When hungry, especially in spring and fall, deer will eat just about anything. They crave nutrition-and moisture-rich plants… and that means your spring-blooming bulbs, too. First, the most efficient thing to do, is to plant bulbs that Bambi is least likely to eat and then employ methods that might protect those gourmet tulip bulbs. Unless you want your garden to look like a battlefield… use electrified fencing and plastic netting as a last resort. Deer and rabbits like to graze on the tender sprouts in spring while chipmunks and squirrels like to dine on the bulb itself. You can build your arsenal with smelly and bad-tasting spray and granular repellents, fencing, motion detectors, wire mesh cages, water sprinkler and even barking dogs to fight the fight with persistent squirrels, chipmunk, bunnies, mice, vole, moles and deer, too. However, appropriate bulb selection is usually the most effective starting point.
Pest-resistant bulbs that say ‘no way’ to critters.
Nature has equipped certain bulbs with chemical defenses that taste bad, smell nasty or are toxic when eaten by certain four-legged nibblers.
Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)
Snowdrops are one of the first flowers to bloom in late winter or early spring. They appear as white pendants with one-inch, white blossoms that hang from arching stems. Plant bulbs in multiples in full sun to partial shade in well-drained soil. Snowdrops have four-inch, grass-likeleaves and will naturalize or multiply in drifts over the years–a perfect choice for dry shade.
Deer will leave these tiny bulbs (technically corms) alone in the fall but watch out for the rabbits in the spring. If you have hungry bunnies, it helps to protect the tender green leaves and flowers in the spring with netting or repellents. Crocus plants look like a groundcover with flowers mostly in solids or patterns of yellow, purple, pink, lilac and white. Sweet and hardy in rock gardens, paths and front of the border.
Squill (Scilla siberica)
The vivid, sky blue flowers are the most welcome sight in early spring. ‘Spring Beauty’ is a robust cultivar with thick leaves and more blooms. Although squill likes sun and moisture, that isn’t a problem in spring when trees have not leafed out yet and rain is more plentiful. Plant lots of these little bulbs because they look best in drifts or even in the lawn.
Daffodils announce ‘It’s finally spring!’ like no other spring-blooming bulb. After a long winter, daffodils make their appearance with bright yellow, white, orange (or sometimes pink) trumpets and surrounding petals. Daffodil bulbs, stems and flowers are all toxic to deer and other small animals so they tend to be one of the best bulbs to use. Daffodils are available in a variety of heights, flower sizes and color combinations, too. They are a good value because they multiply and return every year.
Hyacinth (Hyacinth orientalis)
The showy, star-like flowers grow in clusters around a single, thick stem. It is one of the most aromatic of our spring-blooming bulbs. Luckily, the scent is one reason that deer stay away. The other reason is that they are poisonous to ingest.
Allium: Since deer don’t like strong odors or tastes, give allium bulbs a try.
Allium are in the onion family and smell like them, too. The giant purple globes are May bloomers but the smaller varieties loom from spring to fall. You can choose from many different sizes and colors but the most recognizable Allium is called ‘Globemaster.’ Each bloom is composed of a 10-inch sphere of tiny, purple flowers. A grouping will look like sculpture in your garden. Tip: Allium is also toxic to cats and dogs.
Crown Imperial Fritillaria (Fritillaria imperialis Rubra Maxima or Maxima Lutea): Go tall and bold with the orange Crown Imperial or yellow Maxima Lutea bulbs. Deer stay away because they don’t like their ‘skunky’ odor. Some gardeners don’t appreciate it either, but the dramatic, bell-shaped flowers are hard to resist. Flower clusters sit on top of 36″ stems. Grow in rich, well-drained soil and filtered sunlight.
Deer turn up their noses at these interesting bulbs, too. Anemone blanda, Camassia, Chionodoxa, Eremus, Ipheion, Leucojum, Muscari, Ornithogalum, Puschkinia.
Stay away from my tulips! If planting tulip bulbs and other tasty ones, there are other ways to keep animals from munching your spring-blooming bulbs and flowers.
Even if you have carefully chosen bulbs that offer a natural deterrent such as scent, taste or toxicity, an extra line of defense might help. Repellents such as ‘Bobbex’, ‘Liquid Fence’, or ‘Critter Ridder’ are often used to deter deer and other animals by an undesirable scent, touch or flavor. These repellents use natural ingredients such as egg-, soap-, pepper-, garlic- or predator urine. You can choose between liquid spray, concentrate or granular form that can help to keep your garden intact rather than turning it into a sumptuous buffet.
Bobbex Deer Repellent. Natural ingredients in a ready-to-use spray or concentrate form. Spray when bulb leaves start to poke out of the ground. Spray again when bud growth starts and every 2 weeks after. Will not wash off with rain once dry. Safe for plants.
Liquid Fence Deer and Rabbit Repellent. In liquid spray or a granular shaker, it is easy to apply and both types are effective year around. Harmless to plants and pets.
Havahart Deer Off. Stake ready to use, 6-pack of waterproof, deer repellent stations in problem garden areas. Lasts all season and is odorless to humans.
Movement or noise. Motion detectors, wind chimes or loud dogs might scare deer away.
From the cupboard. Red pepper flakes, garlic, hot sauce, or mothballs. Add in fall when planting and in spring when leaves start sprouting.
Wire cages. Place bulbs in the center of cage and pile dirt around the edges so animals can’t reach the bulbs.
Protect vulnerable bulbs. Place deer resistant bulbs mentioned above in between your special bulbs.
Give wildlife their own food. Occupy deer and squirrels with corn and peanuts at a location that is far away from your bulbs. This doesn’t always work but at least you’ll have fun watching the animals instead of being angry.
Switch repellents. Deer will get complacent if they encounter the same repellents. You won’t get as discouraged if you remember to plant plenty of bulbs for yourself and some for Bambi!