Deer-Resistant Spring Bulbs

I used to grow pink tulips under my flowering crabapple. Some years I’d plant tall, elegant “single lates,” in cherry pink and cotton-candy pink. Other years I’d grow blowsy, romantic peony-flowering ‘Angelique,’ who swooned and drooped all over the place. But eventually the deer caught on that all they had to do was walk up my driveway and down my front walk for a tulip breakfast. They didn’t even have to get their hooves muddy!  It used to kill me, because the tulips would be coming on well, about to bloom, and then one morning I’d go out there and bam, nothing but chewed-off stems.

So I miss my tulips, but I just don’t fight that battle anymore. Here are the bulbs I use to save myself grief.  Some of these (snowdrops, daffodils) contain a poison called lycorine that no animal will eat. Others are bulbs that deer and rodents don’t care for but might take a bite if they are starving.

The first harbinger of spring is winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis). It’s a little yellow buttercup that comes out even earlier than crocuses! Chipmunks won’t dig it out and it spreads readily.

Eranthis hyemalis (Winter aconite)


While the aconite are blooming their cheerful little heads off, you will also get snowdrops (Galanthus). I like the aconite a little better because it shows up well even if there are still patches of snow around. But snowdrops obviously have their charm.  Giant snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii) and Galanthus ‘Sam Arnott’  are fragrant. Breaking news: I found a snapped-off snowdrop this morning. Was it a rabbit or… a kindergartener?  Either way, I’m peeved.

Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrops)


snowdrops and cypress


If you want more color variety, try Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa). This little starry flower blooms in April and comes in blue, pink, lavender and white.

Chionodoxa (Glory of the snow)

pink and purple chionodoxa

chionodoxa with forsythia


Another good naturalizer is Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica). This little (about 6″) bluebell comes mostly in bright blue, but also in white and in a pale pink that looks almost white. It’s similar to Glory of the Snow but holds its flowers facing down.

Scilla sibirica (Squill)

Your garden will look lovely in early spring with these little deer-proof gems, especially if you add in some pansies (but do spray the pansies with Deer-Off!).  And when the weather finally warms up, it’s time for – daffodils!

Daffodils (Narcissus) are SUCH a blessing. They are completely resistant to every critter and disease. They grow easily and multiply well. They can be selected for early, midseason or late bloom, and a great variety of sizes and cup forms. And they even can be nearly-white or somewhat-pink, though I’ll admit that when growing daffs, it’s best to enjoy yellow.

One of the earliest daffodils is ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation.’ It is a large “trumpet” daffodil, meaning it has the classic daffodil shape with the big cup.


Another early daffodil is the one you see in grocery stores all the time: miniature ‘Tête à Tête.’ It’s cute, cute, cute! – plant it where you can see it up close and appreciate its size. In this picture you can see that it’s barely bigger than the chionodoxa next to it.


For an early white daffodil, try ‘Green Pearl,’ a “pheasant eye” type with a short, ringed trumpet.


A trumpet-style “white” is the well-known Mount Hood – it starts out with some pale yellow on the trumpet but fades to white.

Looking for pink? It’s not easy – the “pink” daffodils are generally pink only in the trumpet, and even then it tends to be more salmon or even orange. Some of the best-known are ‘Accent’  and ‘Pink Charm.’ ‘Replete’ is an appealing double-petaled variety.

I grow daffodils against my woods, along the side of my driveway.  They don’t especially like the location (it’s really terrible soil, and tends to be a bit shady) but they tolerate it okay, and I throw in a few more bulbs every few years.  What I like about growing them over there is I’m not too bothered by the yellowing foliage, which you have to let cure if you want them to thrive at all.  I disguise the foliage by growing daylilies there too (and they don’t much like it either – the side yard by the driveway is my garden’s skid row, I guess).

ANYway, when growing daffodils at some distance from your usual paths, grow as many different types of daffodils as you can find. Forget about trying to be restrained and keeping to a few choice varieties. What’s restrained about daffodils, anyway? If you grow a bunch of solid yellow ‘King Alfreds’, you’ll just glance over at it and read it as a streak of yellow. But if you put a variety in there, people will cross the lawn to examine it – and the bouquets will be dazzling!  Try one of the mixes from John Scheepers or their sister company Van Engelen (sells the same bulbs in greater quantities, cheaper).

daffodil mix


daffodils by Ullswater Lake, England

This photo shows naturalized daffodils by Ullswater Lake, which is in the Lake District of northern England, and where William Wordsworth was inspired to write his famous poem “I wandered lonely as a Cloud .”  I’ll post about that poem later – you can skip it if you’re not a poetry fan.