Helen Newling Lawson
Best Bulbs for Deer Resistance
Updated: Jul 23, 2020
I'm trying to stay one step ahead of deer -- and my spring planting chores -- by beefing up my use of deer-resistant fall bulbs. Luckily, in my Zone 7 garden I still have some time to get them in the ground! Going on the shopping list are these top-rated bulbs for deer-resistance.
I should add here that, just as I do in the book, I'm using the term "bulbs" to also encompass corms, rhizomes, and other specialized underground storage structures. I learned on a trip to the JC Raulston Arboretum earlier this year that these are collectively known as "geophytes," but I don't really think using that term adds to understanding for most gardeners, so I'm sticking with "bulbs, etc."
I also want to mention that several of these bulbs get their resistance from toxicity. So please handle with care; think of who else will be visiting your garden besides deerand don't store your daffodil bulbs in your pantry next to the onions!
Daffodils (Narcissus) are a staple for any deer-resistant garden. There are countless varieties, and a range of bloom periods from early through late spring. They are also drought resistant and will multiply to increase the show year after year.
Allium aren't toxic, but their kinship with onion and garlic wards off deer and many other critters.
I've long admired drumstick allium as a striking punctuation point in late spring borders. This year, a smaller selection, 'Millenium' Allium, was named the 2018 Perennial Plant of the Year(R) by the Perennial Plant Association. According to the National Garden Bureau (ngb.org), "Growing best in full sun, each plant typically produces an upright foliage clump of grass-like, glossy deep green leaves reaching 10-15” tall in spring. In midsummer, two to three flower scapes rise above the foliage with each scape producing two or three showy two-inch spherical umbels of rose-purple florets that last as long as four weeks.... ‘Millenium’ does not let the heat bother it! Easily grown in zones 4-9 (possibly zone 3) makes it a great perennial in many areas of the country."
Autumn crocus (Colchium) are not actually a crocus. Good thing, since crocus are not deer resistant at all. The fall blooms do resemble the early spring flowers of true crocus, and come in similar hues of purple, rosy pink and white. These corms are toxic to all critters (including us). They are a great choice for pollinator gardens, since the fragrant flowers provide a food source well into fall.
Both related to and resembling buttercups, Eranthis grows from a tuber and is suited for shady sites. A very early bloomer (to provide pollinators an early food source, to balance out the autumn crocus), these will act like spring ephemerals and recede into dormancy during summer. They need reliable moisture and should be plumped up with water before planting if they appear shriveled.
Glory of the Snow
As you might guess from the name, Chionodoxa is another early bloomer. Since it's a low grower, it's great for intermingling with taller bulbs, and naturalizes well.
Another great choice for naturalizing, Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) are a gorgeous sight carpeting a woodland floor. If you live in a colder climate, try English bluebell instead (H. non-scripta). You may need to wear gloves when handling the bulbs, since they cause allergic skin reactions for some people.
Photo courtesy of Erica Glasener for Gibbs Gardens
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