Do squirrels eat bulbs

Time to plant spring bulbs and ward off evil squirrels

Editor’s Note: This week’s version of Garden Plot was originally posted in November 2011. For personal reasons, Mike McGrath is not able to write a new post but assures us that this archived post is perfect for this time of year and will be helpful for gardeners.

Mike McGrath,

Did you plant your bulbs too soon?

Now if you jumped the gun and put your spring bulbs in the ground already, I strongly advise you to cover their planting areas with two inches of well-shredded leaves to keep the ground from warming up too much on “Indian Summer” days. If you don’t, your premature plantings (which already got quite a chill) could sprout this fall, which would mean no flowers come spring. This peril is especially likely if you really jumped the gun and planted before the beginning of October.

Not whole leaves, they must be shredded. And don’t use wood mulch if the planting area is within 30-feet of a home or car. At least a home or car that you don’t want to be covered with those tar-like artillery fungus spores.

Know your enemy: Bushy tail, beady eyes, tulip breath

The biggest natural enemy of spring bulb plantings is evil squirrels. I’m sorry, that was redundant. There are two reasons squirrels attack bulb beds.

One is to devour the tasty and edible kinds of bulbs (specifically tulips and crocus), which the ravenous rodents just can’t resist.

Another is to dig the bulbs up so that the treacherous tree rats can replace them with black walnuts, acorns and other nuts, which are dropping in abundance in many areas of the region this season.

And the final reason is that squirrels are evil and exist only to annoy gardeners and other decent people. Sorry, that was three reasons.

Don’t invite evil squirrels to trash your tulips

Sally Ferguson of the Netherland Flower Bulb Information Center reminds us that the No. 1 way to deter evil squirrels, voracious voles and dastardly deer from dining on your spring bulbs is to plant bulbs they won’t eat.

Tulips and crocus are delicious and nutritious, so everything eats them. But almost all of the other spring bulbs: daffodils, alliums, fritillaria and many others, are either toxic or just taste awful. Yes, squirrels will sometimes dig up daffodil bulbs and replace them with black walnuts, because squirrels are evil, but they won’t actually eat the bulbs.

Wait a minute — like that’s better for you?

Anyway, this problem is always worst for homeowners who feed squirrels either directly or via spilled bird seed (which also attracts mice, rats and plant-eating voles). So don’t put out those corncobs of treachery. And switch to feeding the birds suet over the winter instead.

Because only you can prevent squirrels.

Disguise the scent of your spring bulb beds

Evil squirrels love to dig up our spring bulb beds. To prevent this, Sally Ferguson urges you to clean up your bulb trash completely after you’re done planting, because “leaving brown scraps and bulb wrappers on the surface of the soil is like putting up a sign that says, ‘Tulips planted here. Come eat!’”

And if you want some added insurance, I’ve always advised spraying deer repellent on the surface of the soil to disguise the smell of the tasty treats below. But Sally tells me that she actually prefers to brush her dogs over-top of newly planted tulip beds and scatter more dog hair on top after every brushing. All of the pests that attack bulbs fear dogs, and there’s probably nothing more repellent than mulching your bulb beds with dog hair. And it’s a lot cheaper than buying deer repellent.

A spring bulb planting tip that helps the flowers return

Many people make their should-be-perennial spring bulbs one time wonders by chopping their greenery down to the ground in spring as soon as the flowers start fading. But the plants need those green leaves to collect the solar energy that fuels the growth of the following year’s flower.

So here’s a little trick that will hide those leaves for you.

Plant your bulbs in a big circle. In the center, plant Glory of the Snow, snowdrops and other super-early bloomers. Surround those with crocus, daffodils and other “normal-early-blooming,” as opposed to super-early bulbs.

Then surround that circle with a ring of early flowering tulips, surrounded by a ring of later blooming tulip varieties. Then finally, ring the outside with ornamental alliums, the tallest and latest blooming of the spring bulbs.

