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It can be challenging to grow a beautiful, color-filled garden when you live where there’s a large population of deer. While fencing your yard or religiously spraying deer deterrents are effective ways to keep the herd from decimating your garden, there is another way. For many gardeners, the most important step in gardening with deer is to include as many deer-resistant plants as possible. When it comes to spring-blooming bulbs, this is not just important — it’s essential. Deer are especially hungry in the spring, and their palates seem to be far less discerning. Today, we’re teaming up with bulb.com, a website for information about flower bulbs, to tell you about six of our favorite deer-resistant bulbs. They’ll add a pop of color to your spring garden, without losing their heads to a browsing Bambi.
6 Deer-Resistant Bulbs
The six deer-resistant bulbs you’re about to meet are all spring-blooming. To enjoy their gorgeous blooms, plant the bulbs in the autumn. They’ll spend the winter growing roots and settling in. Then, come spring, when their greens and blooms emerge from the ground, you’ll be able to enjoy their cheery beauty for many weeks.
1. Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis):
Among the very first bulbs to emerge each spring, snowdrops may be petite, but they sure are a welcome sight to winter-weary eyes! Many gardeners live by the old adage that when the snowdrops bloom, it means winter is officially over, even though they sometimes appear when there’s still snow on the ground. Like daffodils, snowdrops contain a distasteful, poisonous alkaloid known as lycorine. This compound keeps all mammals from eating the bulb, greens, and blooms. Snowdrops are not only suitable for a list of deer-resistant bulbs, but also for a list of rodent-resistant bulbs, too.
This bulb produces small, nodding, bell-like blooms in the very early spring or late winter. Though most varieties stand just a few inches tall, they’re hard to miss when little else in the garden is in bloom. Snowdrop flowers are white and come in both single and double forms. Try planting them in woodland gardens, rock gardens, under large trees, and even right in your lawn. The blooms will pop up out of the grass each spring.
2. Daffodils (Narcissus species):
There are dozens of different daffodil species, with thousands of named cultivars on the market. Botanists divide all of these daffodils into 13 different divisions based on their physical features. One of these divisions, the double daffodils (named for their densely-packed layers of petals), is 2018’s Bulb of the Year.
Like snowdrops, daffodils contain the alkaloid lycorine which makes them unpalatable to deer and rodents. Of all the deer-resistant bulbs available to gardeners, daffodils offer the most in terms of varietal choices and low maintenance. Daffodils reliably return to the garden year after year, with the clumps growing larger with each passing season. In addition to being deer-resistant flower bulbs, daffodils are inexpensive, winter hardy, and very easy to grow — what more could a gardener ask for? Plant them in flower beds, cutting gardens, woodland areas, and shrub borders. Miniature varieties look lovely in rock gardens, fairy gardens, and raised beds, too.
3. Crocus (Crocus tommasinianus):
Sometimes called the “tommie crocus”, it’s said that C. tommasinianus is the most deer-resistant crocus available to gardeners. While other crocus species and varieties are not reliably resistant to deer, tommies are one species that’s known to be disliked by chipmunks and voles, in addition to deer.
Tommies produce pink, purple, or lavender flowers, depending on the cultivar. They’re in bloom between late February and late March, depending on your gardening zone. The bare flowers pop out of the soil a few days before the foliage emerges. Though they only reach a height of about 3 inches, tommies make a big impact on the landscape. They are deer-resistant bulbs that naturalize beautifully, creating a large colony just a few years after planting. I have them growing in my lawn, but you could also plant them under trees, along woodland paths, in beds and borders, and along walkways.
4. Crown Imperials (Fritillaria imperialis):
If ever there were a big, bold bulb to knock your gardening socks off, crown imperials would be it. This member of the lily family has a bloom-cluster reminiscent of a pineapple. Each bulb produces one flower stalk that’s topped with a group of elongated, bell-shaped flowers wearing a green “cap” of foliage. Standing tall at 40 inches, crown imperials come in shades of red, orange, and yellow.
When planting crown imperial, it’s hard to miss the skunk-like fragrance and hollow center of the bulbs themselves. While the scent might make the planting process a bit unpleasant, the odor of the bulb is one of the reasons this plant is right at home on a list of deer-resistant bulbs. The foliage doesn’t smell bad, but the blooms do have a slightly musty scent. You’ll probably only notice it, though, if you stick your nose right into one of the flowers. The hollow center of the bulb can sometimes collect water and cause the bulb to rot. To prevent this, plant the bulbs on their side. Crown imperials prefer well-drained sites and are suited to groundcover beds, perennial borders, and flower gardens.
5. Alliums (Allium species):
If you twisted my arm and forced me to pick a favorite on this list of deer-resistant bulbs, I would choose the alliums. These members of the onion family are a diverse group, though they all produce their trademark ball-shaped flower clusters. Often called ornamental onions, these characters make brilliant garden specimens for a million different reasons (okay, maybe not a literal million, but certainly a lot!). Alliums are deer-resistant flower bulbs that are long-blooming, rodent-proof, and colorful, but they also come in a broad diversity of plant sizes, forms, and bloom colors.
Most alliums bloom in late spring or early summer, just as other spring-blooming bulbs are wrapping it up for the season. Some alliums are pixie-sized, while others are nearly as tall as a 10-year-old. The bloom clusters can be the size of a quarter or as big as a dinner plate. Alliums make wonderful cut flowers. After the plant has gone to seed, the dead seed head can be used in dried flower arrangements or left as a decorative statement in the garden. Plant larger alliums in cutting gardens, perennial beds, and shade gardens. Smaller species look fantastic in rock gardens and along walkways and garden paths.
6. Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hyspanica):
Another member of the lily family, Spanish bluebells definitely deserve a place on any list of deer-resistant bulbs. Their white, pink, or blue flowers are shaped like tiny bells and hang in groups from the top of the upright flower stalks in late spring. The sizeable plants grow up to 16 inches tall, and over time, form a beautiful, natural colony of bluebells through bulb offsets and seeds. Plus, the wide, strapping leaves are lovely even when the plant is not in flower.
Also known as wood hyacinth, Spanish bluebells, and their close cousin the English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), are winter hardy and low-maintenance. Both are well-suited to woodland gardens and planting beds beneath large trees as they’re quite shade tolerant. It’s also reported that Spanish bluebells grow under black walnut trees where few other plants thrive. When it comes to deer-resistant bulbs, Spanish bluebells have so much to offer.
We hope this post inspires you to plant more spring-blooming bulbs in your garden. For more deer-resistant flower bulbs, head to this page on the bulb.com website that offers a longer list of bulbs that deer don’t like. You’ll also find lots of gorgeous photos of these plants in gardens of all shapes and sizes.
A hearty thank you to bulb.com for sponsoring this post so that we could share these stunning and easy-to-care-for, deer-resistant bulbs with our Savvy Gardening readers. Time to get planting!
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- Growing amaryllis for the holidays