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
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!




Garden Blue

Blue really stands out in a garden:  Chinese Moon Bridge at Les Quatre Vents in Quebec
Blue Corydalis

As a landscape designer, when I ask a client what colors they want in their garden, they invariably will say that blue is top of the list. So, I am always looking for good blue perennials and annuals to satisfy this urge. Blue is also the most popular color in the world so I understand where this is coming from.  Who doesn’t love blue? Lots of blue flowers populate garden catalogs, but some are not suited for my extreme hot/cold climate of the mid-Atlantic, though I can still covet these varieties. If you live in a more forgiving climate, like the Pacific Northwest, you are fortunate and can load up on many of these plants.

Blue Corydalis

There are a few named varieties of this beauty, notably ‘Blue Panda’,  ‘China Blue’ and ‘Blue Heron’. A shade loving perennial that looks like and is a relative of bleeding heart, the finely cut blue grey foliage topped with clusters of azure blue flowers, flowering in mid to late spring, Corydalis dies back in the summer and can flush back with more flowers in the autumn, but hates heat, so I can’t grow this beauty. Needing evenly moist soil, this great pick comes from China and is available from Plant Delights.

Masses of blue corydalis blooming in the UK
Stunning color
Blue Centaurea

Blue Centaurea or Perennial Bachelors Button

I can grow this one and love it. The cornflower-blue, fringed blossoms of this  easy to grow perennial attract butterflies like magnets in the garden. Centaurea blooms from early to midsummer and dies back in the late summer. Beautiful in cut flower bouquets, it will self seed prolifically.




Anchusa is another old-fashioned flower that I only see in the UK. I used to grow it years ago and can’t find it anymore at local nurseries, but after seeing it flower in England, I am going to try it again next year. A short-lived perennial that blooms in spring and hates humidity, I can still grow this little gem for spring color. I put this on my list for next year.

A great blue and white combo- Anchusa and Orlaya



Anchusa used at the Chelsea Flower Show

Balloon Flower

Balloon flower

Balloon Flower, Platycodon ‘Sentimental Blue’, is a sun-loving deer resistant trooper in my garden. Covered in puffy balloon shaped flowers that explode in color, lasting a long time in bloom. ‘Sentimental Blue’ is a dwarf variety topping out at 12″ tall and the easy to grow clump is literally covered with blooms in mid summer.


Virginia Bluebells

Heralding springtime bloom, I add to my Virginia Bluebell, Mertensia virginica,  population every year. Blooming in April with trusses of true blue flowers, these will disappear in later summer where other summer bloomers take over. A spring ephemeral that forms large colonies over time, the flowers start off pink and gradually turn a beautiful shade of blue as they mature. I often see bumblebees visit the flowers which last for at least a month, and then disappear. Preferring woodland conditions- rich moist soil I have no problem growing them in my clay soil here in the mid-Atlantic.

Love in a Mist

Love in a Mist, or Nigella hispanica, is an annual which I sow in early March when the weather is still chilly. I scrape off some soil and sprinkle some seeds and by June, I am rewarded with a cloud of blossoms which bloom and turn into interesting seed pods.

Coming in an array of blue shades, Love in a mist will bloom in the spring and form beautiful seed pods
The seed pods dry beautifully

Blue Salvia ‘Victoria Blue’

Blue annual Salvia

Salvia farinacea, another annual that I grow for its true blue color is planted every year in my garden. Easy to grow in full sun, I cut the flower wands for drying and use them in dried flower wreaths and arrangements. Drying true to color, they add a huge color focal point to any arrangement.

A cut bunch of Salvia ready for drying
A dried arrangement with blue Saliva
Dried Salvia


Scabiosa ‘Fama Deep Blue’

Scabiosa or Pin Cushion flower grows in full sun to part shade with huge (3-4″) flowers. The stunning flowers are fewer in number than the more commonly seen ‘Butterfly Blue’, but spectacular.

Scabiosa ‘Fama Deep Blue’

Offering up double blossoms begging to be cut and placed in an arrangement, it blooms off and on all summer  Nodding flowers held on top of long stems, the flowers can last up to a week in a vase and longer on the plant. Also in a white form, you need to dead head to keep the flower show coming.

Bulbs & Tubers

Spring color is easy to add with fall planted bulbs, by planning a little bit ahead. Grape Hyacinths, Camassia, Scilla,  Iris, and Agapanthus, are my top picks for blue splashes.

Grape Hyacinth ‘Valerie Finnis’
Scilla peruviana
Japanese Iris
Bearded Iris
Iris ‘Lecture’


Camassia bulbs make a great color statement in the spring


Anything that you add to your garden – benches, obelisks, bridges, glass balls, etc., is a blank canvas for you to amp up color impact. Forget natural teak benches! and include something with color instead.

Blue obelisk
Add glass balls for color
At Chanticleer, blue painted chairs add a pop of color
Blue Bug
I would love a real peacock to ornament my garden!