The newly emerging plants will continually hide the leaves of the early bloomers.

Squirrel Resistant Flower Bulbs: Growing Bulb Plants That Squirrels Don’t Like

Gardeners and squirrels have been facing off for as long as anyone can remember. These wily rodents defeat just about any fence, deterrent or contraption designed to keep them away from gardens and flower beds. If you’re tired of squirrels digging up and snacking on your delicate tulip and crocus bulbs, defeat them another way by growing bulbs avoided by squirrels. The pests can easily find tastier food in another yard, so planting bulb plants squirrels don’t like is the easiest way to grow perennial flowers without worrying about underground raiders.

Flower Bulbs That Deter Squirrels

Unlike larger animals, such as deer, who nibble on leaves and flowers, squirrels get right to the heart of the matter and dig up the bulbs themselves. They will eat just about any bulb if they are starving, but squirrel resistant flower bulbs all have some quality that makes them unattractive. Any bulbs with a poisonous ingredient or milky sap are the ones least likely to be dug up and carried away, as well as those that simply don’t taste as good as the rest of your garden.

Bulbs Avoided by Squirrels

Flower bulbs that deter squirrels will sprout and bloom any time of the growing season. It’s simple to fill a flower bed with blooms from spring until fall, as long as you stick with bulb plants squirrels don’t like. Some of the most popular varieties are:

  • Fritillaria – These distinctive plants can grow up to 5 feet tall and offer a huge variety of bloom shapes and colors. Some of them even sprout petals covered in a checkerboard design.
  • Daffodils – One of the most reliable heralds of spring, daffodils are garden staples that squirrels hate to eat. Their cup-shaped blooms stand on 18-inch stems and look best massed in beds.
  • Glory of the Snow – If you love crocus for its ability to burst through snow early in the spring, you’ll love this plant for the same reason. Its star-shaped blue flowers provide a welcome hint that winter is almost over.
  • Hyacinth – This sturdy bloomer comes in a rainbow of colors, from all shades of reds to a variety of cool blues and purples. Like most perennial bulb plants, it looks most impressive massed in groups of at least 10 plants.
  • Alliums – These onion relatives have large, round flowers in shades of white, pink, purple, yellow and blue.
  • Lily-of-the-Valley – The stems of this plant are covered with tiny white, nodding bell-shaped flowers that have a sweet perfume and medium-bright green, lance-shaped leaves. Even better is the fact that they will thrive in shady areas of the garden.
  • Siberian Iris – These plants offer early season color and intricate, frilly flowers that squirrels will avoid.

How to Deter Squirrels from Eating Your Fall Bulbs

Hardware cloth lines the bottom of this raised bed, and is folded and secured up the outside edges. Unlike chicken wire, hardware cloth has much tighter openings that smaller rodents can’t squeeze through! You can find it at home improvement stores in 10 and 25 ft’ coils. Chicken wire, however, is the smarter choice for covering your plantings, as it will allow your bulbs to sprout and emerge through the holes.

Squirrels are particularly attracted to newly planted bulbs — when the diggin’ is easy! Covering the planting area for the first month or two after planting may be enough to let the soil settle and trick the squirrels. You can cover it with anything squirrels can’t dig through but rain can permeate, like chicken wire, hardware cloth or window screens. Planting bulbs later in the fall, after the squirrels have done most of their food cacheing, may prevent some loss of bulbs, too.

Other Squirrel and Rodent Garden Proofing Tips

Instead of planting a solid bed of tulips and crocus, you can try interplanting with some of the bulbs mentioned above that are usually avoided by squirrels. That may offer some measure of protection.

Ideally, you want squirrels to make their meals away from the garden. This may require some trickiness on your part!

