Critter Proof Bulbs

You love spring bulbs but have a huge deer and squirrel problem? Yes, this fall you can plant a number of bulbs that they will pass up! Most people know that daffodils are always ignored by deer and rodents, but don’t limit yourself to daffodils. There are many other deer/rodent resistant bulb varieties.

Scilla, a deer resistant bulb, naturalized in the lawn at Chanticleer, in Wayne, Pa
Closeup of Blue Scilla Siberica
Deer are invading our neighborhoods and gobbling up our landscaping, picture by Valerie Ryan

Deer and Rodents

Deer are a huge problem here in the mid-Atlantic and as a designer, I recommend planting bulbs that deer won’t devour-leucojum, hyacinths, alliums, snowdrops, crocus, daffodils, scilla, iris reticulata, chiondoxa, fritillaria, winter aconites, and grape hyacinths. So, don’t think your deer problem is going to stop you from planting bulbs and enjoying spring color. For deer resistant perennials, go to Fuzzy, Fragrant, and Ferny; Deer Proof Plants for the Garden.

Sprinkle cayenne pepper on plants that deer browse on

Be careful about tulips even in protected areas. Deer love them and will jump fences to get at them!!

Tulips are loved by so many but are devoured by deer

Crocus are deer resistant but the bulbs are cold weather delicacies to rodents. You could protect the bulbs by laying a piece of hardware cloth on top of the newly planted  bulbs and fastening it down with soil staples. I do that for my lily bulbs which deer love but I grow anyway.

Hardware cloth is a metal mesh, much like  chicken wire, except that it uses a smaller grid pattern, usually about 1/2 inch square. Alternatively you can cage the bulbs in hardware cloth before planting, but I find that laying cut pieces of it on top of the bulbs is much easier. Fasten down with soil staples or rocks. Just remove it in the early spring.

Lay pieces of hardware cloth on top of the ground

Be sure to avoid using smelly fertilizers while planting bulbs, like bone meal, blood meal, or fish emulsion. Attracting every animal in the neighborhood, your bulbs will definitely be dug up. I once placed a sealed bag of blood meal in my open car port and neighbor dogs came and devoured it!

Alliums-The King of Deer Resistance (And Rodents)

Alliums are one of the best bulbs for deer avoidance. They actually repel deer as they are in the onion family, and have an onion odor. Chase away garden nibblers with these bulbs! The combination of sulfides that make a great tomato sauce also repels deer and rodents. If you time it right, you can have alliums blooming all season long. Go to Longfield Gardens to see the large variety available.

Easy to grow and multiplying in number, I am sure to include alliums in my garden in ever greater numbers. Here is a brief listing of some varieties:

  • Allium christophii  Christophii has a round flower head composed of 50 or so star-shaped lavender flowers with a silvery sheen. The leaves die back as the flowers fade; the remaining brown stems and seed heads can be snipped, but that dried look is becoming very chic in gardening circles and can be spray painted any color you choose.
  • Allium karataviense This is a low-growing plant, good for a rock garden or beside steps. Pleated foliage makes this a to-die-for plant and the flower is as large as a tennis ball.
  • Allium moly Probably the easiest of the small alliums, this one has a spray of bright yellow flowers and does well in the shade.
  • Allium sphaerocephalon Also known as “Drumstick” allium, this plant’s long name just means it has a round head. A tight little purple knob that never quite opens, this is one of my favorites.
  • Allium schubertii The Tumbleweed Onion.  An heirloom that looks like spidery fireworks that has incredibly huge, airy, 12″-wide umbels of up to 100 purple florets extended on stems atop a straight, thick and sturdy stalk. When the bud first emerges from its papery sheath, A. schubertii looks like an upright, thick green paint brush.  This one is my favorite alliums and the large dried seed heads come loose and roll around my garden-Fun!
Allium emerging from the sheath
Allium ‘Globemaster’ at Chelsea Flower Show
Leaving the dried stalks in the garden long after the bloom fades adds interesting textures and shapes
Allium schubertii blooms pop up through perennials
Bees love Allium flowers
Wide variety of alliums seen at Chelsea Flower Show
Drumstick Allium, from Longfield Gardens
Allium karataviense

Other Critter Resistant Bulbs

Deer leave grape hyacinths alone

Winter Aconites are one of the first bulbs that appear for me. Go to Winter Aconite-The Bulb That Keeps on Giving for more information about this incredible harbinger of spring.

