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Bad-Tasting Beauties: Deer- and Rodent-Resistant Flower Bulbs

This Fall Plant Bad-Tasting Beauties: Deer- and Rodent-Resistant Flower Bulbs That Naturalize

By Colorblends
Photographs courtesy of Colorblends


For those who love colorful spring bulb flowers but are plagued by flower-devouring deer or bulb-chomping squirrels, voles and other critters, there is a solution. And it doesn’t involve smelly sprays, expensive fencing or firearms. Just switch to bulbs that taste bad, say the experts at “Keep things simple. Plant flower bulbs that you’ll love but animals won’t,” says third generation bulbsman Tim Schipper, president of Colorblends, a Connecticut-based flower bulb wholesaler.

For starters, says Schipper, whose company sells direct to land care professionals and home gardeners coast-to-coast, “Plant daffodils. Choose any variety, small- or large-flowering, yellow, white, orange, peachy pink or bi-colors. Deer and rodents won’t eat them. The same is true for white snowdrops and snowflakes.”


He considers daffodils, snowdrops and snowflakes to be deer- and rodent-proof, “All three of these bulbs contain lycorine, a bitter alkaloid that’s toxic when eaten. Animals know to steer clear of them.” Other bulbs Schipper recommends include many coveted blue and purple spring bloomers such as alliums, starflowers, glory-of-the-snow and blue squill. These bulbs are considered deer and rodent resistant in varying degrees, because they taste bad enough that animals usually avoid them.


“If deer and rodents are starving, and there are edible alternatives, they’ll eat almost anything,” says Schipper. “Alliums and starflowers, for instance, are not bothered by deer and, usually, not by rodents. But voles will go after them when food is scarce.” ranks these bulbs as best bets where deer are problematic: allium, camassia, glory-of-the snow, winter wolf’s bane, crown imperial, snake’s head, starflower and blue squill. Where rodents run amok, glory-of-the snow, winter wolf’s bane, crown imperial and blue squill are typically left alone.

“Unfortunately, tulips and crocuses, which are eye candy to us, are actual candy to deer and rodents. They find tulips and crocuses irresistible,” says Schipper.  “If this is a big problem where you live, don’t plant bulbs that animals like. Of course, if you can’t imagine spring without tulips, which I understand, try planting in a protected area near the house, especially where your dog hangs out.”


For those considering a crafty move such as planting tulips surrounded by critter-repelling bulbs like daffodils, Schipper has bad news. “Unfortunately, our furry friends don’t fall for that trick,” he says. “They find the tulips and leave the daffodils alone.”


Bulbs That Animals Don’t Eat Usually Naturalize Well

Schipper says there’s another bonus to planting bad-tasting beauties – most of them also naturalize, returning to bloom for several years or more. “These bulbs are good investments for long-term plantings, whether you’re bothered by deer and squirrels, or not,” says Schipper. “If planted in a sunny location where the soil drains well, the same bulbs that animals tend to avoid will usually settle in, make a home and maybe start a bulb family.”

To encourage bulbs to naturalize, allow the foliage to die back for approximately eight weeks after bloom, says Schipper. The leaves contain special cells called chloroplasts that trap energy from the sun, part of the process called photosynthesis that transforms light, carbon dioxide and water into food. Letting the leaves die back allows the bulb to store energy for next year’s bloom.


“Bulbs are programmed by nature to both thrive and survive,” he says. “The bulb itself is really a built-in, underground food storage unit that fuels the plant’s future growth and reproduction.” Says Schipper, “These are incredibly efficient plants that bloom profusely, with big color, when landscapes are otherwise bare. When you think about it, once you’ve seen bulb flowers in bloom, it really is hard to picture spring without them.”

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