  • Keep bird feeders away from the garden, or make an effort to clean fallen seed up off teh ground regularly. You can always use the old “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude and set up a special squirrel feeding station. By offering the squirrels a ready supply of easy-to-access food, you might keep them from digging.
  • Keep the area mowed and free from rock and wood piles, which offer the perfect habitat. Tidy up after planting, too. Don’t leave bulb debris (like the papery “tunics” that fall off tulip bulbs) around the planting area, because it acts like a breadcrumb trail to the bulbs.
  • Trees, clotheslines, and other structures near the garden can offer squirrels a sense of comfort and protection when maneuvering through the area. If possible, limit these ‘jungle gym’-type networks close to your planting beds.
  • The regualr presence of a cat or dog is a powerful way to deter squirrels!

Hopefully, these techniques will help you foil foraging squirrels this fall, so you can enjoy colorful blooms next spring.

Professional Resources ”

Dealing with Pesky Garden Critters

As most gardeners learn, sooner or later: one person’s flower fantasy is just a free feast to some furry fiend.Animal pest problems occur in all seasons of the garden, but fall and spring are peak periods for plunder. Luckily these seasons, and fall in particular, are also the best times for beleaguered gardeners to mount a defense against foraging four-legged gourmands such as deer, squirrels, rabbits, voles, moles and other assorted animal pests.

In fall, a good garden clean-up tops the list of animal deterrents. After fall bulb planting, remove planting debris to rob squirrels of scent clues. (It’s scent, after all, that guides them to their hidden stashes — and to yours! They’re not relying on such memory cues as “three hops from the big tree on the left.”)

Also consider mulch. Mulch is useful to help retain soil moisture and maintain more constant cool soil temperatures. Apply mulch after weather turns cold. To mulch too soon only satisfies small creatures, who find earth-warmed mulch a great cozy place for winter tunneling and nesting.

The Enemy

Who is it exactly that is nibbling the nasturtiums and devouring the daisies? Increasingly, in America, the culprits are likely to be deer. According to the New York Times “there are now more deer in the U.S. than when the Pilgrims landed in 1620.” A population of 27 million ranges across the land. And, increasingly, as the deer’s natural habitats are reduced by development, they are by no means restricted to remote woodlands. They’ve leaped into our backyards in what amounts in some parts of the country to a suburban invasion.

Deer are the greatest threat in the spring when, after a hungry winter, they look for anything green, young and tasty.

Rabbits have long been the vegetable gardener’s nemesis, but they’re happy to taste-test anything new and tender looking. Even if they really don’t love something, they just might chew on it for awhile to make sure.

Squirrels and chipmunks are particular pests at fall flower bulb planting time. Count on them to promptly RSVP to fall garden parties serving tulip, lily or crocus bulbs — but not daffodils which have a terrible taste (hooray!). Especially popular are gardens littered with bulb-scented debris (those little bags, the papery skins, and other tantalizing things). Yum, yum: just like a neon sign that reads “Good Eats.”

Special fans of tree and shrub roots are found underground (where else!). Moles, voles and mice are the biggest (actually smallish) culprits. They also like roots of succulent plants and flower bulbs.

The groundhog, also called the woodchuck, is a tunnel master who finds any number of garden plants appealing both above and below the ground.

What To Do About Pesky Pests

To dispel any illusions at the outset: there is no magic bullet for the animal pest problem (save the sometimes tempting but not very humane option of actually using bullets). The best one can hope for is an “appropriate” pest management solution. Pest control options basically fall into five major categories:

  • Barriers
  • Sensory deterrents
  • Vegetative deterrents
  • Animal deterrents
  • If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

About Barriers

Barriers are the most straightforward and many say the most effective deterrents. The strategy is to make it impossible for the critter to get to his dinner.

For deer, a fence is the best deterrent — a high one. A deer fence should be at least seven and a half feet high, and an additional overhang of chicken wire is a good idea. The most effective deer fence is a double fence. Deer can either jump something very high, or something very wide, but can’t do both at once. Two fences (one high and one moderately high) spaced about three feet apart are recommended. (Don’t worry, the deer see two fences and don’t jump, so they don’t get caught inside.)