Winter Aconites

For an unusual choice of spring color, try Fritillarias which make an incredible statement in the garden. For a great article on Pineapple Lilies, Fritillarias, go to Time to Plant Pineapple Lilies.  

Fritillarias, photo from Longfield Gardens
Crocus-Deer avoid them but rodents gobble them up!
There are all kinds of daffodils and deer and rodents won’t touch them; seen at Brent and Becky’s

Daffodils, like alliums, are distasteful to rodents and deer. Containing alkaloids, the family of compounds that includes nicotine and morphine, daffodils are the king of bulbs!!

Daffodils along with chiondoxa, Glory of the Snow, another critter resistant bulb
Leucojum forms a large colony quickly. My dog is my deer repellent!

 

Leucojum aestivum or Summer Snowflake is deer proof
Leucojum is an old fashioned bulb that reminds me of giant snowdrops
Snowdrops
Hyacinths in containers, another deer resistant bulb, photo from Longfield Gardens
Hyacinths come in a wide variety of colors, seen at Chelsea Flower Show

 

Longfield Gardens is my go-to source for quality bulbs.  They have a huge selection and are a great information source. They have a deer resistant collection that would be perfect for your deer ravaged yard!

 

 

 

Bringing Spring In-Forcing Bulbs

Variety of bulbs for forcing
Variety of bulbs for forcing

Forcing Bulbs

Every gardener in the depths of winter, wants to bring spring in and relieve the monotony of dreary, dull winter days, without flowers.  The garden is lifeless, snow-covered and icy, and you need your drug fix of color and fragrance to help you get through the winter. What is a gardener to do??? An easy solution, short of buying your  own greenhouse of flowers, is to plant bulbs inside that will emerge and bloom in a couple of weeks in the depths of January and February. But to get those quick results, you need to force certain varieties- Paperwhites, Amaryllis, and pre-chilled Hyacinths.

bulbs3

Forcing bulbs is a technique that has been in use for hundreds of years, popularized in the Victorian era, and the Victorians went to great lengths to force bulbs into bloom.

046

The proper definition of forcing bulbs is  defined as “a technique that imitates the environmental conditions that bulbs encounter outdoors, thereby tricking them into flowering earlier”. Different types of bulbs require different chilling periods, generally between 12 and 16 weeks. But for Paperwhites and Amaryllis, they are primed and ready to go without this artificial chilling period, and that is why gardeners depend on them for easy winter color.

Usually you see only one variety of paperwhite, but there are many different ones
Paperwhite display
Paperwhite display

To have Tulips, Crocuses, Iris, and other bulbs  blooming in my house in the winter, I would have had to pot the bulbs up in the late fall, chill them in a refrigerator for weeks and weeks, and then bring them into the house for warmth to bloom. But, I don’t have the time or room for that, so I do the next best thing – force the easy ones quickly without much fuss or mess.

At a local nursery, I also discovered a treasure trove of Hyacinth bulbs that were pre-chilled and I snatched those up to force also.

Paperwhite Narcissus

Paperwhites are the most commonly forced bulb that gardeners love to grow and enjoy for their wonderful fragrance. The scent of a bowl of Paperwhites in full bloom will waft through an entire house! They are incredibly easy and bring a touch of much-needed spring scents into your living space. When choosing your bulbs, select ones that are symmetrical, rather than ones that have off shoots, as these tend to come out lopsided and will fall over easily.

Forced Daffs at the Philadelphia Flower Show
Forced Daffs at the Philadelphia Flower Show

How To Force Paperwhites

Step 1

Paperwhite bulbs
Paperwhite bulbs-one lop-sided and one symmetrical

I like to put my Paperwhites in gravel so that they are bottom heavy and won’t flop over from the weight of the tall stems. Simply fill a container with loose gravel or pebbles, or soil.

