Spring Blooming (and Deer Resistant!) Bulbs to Plant

Tired of deer eating your tulips every spring—usually just as they are about to open? Daffodils are a great deer-resistant choice, but what other bulbs can you plant that deer won’t eat? Why not try some of these low-maintenance spring bloomers? As a bonus, most will readily naturalize and gently spread as they return every year to welcome spring.

Like most bulbs, these selections prefer well-drained soil and full sun to part shade. All go summer-dormant, so plant other perennials around them (or plant the bulbs between your existing perennials) so the yellowing foliage will be hidden as they decline. And like most other smaller-statured plants, planting many of the same together results in the best effect in the garden.

(click pictures to view larger)

Allium giganteum (giant onion) 

Giant onion has huge, spectacular flowers and can reach up to 3 feet tall at maturity. Plant in a mass of at least five bulbs for a really stunning show in late spring. The key to success with giant onion is to amend the soil well before planting-they need good drainage. Use plenty of soil conditioner and PermaTill for the best results (see below).

 

Anemone blanda (Grecian windflower) 

These delicate-looking plants don’t look like they come from a bulb at all - the flowers look like daisies and the leaves are distinctly not bulb-like. As a low growing plant, try using them to surround taller bulbs or early-blooming perennials that would look pretty with a “skirt” of cheerful flowers. When planting anemone, soak the bulbs (actually corms) overnight to soften, and plant sideways to minimize water collecting on the top of the bulb.

 

Chionodoxa (beauty-of-the-snow)

Beauty-of-the-snow will happily naturalize at the edge of woodlands, where the pale lilac-blue or white starry flowers create a low-maintenance drift of color. Their color and time of bloom make them a nice complement to plant with daffodils.

 

Fritillaria imperialis (crown imperial)

Crown imperial bulbs do have a rather “skunky” aroma, but that can be used to your advantage. Rodents don’t like the smell and stay away from them. Plant them with other bulbs that may be bothered by voles and the like, and they’ll extend their stinky protection. You’ll notice that the bulbs have a depression at the top that can collect water. To avoid rotting in wet winter weather, plant the bulb sideways in well-drained soil, or even straight PermaTill (see below).

 

Galanthus (snowdrop) 

How lovely it is to see the first snowdrops pushing forth on a cold late-winter day! Snowdrops are often the first reminder that spring really is coming. Like many other bulbs, snowdrops will readily naturalize, particularly in shady or partly shady areas-think edge-of-the-woods locations. They are small statured at around 4” tall, and summer dormant.

 

Iris reticulata (dwarf Iris) 

Dwarf iris can often be found as one of the earliest potted bulbs you can buy in early spring. Why not plant your own in the garden? Just 6” tall in bloom, these fragrant flowers make a good cut flower for tiny vases or nosegays. After bloom the leaves elongate to 12” or so before going summer-dormant. Hint-you can plant the potted ones you find at the store in spring after they're done blooming.

 

Leucojum aestivum (giant snowdrop or summer snowflake) 

With its nice long stems, this bulb makes a very nice cut flower. Picture a giant lily-of-the-valley and you’ll get a good idea of what summer snowflake looks like. Blooming in mid-spring, leucojum naturalizes readily and prefers sunny to partly shady areas.

 

Scilla siberica (Siberian squill) 

Scilla siberica (Siberian squill) is another candidate for naturalizing, particularly for wooded shady areas where other bulbs may struggle. Siberian squill has pretty sky-blue flowers with a darker stripe down the center. The flowers face outward on sunny days and are more downturned on overcast days.

 

PermaTill

Deer aren't the only critters that can devastate your bulbs. Voles and squirrels can also undo your planting work. Though many of the listed bulbs are also rodent resistant, occasionally you can still have problems-apparently rodents don’t read the lists of what they should and should not eat!

One solutions is to plant your bulbs with PermaTill, a non-toxic expanded stone product that keeps critters from digging up and eating your bulbs (rodents don’t like digging through the coarse texture of the PermaTill). As an added bonus, bulbs thrive in the improved drainage and loosened soil texture that PermaTill creates.

Here’s how to use PermaTill: dig the planting hole 2-3” deeper than required for the bulbs. Place a 2-3” layer of PermaTill on the bottom of the planting hole and set the bulbs directly on the PermaTill. Backfill to completely cover the bulbs with 100% PermaTill. Once the bulbs are covered, use a 50:50 blend of PermaTill and existing soil to fill the planting hole to the soil surface. As fragile as bulbs appear to be, they grow beautifully in the coarse PermaTill barrier.