Garden centers and other retailers also carry various types of plastic fencing and netting that might be appropriate. It is also possible to have an electric anti-deer fence installed. But this isn’t recommended for areas where there are small children or close neighbors.

For groundhogs and such, fences don’t need to be high, they need to be deep. About three feet deep should do the trick.

Chicken wire is another favorite barrier material. This can be used to form a cage over young plants, or an underground cage in which to protect bulbs from burrowers. It’s perfectly acceptable to place a sheet of chicken wire right on top of the planting. The bulbs will be smart enough to find their way right through it.

Some people take a casual (but very effective) approach when protecting bulbs from squirrels: they just throw on an old window screen after planting and take it up once the ground has settled or frozen.

Sensory Deterrents

Of course with all the fencing and caging, some people think the whole thing is too much, turning the garden into an outdoor Alcatraz. So what else is there?

Sensory deterrents seek to dissuade the unwanted garden diner by offending his sense of smell or taste or exciting his sense of fear and caution.

The use of cayenne pepper and such sprinkled protectively on the ground is one method some people say works. But others point out that this method is exceedingly cruel. Squirrels, for example, can easily get the pepper in their eyes while trying to rid themselves of the noxious stuff. Squirrels have been known to scratch out their own eyes in the process.

Well it’s hard to hate a squirrel that much. So other sensory alternatives are in order, ones suitable for squirrels, other small creatures and, of course, deer. These include:

Scattering clippings of human hair around the place (not always a good idea in urban settings, where squirrels may associate the smell of a human with food hand-outs).
Predator smells, such as lion’s dung or urine from the zoo, commercially available predator scents, or even human urine (there’s a guy out there who swears by it, but we didn’t visit his garden to confirm).
Egg mixtures, either the commercially available kind, or made up in your own kitchen. The idea is, well, rotten eggs. You get the idea.

Irish Spring soap (Why this brand? Who knows?) hung in little mesh bags around the edges of the garden.
All of the sensory deterrents have their champions and their detractors. Some swear by this one or that one, some say they’re all a bust. Often what works in one garden, doesn’t in another. Experimentation is the key — and certainly worth a try.

Vegetative Deterrents

The idea behind vegetative deterrents is to surround the plants your nocturnal visitors like to eat with ones they don’t or find repellent.

Deer, for example, don’t like thorny things. They also don’t eat anemones, astilbes, junipers, foxgloves, daffodils, ferns, grasses and a whole host of things. In fact there are enough things that deer don’t eat that you could build a cordon around your garden. Sort of a garden within a garden.

Fritillaria imperialis is also something deer don’t like and its strong skunky scent is repellent to many other creatures as well, including some humans.

Squirrels and other small creatures won’t eat daffodils or other narcissi bulbs. These are good choices where pests are a problem.

Animal Deterrents

One could get very imaginative on the subject of animal deterrents, but why not just get a big dog? We’re not suggesting a “pit bull” or an attack dog. Just a big, frisky fellow with a loud bark. The idea is to scare the deer, not hurt them.The animal shelters are full of good candidates, who in return for your love and care will bark their heads off in defense of your vegetation.

Be advised that the dog should be in a fenced in back yard, or leashed on a line run. Many cities and towns have leash laws which require this, but it’s a good idea anyway. Domestic dogs that roam free have been known to revert to their primal instincts and to attack and kill lame deer and fawns. As for guarding your garden, it’s a case where the bark is better than the bite – even a dog barking from the back porch will do the trick.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em

One school of thought holds that if you feed your animal friends first, they’ll leave your garden alone. Squirrel feeders and other animal feeders are widely available. The idea here is to make it so easy for them to eat that ravaging your garden seems too much effort.

Some swear by this. But others point out that by feeding the pest population, you encourage them to swell their ranks.

In the end, each gardener has to find his or her own answers. There’s really no one solution. But take heart, though the sight of your ravaged garden may make you want to unleash your more violent nature, there may be another way.

