order bulbs now (but why i’m skipping crocus)

SUMMER, NOT FALL, is the best time to order flower bulbs for fall planting (and garlic bulbs, too) to get the best selection, often at an early buyer’s discount price. I focus on animal-proof (or at least resistant) varieties here, like the “rodent-proof” Crocus tommasinianus, above, that as you can see really lived up to their promise of fending off predators. What a gorgeous display! All kidding aside, some bulbs I recommend:

Daffodils, or Narcissus, above, seem to have all-round resistance to nibbling or digging by animals (they are poisonous, and apparently animals know that). The ornamental onions (genus Allium, such as Allium caeruleum, below) have a built-in repellent as well, with that onion-y smell. Camassia and most Fritillaria interest nobody most of the time, in my experience. Hyacinths and foxtail lilies (Eremurus) are also rated for deer-resistance.

Do not even think of growing tulips or lilies (Lilium) without protection. I’d add crocus to that list, as mentioned–even the so-called “tommies,” or at least here on Animal Planet or Wild Kingdom or wherever it is I now live–and frankly I don’t know how I’d protect them from what happened to every single one of several hundred I planted, as in that photo up top.

Among the minor bulbs, better animal-resistant choices include snowdrops (Galanthus); snowflake (Leucojum); winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis); glory of the snow (Chionodoxa); Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica); Ornithogalum, Scilla, and Muscari (grape hyacinth). The so-called autumn crocus (Colchicum), with its late flowers, are also apparently not tasty.

Links to some favorite bulb catalogs are listed under Sources on my Resource page, and on that same page a bit higher up, you’ll find links to bulb societies if you want to dig deeper on a particular genus.

slideshow of some favorites

SOME BULBS I GROW, captured in photos–instead of by a rodent!–are in the images below.

Bulb Profiles and More

Categoriesbulbs slideshows
  1. Liz Davey says:

    Beware! Fritillaria are a favorite of the dreaded red lily beetle. I’ve had my tommies dug up by chipmonks for several years, though having a dog around again has helped some. The first year it happened I lamented their loss, however the next spring I was surprised by tommies all over the place. Apparently they chippies stored them away for the winter and then forgot where they put them and they grew as spring came. Guess that is what “naturalizing” really means.

  2. Reed Pugh says:

    Wonderful photos. I agree about ordering early, many new items and low volume items are already gone at Van Engelen. The reticulated Rock Iris are also left alone by varmints. I love my Tommy Crocus and have found that if I plant them within and around my Daffodils, they are left alone. Even species tulip will do well if planted around the Daffs. The other trick for planting these tasty bulbs is to put them inside chicken wire (loosely with some room to naturalize) and plant them normal depth.

  3. Deborah Banks says:

    I had the same tommie display here, due to the chipmunks. The chipmunks are bad here, and so bold! In the spring a couple years ago I was standing in the driveway talking with my husband, and a chipmunk ran past with a tulip bulb in his mouth, dragging the bloom behind him! That’s bold. And their tunnels are everywhere in my garden. I finally declared war this year: traps. It seems ever so slow, but maybe in 2 or 3 years, I’ll thin them out.

    I wonder if the Colchicum are really rodent-resistent or if that’s just a myth like the tommies. I hate to spend so much on them only to find the chipmunks (or voles) eating them.

  4. Ann says:

    These are all beautiful! I especially love the “hairy” allium – how fun is that? I’m curious which are your favorites for your shady spots, though…

  5. Rebecca says:

    After two years of planting tulips and never seeing them I finally built a raised planter for them. I laid two layers of chicken mesh on the ground, built a 6 foot stone circle up 2 feet and then filled it with dirt. I’ve had tulips for 3 years now!

  6. pam says:

    This year, all of my allium disappeared. many species. not one came up. so much for ‘poisonous.’ was it the snowless winter? the chipmunks? the voles? they are still running around……just thought i’d share.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Pam. Many alliums are “summer dormant,” and here in the Northeast (and probably elsewhere) we had oodles of rain in their dormant time in 2011 — not what they want at all. This interrupted the required rest period/storage of energy for forming flowers, so I have my fingers crossed that things get back to “normal”. I had a big ZERO on many alliums, too.

  7. pam says:

    Thank you for that info, Margaret! I am in MA, had that same rain. Of course, I’ll probably plant more just in case! And thanks for the gentle nudge to order now, ‘now’ always turns to too late too quickly.

    1. margaret says:

      Never seen anything eat alliums, Eleanor. Is the whole flower being nipped off, as by a deer or woodchuck, or is it being chewed on (such as by earwigs or something)? Typically alliums are free of animal and insect pests, so I cannot imagine.

    1. margaret says:

      Fascinating, Eleanor. My cat beheads catmint, catnip and eats ornamental grasses, and is interested in various other lawn grass things, too. There are typically not animals who like the onion taste…birds sometimes peck at things (but you’d probably not see a clean snapped-off stem) and as I say bugs like earwigs will gradually devour buds on some flowers…

  8. Brian says:

    Does anyone have a favorite mail order source for bulbs? If not, do you typically purchase local? I’m in Nashville and I’m sure there is a local source. But typically the online sources have a much wider selection. I’m especially interested in growing more alliums. Thanks!

  9. Betsy says:

    I have more crocus than I know what to do with. They just continue to multiply. There are enough for me, the squirrels, my friends and others. I’m not complaining because I enjoy them when they bloom. I have both fall-blooming and spring-blooming crocus.

  10. Jo says:

    Thoughts about several of the comments, and my own questions:

    A friend was finding her tulip blooms snapped off… long story short, turned out to be a neighbor’s child!

