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!

 

 

 

Summer Snowflake-An Heirloom Bulb

These bulbs aren’t dog proof, but I find that deer never eat them

Underutilized and unknown to many people, Summer Snowflake, Leucojum aestivum, should be planted in more gardens. Deer resistant, easy to grow, and thriving in shady situations, this bulb deserves more recognition. Resembling giant snowdrops, these bulbs bloom for weeks in late April, and not in the summer like the name indicates. If  you have deer and love bulbs and want to grow more varieties than the daffodil stalwart, this is a great candidate to add to your gardens. Looking great naturalized in the lawn or woodland, I planted mine in my garden under a deciduous tree. Getting the early spring sun that shines through the leafless tree canopy is all the light these heirloom bulbs (from 1594!) need.

The bell like flowers resemble giant snowdrops
Gravetye Giant Leucojum

Often seen at old house sites and historic homes, at one time these bulbs were planted widely. But now I rarely see them. Anything that is deer resistant and thrives in shade is valuable to the homeowner who wants early spring color. Belonging to the same family as daffodils, the foliage is very similar with hollow stems supporting the white nodding bells.

There is one named cultivar called ‘Gravetye Giant’ which is a little bit larger than the species. The flowers are larger and remind me of giant lily of the valleys. Reaching 18-24″ tall, the species is slightly smaller at 12-18″ tall.

Cultivation 

Leucojums are hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. Choose a location with full sun or partial shade and well-drained soil.  Plant the bulbs in fall under 3 to 4 inches of soil and 6 to 10 inches apart.  That’s it! These bulbs will outlive you and remain in place for many years and spread to fill the space, though never becoming invasive.

Available at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs for about $1 a bulb, put this on your order list for fall planting.

Winter Aconites-The Bulb That Keeps Giving

Winter Aconites will push up through snow
Winter Aconites will push up through snow

Sunny yellow blooms fringed with a green ruff green poking through snow is my first sign that spring has sprung. Eranthis hyamalis, in the buttercup family, is a spring ephemeral, which means that it is a short-lived plant above ground with a burst of blooms, then disappears, remaining under ground until next winter.

From a few corms, I have many
From a few corms, I have many

The plant takes advantage of the deciduous woodland canopy, flowering at the time of maximum sunlight reaching the forest floor, then completely dying back to its underground tuber after flowering. So, for about eight weeks starting in late February, I see the plant above ground, celebrate its arrival and the bees devour it! Flowering when little else is in bloom, the blossom is a very important nectar and pollen source for my honeybees. On a nice sunny day above 45 degrees in late winter, the bees are darting in and out of the blossoms, quickly taking advantage of the brief show of color.

Winter Aconites have a pretty green ruff surrounding the flower
Winter Aconites have a pretty green ruff surrounding the flower

Hard to start with dried corms which are a form of bulb, the plant is much easier to establish with “green” transplants. Know someone with a nice spread of these flowers? Then, bring your friend a gift and take some home for your own starters. I have often transplanted my plants to new locations so that the sunny yellow flowers are popping up all over my property.

Bees flock to the early offerings of nectar and pollen
Bees flock to the early offerings of nectar and pollen

I started my Winter Aconites with the tubers which resemble a dried pea by planting them one to two inches deep and waiting to see how many emerged. Only about 25% of the corms sprouted but that was enough to start my stock going for years to come as they will seed in. I have read that the little flowers can become invasive by reseeding in odd places, but I welcome all comers!

Bees bathe in the pollen
Bees bathe in the pollen

Such a cheerful little flower that is attractive to all pollinators is welcome in my garden anytime. A good companion to Snowdrops, Winter Aconites will live for years without any disturbance. The flowers push up through a stand of Germander and other thick ground covers and stick around for weeks, opening when the sun comes out, and closing when nightfall comes.

Snowdrops are good companion plantings
Snowdrops are good companion plantings