Courtesy of the International Flower Bulb Center (

Squirrels won’t eat daffodil bulbs

How can I keep squirrels from eating my bulbs?

Plant them with the daffodils! Squirrels won’t eat daffodil bulbs so your tulips and other favorites should be spared.

In many areas of Canada and the US, squirrels rank high on the scale of garden pests and there are plants that they don’t like, daffodils included.

Daffodils (narcissus) are poisonous to squirrels — they also seem to stay away from ornamental allum, so generally don’t nibble on the bulbs or the flowers.

You might also consider planting a few daffodils in shady areas near the base of your trees to keep the little critters from peeling the bark from evergreens and shrubs.

Tulip and daffodil enthusiasts suggest planting bulbs in small groups of 3 or 5 with a couple of daffodil bulbs in the mix to protect the tastier ones. Most bulbs do well when planted close together, and the blanket of blooms the following spring will be stunning!

Keep squirrels away from bulbs with bird feeders and chicken wire

Another way to keep squirrels away from tasty bulbs is to give them something easier to get at like corn or seeds in a conveniently placed feeder. They’ll go for what’s easier-to-reach and hopefully become too full to dig for your bulbs!

Chicken wire spread over the bulb garden should also do the trick but if those pesky squirrels find their way around it, plant bulbs in wire cages.

Spices work as repellants!

Crushed hot pepper, cayenne powder and pepper flakes sprinkled on top of the flower bed after planting will disguise the scent of newly planted bulbs. If the squirrels in your neighbourhood are overly persistent, inquire at the local garden centre for a non-chemical rodent repellant.

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Photo credit:; Resources: thanks Mike at for the advice about protecting bulbs from rodents, yellow daffodils from wikipedia commons

Planting—and Protecting—Spring Bulbs

Question: Mike: I adore Spring bulbs and have planted them many times—with little success thanks to moles (we’ve seen their holes). One year I planted 40 red tulips and only ONE tulip bloomed. Same with daffodils. I have had success with a few crocus (croci?) planted near our front door. They bloom every year. Is it hopeless to plant any other bulbs? Can I grow Spring bulbs in pots? Any advice is greatly appreciated.

    —Donna in Marlton, New Jersey; a few minutes away from the Pine Barrens.

Answer. Well, the first thing I had to tell poor Donna is that any moles on her property are innocent. Moles make long tunnels in the ground whose top portions are visible, often disturbing lawns—but they don’t eat or otherwise bother plants. Like most teenage boys, moles are 100% carnivorous; they’d starve before eating a plant. “Holes” in the ground and damaged or missing plants can mean voles (if the holes are small) or groundhogs (if the holes are large). Evil squirrels (sorry; that’s redundant) are also notorious for digging holes—and they’re the #1 cause of disappearing Spring bulbs.
I shared this info with Donna, who wrote back: “If I were Homer Simpson I would say “d’oh!” We have lots of squirrels in our fenced-in backyard. (A fence that HAD beautiful copper finials every few feet—before the squirrels gnawed them off!) I feel foolish – I had no idea that squirrels ate bulbs. I thought they were too busy eating the bird seed that fell out of our feeders. I apologize to the moles.”
Don’t feel bad Donna—it’s a common mistake. And your response provides my first piece of advice: Stop feeding seed to your birds—at least from old-fashioned, squirrel-enabling feeders! As you note, your current feeders are attracting the squirrels making mischief with your bulbs.
And spilled seed provides food for voles—shrew-like pests that are the second biggest enemy of Spring bulbs. Voles are the opposite of moles—total vegetarians that ONLY eat plants (and lots of them!). Their appetites are enormous, they breed prodigiously and they flourish in yards with spilled birdseed—as do mice and rats. So switch to feeding suet this fall and winter, and if you want to continue feeding seed, you MUST buy spill-proof and squirrel-proof feeders.
To provide further assistance, I reviewed the basics of good bulb planting and protection with my old friend Sally Ferguson, director of the Netherland Flower Bulb Information Center.
First, some basics:

