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Critter Resistant Spring Flowering Bulbs

Posted: August 3, 2011

Many gardeners hesitate to put their work and money into spring flowering bulbs because they have had bad experiences with chipmunks and voles damaging the bulbs, or with rabbits and deer eating the plants once they grow in spring.
Stars of Persia - Alium christophii

Stars of Persia - Alium christophii

When the vision of bountiful spring flowers imagined when placing the order and planting the bulbs does not materialize, it is hard to blame them.

However, there are many lovely species of bulbs that resist animal damage without repellants, chicken wire cages or fencing. True, I’m not talking about tulips and most crocus varieties, but the array of other bulbs available that shine without much effort of your part will make you forget all about them.

The most animal-resistant of all are those in the Amaryllis family – daffodils, snowdrops and snowflakes. They contain a substance called lycorine that is bitter as well as poisonous. Other bulbs described below are unpleasant to animals and are generally avoided unless they are starving. A curious youngster may take a bite or two, but generally they escape unscathed. All bulbs are hardy at least to Zone 5, many even hardier.

Blue Globe Onion (Allium caeruleum)

Blooms late spring to early summer with small, star-shaped flowers clustered into one-inch diameter spheres. Flowers are light or electric blue, depending on the cultivar. Each flower spike produces multiple flowers. Grows to 20 inches tall with delicate, grass-like foliage. Best in full sun to part shade and well drained soil. Attractive to butterflies.

Stars of Persia (Allium christophii)

Blooms late spring to early summer with star-like, silvery amethyst-colored flowers clustered in softball-sized spheres. Grows 1-2 feet tall with strap-like gray-green leaves that begin to die back when the plant starts to bloom. Best in full sun to part shade and well drained soil. Will self-sow and colonize an area. Deadheading before seeds ripen and fall prevents unwanted seeding. Attractive to butterflies.

Giant Ornamental Onion (Allium giganteum)

Blooms late spring to early summer with star-shaped purple flowers clustered in softball-sized spheres. Grows 3-5 feet tall with gray-green, strap-like foliage that dies back as the plant starts to bloom. Best in full sun to part shade and well drained soil. Attractive to butterflies.

Golden Garlic (Allium moly)

Blooms late spring to early summer with bright yellow, star-shaped flowers in open clusters. Grows 9-15 inches tall with blue-green basal leaves. Best in full sun to part shade and well drained soil. Will self-sow and colonize an area. Deadheading before seeds ripen and fall prevents unwanted seeding. Attractive to butterflies.

Camass (Camassia spp.)

The only bulb we commonly grow that is native to the United States, albeit the western part of the country. Camass blooms in mid-spring with light to deep blue flowers. Grows 1-3 feet tall with grassy foliage similar to that of daffodils. The leafless flower stalk pushes up in the center of the foliage, with individual flowers opening from the bottom up to the top of the stalk. Best in full sun to part shade and well drained soil that is slightly acidic and amended with organic matter. Prefers adequate water when actively growing, but should be kept on the dry side when dormant through the summer.

Autumn Crocus (Colchicum spp.)

Blooms late summer to early fall with tubular flowers in shades of pink, purple, and white. Colchicums are unusual in that the foliage comes up in early spring, and then dies back through the summer months. The flowers show up long after the foliage is gone, giving rise to another common name: naked ladies. Colchicums only grow 3-5 inches tall, so they make the best show when planted in groups. Best in full sun and well drained soil. The corms and foliage contain colchicine and are poisonous.

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

Blooms late winter to very early spring with bright yellow flowers framed by a frilly collar of green foliage. The flower shape clearly shows their relationship to buttercups. Grows 6-8 inches tall. Best in humus rich, evenly moist but well drained soil.

Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis)

Blooms mid- to late spring with pendulous bells of yellow, orange or red flowers topping sturdy stems that grow 2-3 feet tall. Adds a tropical flare to the spring garden. Bulbs and foliage have a skunk-like fragrance up close that increases their resistance to animal damage. Best in full sun and humus-rich, well-drained soil.

Guinea Hen Flower (Fritillaria meleagris)

Blooms mid-spring with solitary, bell-shaped flowers in shades of reddish purple to black purple to pure white. Flowers often have a checkerboard pattern; hence another common name is checkered lily. Grows 12-15 inches tall with fine, grass-like foliage. Best in full sun to part shade and humus-rich, well drained soil.

Persian Fritillary (Fritillaria persica)

Blooms mid-spring with dramatic spikes of dusky plum-purple flowers. Grows 2-3 feet tall with attractive grey-green foliage. Best in full sun and humus-rich, well-drained soil.

Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.)

One of the earliest bulbs to bloom in late winter or very early spring, often blooming in the snow. Snowdrops grow 6-8 inches tall and naturalize quite readily if they are happy where they are growing. They are at their best in well-drained soil and are quite at home planted under deciduous trees where they have full sun when in bloom, then have some shade once the trees leaf out.

Hyacinth (Hyacinthus spp.)

Blooms early to mid-spring with dense spikes of bell-shaped, exquisitely fragrant flowers in shades of white, yellow, blue, pink and red. Flowers may be double or single, depending on the cultivar. Hyacinths grow to about 12 inches tall. Best in full sun and well drained soil.

Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum spp.)

Blooms mid- to late spring with nodding, bell-shaped white flowers with distinctive green markings. Strap-like foliage grows 12-15 inches tall. Summer snowflake naturalizes easily. Best in full sun to part shade and well drained soil.

Daffodil (Narcissus spp.)

If the stereotypical yellow daffodil comes to mind when you think of daffodils, think again. Daffodils come in many different shapes, sizes and colors, from delicate bulbocodiums that look like miniature hoop skirts to those with white petals and orange or pink trumpets. Many are deliciously fragrant, including poeticus types. Best in full sun to part shade and well drained soil.

Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica)

Blooms in early spring with nodding, bell-shaped blue flowers. Grassy foliage grows 4-6 inches tall. Superb naturalizer that makes a dramatic display in woodland and wild gardens as well as in lawns. Best in full sun to part shade and well drained soil.