The Hunt for Bambi-Beating Bulbs

by Susan Harris
No, I won’t be beating Bambi over the head with a bag of daffodils but the bulbs I’m planting need to survive the foraging of hungry deer in my neighborhood – the same deer that have caused me to give up growing hostas in my back yard where the deer roam, and Macrophylla hydrangea, too.  (For some strange but wonderful reason, they don’t touch Oakleaf hydrangeas, so that’s what I grow near them, and it works.)   

Daffodils
First up, the aforementioned daffodils, and thank heavens for them!  They’re not bothered by deer OR squirrels.   Twenty years ago I planted about 300 daffodils in my backyard borders and they’ve performed fabulously, with no effort on my part.  But this year I enlarged the borders, so whole swaths of space are now daffodil-less!   To fill that void I’m zeroing in on the one of the best naturalizing daffodils on the market – the old, tried-and-true variety ‘Dutch Master’.  Like another old-fashioned favorite, ‘King Alfred’, it’s big, yellow as can be, and long-lived.  I grabbed a bag of 50, and may wish I’d bought 100 instead.

Now there’s a design error I made years ago when I planted those 300 daffodils that I won’t be repeating this time, and that’s spacing them evenly, each a foot away from the other.  The result was about as natural-looking as a checkers board – ugh.  This time I’m putting 3-5 bulbs in each hole because clumps are more natural-looking.

Allium schubertii
Who doesn’t love the big, bold orbs of the bulb world?  I’m a sucker for them, particularly this airy variety that I’ve often seen dried and painted as a more or less permanent accent in the garden, or in indoor arrangements – what fun!  These will grow to a modest 20 inches tall (unlike the giant alliums topping off at 4 feet) and because they’re in the onion family, NONE of the usual suspects of garden critters will eat them.

Next, what bulbs to plant IN this swath of short sedums?

Siberian Squill
Now who doesn’t love small early-blooming bulbs coming up through lawn?  Or in the case of my garden, the lawn substitute – short creeping sedums.   Here another great challenge of garden design comes into play – the garden hose!  See, I’m a hand-waterer, so I lug the hose across this open area in the middle of my back garden.  The lawn that used to be here withstood that punishment, and so do the short sedums that take the place of turfgrass but tall bulbs could easily be decapitated by the hose.  So here I’m sticking with early bloomers – plants that will bloom before the summer heat requires me to start watering.  Crocuses are early enough to fill that bill, but I tried planting them here once, and both the deer and local squirrels snapped them right up.

So, Siberian Squill it is!  At least the package declares it to be deer-resistant, and it blooms nice and early in the spring.   They’re only 4-6 inches high, so after their flowers have faded and the foliage remains, it won’t be too prominent sticking up from the groundcover sedums.

Grape Hyacinth
Though I’ve never been a fan of full-size hyacinths, I looove the shorter grape hyacinths, Latin-name Muscari, and have dozens of them tucked into my front border.  I’ve had great luck with lots of varieties, including ‘Blue Sky’, ‘Valerie Finnis’, ‘Dark Eyes,” and even a white one, and I just picked up a bag of  ‘Blue Spike’ that I’ll plant under the creeping sedum.  Can’t wait to show you all the effect!

When to Plant
It’s important to plant all of these between now and mid-October so they’ll have plenty of time to form roots.  Tulips, on the other hand, don’t need that long root-growing period and are fine to plant as late as November here in Maryland.

Foiling Squirrels and other Critters
And if you have squirrels – and really, who doesn’t? – there are some terrific home remedies that actually keep them from stealing your prize bulbs, even the ones they love.  One tip that works against squirrels is to sprinkle some red pepper flakes in the hole on top of each bulb, before filling for soil.  That worked to protect my tulips (back in the day when I didn’t have deer to worry about, just squirrels).  And to protect against squirrels AND deer, I’m told that sprinkling garlic powder (not garden salt) on top of bulbs after each rain actually works (also, with hostas and daylilies!)  I may just try that on the few tulips I have left in my garden.

Photo credits:  Dutch Master daffodil by Beautiful Cataya.  Allium schubertii by Wikimedia Commons.  Siberian squill by the U.Illinois Extension.  Muscari by JohnSam. My garden by me.

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