  • Don’t plant bulbs too early in the season; no matter what the big sign says at the garden center, the ideal time to plant Spring bulbs in most regions of the country is after Halloween, but before Thanksgiving.
  • Don’t feed at planting time; next year’s flowers are already formed deep inside this season’s bulbs. Feed the plants after they bloom in the Spring (and leave their green leaves in place) to charge up the following year’s flower.
  • Pick a site with good drainage. The Native American Quamash is the only Spring bulb that can handle wet soil.

Now, on to protection. Sally reminds us that the #1 way to deter voles, squirrels and deer is to plant bulbs they won’t eat. Tulips and crocus are delicious and nutritious; everything eats them. Almost all the other Spring bulbs—daffodils, alliums, fritillaria, etc., etc.—are either toxic or just taste awful. Yes, squirrels WILL sometimes dig up daffodil bulbs and replace them with black walnuts (because squirrels are evil), but they won’t actually eat the bulbs.
Equally important, stresses Sally, is to clean up your bulb trash when you’re done planting. “Leaving brown scraps and bulb wrappers on the surface of the soil is like putting up a sign that says, ‘Tulips planted here; come eat!'” Clean up completely after you plant. And if you want some insurance, spray deer repellant on the surface of the soil to disguise the smell of the tasty treats below.
…Although Sally actually prefers to brush her dogs overtop of newly planted tulip beds and scatter more dog hair on top after every brushing. All of the pests that attack bulbs fear dogs, and there’s probably nothing more repellant than mulching your bulb beds with dog hair.
Sally also suggests planting any of the tasty bulbs as close to your house as possible; most animals prefer to plunder plantings at the outskirts of the property—as your crocus experience seems to confirm. (Just don’t leave pet food, garbage or other animal attractants nearby.)
Or, she adds, think about ‘spot planting’ those tasty tulips inside clumps of non-edible bulbs like daffodils. (“At least make the squirrels work for their dinner”, she notes sardonically.)

READ COMPLETE ANSWER And finally, she says ‘yes’ to your pots. In fact, Sally is a big proponent of planting bulbs in containers—at least in zones 7 and higher. Use a BIG container—the bigger the better; and keep the bulbs close to the center of the container, away from the edges. Position the container in a sheltered area, like near a corner of the house; and screen the top in a way that prevents squirrel intrusion. (Those long-tailed Servants of Satan LOVE to container garden).
Sally uses what she calls “expand-o screens” for this protection; those portable sliding rectangular screens that adjust to fit the bottom half of pretty much any size storm window. She puts a couple of big rocks on top of the screens to keep squirrels out. I prefer chicken wire as a squirrel defense, tucked down the inside of the pots as deeply as I can get it, also with rocks on top. You can use other forms of protection; just make sure the bulbs can receive rain water through the protection.
Or try the indoor/outdoor technique we described a few weeks ago for growing garlic in a container; here’s a to it. You also find lots of other Spring bulb tips and tricks under the letters ‘B’ and ‘S’ in our archive of previous Questions of the Week.
Special thanks for help with this week’s answer (and just about everything else we’ve ever done that touched on the topic of Spring bulbs) to the wonderful Sally Ferguson and her partner David Karas, whose contract with the Dutch bulb growers will expire in December after 23 years of providing fabulous, fun and faithful advice on Spring bulbs to garden wretches like me. Tulips will never seem the same, Sally!

Flower Bulbs the Animals Won’t Eat

George Weigel | Special to PennLive

Flower Bulbs the Animals Won’t Eat

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Photos by Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

Flower Bulbs that the Animals Won’t Eat

Yeah, it’s one of gardening’s most frustrating scenarios to plant a bag or two of spring flower bulbs, only to find that squirrels, chipmunks and voles ate most of them, and deer and rabbits finished off the few buds that sprouted.