Step 2

If you pot them in soil, water until moist. If you use gravel, fill up the container with water until the level hits the bottom of the bulb, but they are not submerged.

Paperwhites in container for forcing
Paperwhites in container for forcing

Step 3

Keep your paperwhites in a warm sunny spot and check the rooting container almost every day for formation of roots, adding water as it evaporates.

Step 4

Once the shoots reach 2 inches tall, you need to pour off the old water and add a mixture of 4-6 % alcohol and water. You need to do this to stunt the growth of the stems which can get quite tall. You will end up with drunken Paperwhites! The alcohol mixture will shorten the stems by one-third and not affect the flowers at all. See below for the recipe.

Step 5

Once in bloom, if you move them to a cooler location, the flowers will last longer.

The Science

I thought that adding alcohol was an old wives tale, but scientists have proved the veracity of this claim. Go to, http://blogs.cornell.edu/hort/2009/11/10/pickling-your-paperwhites/ .

Basically, if you add 1 part of gin, vodka, or other alcohol, to 7 parts water, the mixture will interfere with water intake and you end up with shorter and less floppy stems. As anyone who has grown these bulbs knows, a container of fully grown Paperwhites needs support or the whole thing will topple over. The key is to add this mixture after the shoots reach 2 inches tall. Do not use wine or beer!! as that adds too much sugar. Don’t go over this amount of alcohol (4-6%), or you could really damage the plant. If you decide not to add the alcohol, you will need to add some support to the stems.

Varieties of Paperwhites

Ziva Paperwhites planted in mass in the Conservatory at Longwood Gardens
Ziva Paperwhites planted in mass in the Conservatory at Longwood Gardens

I like the old-fashioned variety Ziva for the great fragrance and pure white color. Also, for those who can’t stand the intense fragrance, there is a variety that is only lightly scented called Tazetta inbal. Personally, I love the strong Paperwhite scent and would never plant the lightly scented variety as that is the main reason I grow them. Another variety to try, is a beautiful sunny yellow with an orange center, called Grand soleil d’Or.

Types of Paperwhites
Types of Paperwhites

The Big One-Amaryllis

059
Amaryllis are huge bulbs with huge flowers

If you have read this blog at all, you probably have figured out that Amaryllis tops my list of favorite plants. Go to Amaryllis Centerpiece or Amaryllis Primer  to see what you can do with this easy to force bulb.

005
Amaryllis Centerpiece

c2

 

Amaryllis flowers used at Longwood
Amaryllis flowers used at Longwood

Hyacinths

For how-to on forcing Hyacinths for indoor bloom, go to
For how-to on forcing Hyacinths for indoor bloom, go to Longfield Gardens

I love the fragrance and color of Hyacinths, so am forcing these for the first time. I found some pre-chilled bulbs at the nursery along with some forcing vases and thought I would give it a whirl. The trick here is to set the bulbs directly above the water, but not touching, so that the bulbs don’t rot.

Forcing Hyacinths

Step 1

If you can’t find pre-chilled bulbs, place them in your crisper drawer of your refrigerator for at least five weeks, keeping them away from your produce.

Step 2

Fill the forcing vase to just below the cup where the bulb will rest. The bulb will reach for the water. Some of my bulbs I set on gravel in a mason jar with the water level just below the base of the bulb.

Step 3

Place the hyacinth bulb with the root end down and growing tip up, so that the base is just above the water. Place your vase on a bright windowsill and periodically change the water, and turn the vase to keep it centered. Enjoy the two-week show of beauty and fragrance. I especially enjoy watching the roots form through the glass!

peach-hyacinths
Photo from Longfield Gardens

After Care

Paperwhites and Hyacinths pour all their energy into blooming and are all bloomed-out afterwards. I toss them. Amaryllis are a different story. After blooming, I cut off the stalk and water it just like any other houseplant. In the spring when all danger of frost is gone, I stick the pots outside in a sheltered location, in partial sun. I ignore them all summer long, until the fall, when it gets chillier. Then, I bring the pots in and put them in the dark basement and let the leaves die back. Around Thanksgiving, I start watering the bulbs and bring them into the light. Usually they reward me by sending out buds and begin their cycle again.