plant any bulbs, I always lay down hardware cloth on top, to stop squirrels and other small mammals from digging them up. I only remove them when they are sprouting through the soil. This has worked wonderfully for many years.

Use soil staples or lay rocks on top of hardware cloth to deter squirrels
Glory of the Snow, a deer resistant small variety
Grape Hyacinths interplanted with tulips and anemones at Keukenhof

Bulbs in Blue

Blue is one of my favorite flower colors and there are so many blue-flowered bulbs that deer don’t eat that I have lots of them scattered through my property. If you have the room, I love this article on planting a blue spring carpet.

How to Plant a Carpet of Blue Spring Flowers

Blue Camassia will light up your border and is an often overlooked bulb

One of the easiest of the blue bulbs to grow is Grape Hyacinths (Muscari), which bloom for a long time and will multiply vigorously.

Blooming for weeks in the spring, Grape Hyacinths come in a wide range of blue saturations
River of blue Grape Hyacinths at Keukenhof
Grape Hyacinths
This marvelous miniature iris ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ is one of the first bulbs in the spring
You could naturalize Scilla in your lawn

Size Matters

When ordering, I always look at the size on offer. The larger the bulb size, the better, and that is why I avoid ordering from big box stores. Their bulbs are often smaller in size than from a reputable bulb house and I have also encountered soft or dried up bulbs that aren’t viable- mostly because of improper storage. Many times the size is not even listed on the package. Here are the sizes that you should be looking for:

Tulips: 10cm – 12cm+
Daffodils: 12cm – 16cm+
Hyacinth: 14cm – 19cm+
Crocus: 4cm – 5cm+
Large Allium: 9cm – 20cm+
Small Allium: 4cm – 6cm+
These are diseased tulip bulbs

Your bulb should have a good skin color, firm texture (not mushy or shriveled), and be heavy in your hand. If the bulb is dried up, it will be very light. When I do pick up some bulbs half price at a store at the end of the season, I always open and look in the box, and examine the bulbs closely. If the least bit questionable, even 50% off isn’t enough for me to chance buying.

As soon as your bulb order comes in the mail, open it up immediately and inspect the bulbs. If the bulbs are in plastic bags, I remove them and put in a dark, cool, and dry space until I am ready to plant. Often you can request a shipping date that fits your schedule for planting.

A healthy bulb with shoots starting to sprout

For healthy and a large variety of all kinds of bulbs, I always turn to Longfield Gardens. Their curated collections are the best!

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