Fortunately, it’s mainly tulips and crocuses – and occasionally hyacinths – that end up as animal candy.

The solution?

“Keep it simple,” says Tim Schipper, president of Colorblends, a Connecticut-based bulb supplier. “Plant flower bulbs that you’ll love but animals don’t.”

And what are those?

Here are eight that Schipper recommends, all prime for planting throughout October…

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Photo at left by Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center, at right by George Weigel

Daffodils (Narcissus)

These are some of the earliest bulbs to appear in spring, flourishing from March into April.

Yellow and gold are the two prevailing colors of cup-shaped flowers, but white and assorted pastels are available. Most grow 18 inches to 2 feet tall, but dwarf types stay under 1 foot.

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George Weigel | Special to PennLive

Snowdrops (Galanthus)

These shorties with the hanging, white, bell-shaped flowers are first out of the gate, often blooming in February as soon as snow melts enough that you can see them.

Snowdrops grow only about 6 inches tall.

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George Weigel | Special to PennLive

Snowflakes (Leucojum)

You’ll find two versions of these, although both feature hanging, white, bell-shaped flowers, similar in appearance to snowdrops.

Spring snowflakes grow shorter and earlier (10-12 inches in March) than summer snowflakes, which grow 18 to 24 inches tall from April into May.

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Photo by Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

Ornamental onions (Allium)

Related to the onions we eat, these bulbs come back year after year and send up stiff stalks that have round flower clusters of assorted sizes at the tips.

Some types, like the ‘Globemaster’ variety in the picture, produce flower balls nearly the size of softballs. Others look like exploding stars, and “drumsticks” types have only pinky-nail-sized flowers.

Colors are usually lavender or purple, although some types are white or pink. Peak bloom is May into June.

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George Weigel | Special to PennLive

Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa)

Here’s another little-known bulb that comes back year after year and spreads with age.

Glory-of-the-snow are short plants (4 to 6 inches) that produce dainty, star-shaped flowers of lavender, blue-purple, white or pale pink from late March into mid-April.

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George Weigel | Special to PennLive

Squill (Scilla)

Not many flowers produce true-blue blooms, but this tough little bulb family does.

The flowers are bell-shaped and droop downward, emerging around the same time as glory-of-the-snow (late March to mid-April).

Squill grow about 4 to 6 inches tall, and also like glory-of-the-snow, they colonize and come back year after year.

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George Weigel | Special to PennLive


The crown imperial member of this family is one of the showiest bloomers you’ll ever see, putting out hand-sized, trumpet-shaped flowers of bright red, orange or yellow atop 3-foot stalks.

Snake’s head Fritillaria is only a foot tall and has interesting purplish flowers in a checkerboard color pattern.

Late April into May is prime bloom time.

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George Weigel | Special to PennLive

Winter aconite (Eranthis)

This little bulb with the bright-gold sundrop-like flowers is second out of winter’s gate, behind only snowdrops.

As the name implies, winter aconite can be found blooming in February – or at least by early March – most years.

Plants grow only about 4 inches tall and spread.

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Deer and Squirrels a Problem?
Plant Daffodils & Other Bulbs They Don’t Like

When hungry deer, squirrels, voles and other foragers threaten spring flower bulb plantings, don’t despair, simply switch to bulbs that harmful herbivores don’t eat. There are lots of fun choices and fall is the time to choose and plant them.

“The solution to animal damage is to plant spring-bloomers that animals consider the last choice on the menu,” says Tim Schipper of Colorblends, a Connecticut-based flower bulb wholesaler that sells direct to landscape professionals and home gardeners coast-to-coast.

Following are flower bulbs identified by as the least likely to be eaten where munching mammals are an issue.

Deer- and Rodent-Proof Bulb Flowers:

The only truly deer- and rodent-proof bulbs are members of the Amaryllis family, which includes daffodils, snowflakes and snowdrops. They contain a toxic alkaloid called lycorine that mammals can detect and won’t eat.

