It’s hard to imagine spring without brightly flowering bulbs. Unfortunately, however, Charlotte’s got a problem: We are plagued by bulb-chomping squirrels, voles and other critters, including deer.
Fortunately, according to experts, there is an easy sure-fire solution to use when ordering bulbs this fall, and it doesn’t involve smelly sprays, expensive fencing, firearms or anger-management classes.
Change the menu, suggests Tim Schipper, whose family has been growing bulbs commercially for three generations in Connecticut.
“Keep things simple. 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.”
“All three of these bulbs contain lycorine, a bitter alkaloid that’s toxic when eaten,” Schipper said. “Animals know to steer clear of them.”
Researchers from Cornell University agree; they offered voles different types of bulbs, straight and mixed with applesauce, a vole treat. The rodents left daffodils untouched both ways but quickly gobbled down tulips.
“Unfortunately, tulips and crocuses, which are eye candy to us, are actual candy to deer and rodents,” said Schipper. “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 anyone considering planting tulips surrounded by critter-repelling daffodils, Schipper has bad news. “Unfortunately, our furry friends don’t fall for that trick. They find the tulips and leave the daffodils alone.”
They might not be tulips, but daffodils are lovely and come in dozens of varieties, with different colors and bloom times. They are a good investment, since they naturalize and come back year after year. You can find old farm sites by watching for daffodils still blooming long after the house is gone.
To encourage bulbs to naturalize, allow the foliage to die back for approximately eight weeks after bloom, Schipper said. Letting the leaves die back allows the bulb to store energy for next year’s bloom.
Among the countless daffodils at our house, our favorites are a stand of small, old fashioned heirloom daffodils with golden yellow blooms. We have always called them “butter and eggs”, though they look nothing like the commercialized “butter and eggs” types.
Only one tulip has naturalized, President Eisenhower, which I first saw growing in front of Stonewall Jackson School in Concord. It is a welcome presence in spring: a few drops of red in our oceans of daffodils.
Schipper is president of Colorblends (www.colorblends.com), which sells bulbs direct to landscaping professionals and home gardeners. In addition to daffodils, when deer are a problem he suggests alliums, camassia, glory-of-the snow, winter wolf’s bane, crown imperial, snake’s head, starflower and blue squill. Rodent-resistant bulbs include glory-of-the snow, winter wolf’s bane, crown imperial and blue squill.
Don Boekelheide is a freelance writer: email@example.com.
North Carolina Cooperative Extension has an excellent bulb guide: http://content.ces.ncsu.edu/spring-flowering-bulbs-trials-in-north-carolina.