  • Daffodil. See Narcissus.
  • Galanthus (snowdrop). Blooming in late winter and early spring, snowdrops are the earliest blooming spring bulbs. Their pendant white flowers signal that spring is on the way.
  • Leucojum (snowflake). The pendant, white bell-shaped flowers of Leucojum look like tiny ballerina skirts draped daintily off 18-inch stems. They bloom in mid to late spring. A bulb flower that likes “wet feet,” it’s well suited to planting in soggier sites, even those areas where skunk cabbage thrive.
  • Narcissus (daffodil). These spring favorites flower in early to late spring, depending upon the variety. All are prolific bloomers, with beautiful flowers of yellow or white with cups of yellow, white, orange, red-orange, apricot or bi-colors.

Deer and Rodent-Resistant Bulb Flowers:

The following bulb flowers are considered resistant to foraging rodents and/or deer, being unpleasant to smell or eat. Deer and rodents will generally avoid them but might take a bite if the plants or bulbs are directly in their path or if harsh seasonal conditions leave them with few other food options.

  • Allium (flowering onion, ornamental onion). Alliums bloom in late spring and early summer, and thrive when planted in full sun. Best-known are the tall varieties topped by purple or white ball-shaped flowers. Others are lower growing with pink, yellow or white flowers. They may be vulnerable to bulb damage when vole populations are dense. Deer resistant.
  • Camassia (quamash). Blooming in mid to late spring, camassia thrives in damp sunny locations. These native American beauties have starbursts of periwinkle blue flowers arranged loosely on three-foot spikes. Rodents may eat the bulbs. Deer resistant.
  • Chionodoxa (glory-of-the-snow). Delicate-looking but tough, Chionodoxa blooms in early spring. It likes sun or light shade. Mass woodland or lawn plantings create a starry lavender-blue carpet in spring. Deer and rodent resistant.
  • Daffodil, see Narcissus under deer- and rodent-proof bulbs.
  • Eranthis (winter wolf’s bane, winter aconite). Eranthis blooms in very early spring, bringing bright color to woodland settings and sunny areas too. The plant is low growing. A hulu skirt of reflexed leaves encircles its yellow buttercup-flowers. Deer and rodent resistant.
  • Fritillaria imperialis (crown imperial). A tuft of leaves that recalls a punk haircut tops this statuesque mid-spring bloomer. Its large, pendulous orange-red or yellow flowers ride atop a sturdy three-foot stem. It is not recommended for planting in the South. The big bulbs and towering plants smell rather skunky, turning most animals away. Deer and rodent resistant.
  • Fritillaria meleagris (snake’s head, checkered lily). These mid-spring bloomers present an appealing wildflower look. Unlike most bulbs, which like “dry feet” and lots of sun, Fritillaria meleagris will thrive in damp areas and in partial shade. They are a great choice for planting in meadows, around shrubs, in woodland areas or in damp places near brooks and ponds. Their checkered, maroon bell-shaped blooms are pendant and nod daintily on a spring breeze. The occasional white bloom sets off its darker companions. Burrowing rodents may eat the bulbs. Deer resistant.
  • Galanthus (snowdrop). See deer- and rodent-proof bulbs.
  • Ipheion (starflower). Ipheion blooms in mid-spring. It is a low-growing bulb flower with slender grassy leaves and long-lasting, star-shaped white or blue flowers. It performs best when planted where summers are hot and winters are not too cold. Burrowing rodents may eat the bulbs. Deer resistant.
  • Leucojum (snowflake). See deer- and rodent-proof bulbs.
  • Narcissus (daffodil). See deer- and rodent-proof bulbs.
  • Scilla (blue squill). Blue squill blooms in early spring. Once established, it creates a carpet of electric-blue flowers, a perfect companion to early miniature daffodils. Deer and rodent resistant.


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