    Something snapped off my bulb lilies when they were fully grown, about 5 inches above the ground, and just left them lying there. Bummer! Any ideas? This year I have mousetraps at their bases and so far no problems (deer can’t get to them; this is in a fenced-in area but voles & smaller critters get in).

    In the same area, something snaps off my pea vines ~4 inches above the ground when the vines are several feet tall, and just leaves them there. What on earth is that behavior about? They’re not eating the lilies (above) or the pea vines, so what’s going on? And by whom?

    Nearby, one of my newly-planted clematis’ keeps getting nibbled right to the ground and isn’t able to get going. Ideas?

    Finally, I keep records of my bulb-planting. I recently realized that by now, I should have many hundreds of crocus all over the property. I actually have ~50. Only a few times have I seen them lying on the ground, and I thought it was deer unearthing them when I did find them so I appreciated the heads-up re rodents. But, why would rodents unearth them but not eat them?

    Absolutely love your newsletter and website, Margaret.

  11. Jo says:

    Bulb protection ideas gleaned from others:

    Animals can detect fresh bulbs in the ground and might head for your bulbs as soon as you go inside. It takes 3-4 weeks for the ‘new bulb’ smell to dissipate. Be sure to get rid of all your planting debris, especially any leftover bulb tunics, which smell good and attract squirrels like crazy.

    One season-long strategy: Once you’ve placed the bulbs, spread chicken wire (or hardware cloth, available at home and garden stores) over the top, tucking edges into the soil. Cover everything with soil just like you normally would. The wire won’t be visible and the bulbs will easily send up shoots through the spaces in the wire.

  12. mihaela cobb says:

    Already dreaming of spring… Margaret, have you checked Colorblends for bulbs?
    I’ve been buying for about 10 years from them and never been disappointed.
    They have the best daffodils and alliums and they are honest about tulips not being perennials.

  13. Dahlink says:

    Jo, we had the same problem 20 years ago when we first moved in with something snipping through the tulip stems about 5-6″ from the ground. I blamed squirrels, although I never actually saw a squirrel in the act. After that I concentrated more on narcissus and the minor bulbs. Now that some of our big trees are gone, we have fewer squirrels, and I am able to plant tulips again. I especially like the ones that grow in a cluster, fairly low to the ground–nothing bothers those.
    We have a number of garden events locally where last season’s tulips are offered for just pennies. I’ve spent a dollar or two and filled up paper bags with varieties I’d like to try. If they don’t do well, I haven’t lost much, but they almost always do thrive for me.
    I would like to put a word in for the “minor bulbs”–could we find a better term for them? They may be modest, but they give a lot of pleasure, and most tend to spread on their own.

  14. Carolyn Colburn says:

    Love the hint about planting wire above the bulbs and then covering with more dirt. Will certainly try that when I plant more bulbs. My Drumstick Allium did well this first year. I am looking forward to it naturalizing. I planted them behind a row of Balloon Flowers and they looked wonderful together, Blue and deep maroon, with the old white wooden garage doors in the background.

  15. Cindy E says:

    Alliums are not rodent proof. The voles ate scores of them in my garden this year. And the chipmunks ate 250 tommies (crocus) in my herb garden. Pulled them right out of the ground, ate the corms, and left the leaves in a neat pile.

    Daffodils, snowdrops and chionodoxa are the only true rodent-proof bulbs in my Zone 5 garden. The crocus planted in the lawn do fine.

    1. margaret says:

      Oh, Cindy, I am sorry. It’s like when people ask what deer don’t eat and I say: If they are hungry enough, NOTHING. Moles (not voles) will also dislodge bulbs oftentimes when rooting around for grubs and worms, so it’s very tricky. And yes, the tommies — FORGET IT. What a total joke that was here, too. Every single one: felled.

  16. Jo says:

    Cindy, you make an interesting observation, “the bulbs in the lawn do just fine.” I wonder if that’s because it’s harder to pull them up? Maybe a better idea than planting them in the regular garden beds with their loose soil and mulch?

    Anyone else want to weigh in on this?

  17. Marilyn says:

    I have noticed that the deer will avoid eating anything that is planted close to where our cars are parked at night (which is when they usually visit my yard). The car must be acting as a sort of fence, I suppose, or maybe they don’t like feeling hemmed in. So I tried planting some crocus in a narrow bed along our driveway between a fence and where the car is usually parked at night. I also used a LOT of Perma-Till when planting the bulbs, to discourage the voles, which are voracious elsewhere in my yard. Six years and counting, and the only spot in the yard where I can enjoy crocus in early spring!

  18. tasterspoon says:

    SO excited to discovery your site (via Apartment Therapy) and plan to be a regular. We’re just landscaping our house for the first time ever this summer and I cannot WAIT to start planting. Although we live in Northern California I am eager to check out your Resources. Our gopher/deer situation is something awful, so these tips are extremely well taken.

  19. Tracy B says:

    Hi Margaret,
    I so love this site and learn so many really practical tips. Thank you again for it. Another question for you: I have quite extensive mixed borders and like all gardeners, I am constantly puttering, adding plants, rearranging, moving various plants from here to there (and occasionally back again, ahem). I know it’s healthiest for the plant to be uprooted and relocated in early Spring, when its roots have the best growing conditions to reestablish themselves. However, despite taking photographs and making notes for Spring reference, it is so much easier for me to transplant in the late Summer/Fall because I have such an easier time visualizing the final vignette, given that plants are at their mature heights and form, I’ve just spent months watching sun patterns, etc.

    My question is: Can I transplant and relocate perennials in August/September if I watch carefully, water judiciously and prune surface growth back as appropriate? I live in zone 6 (White Plains, NY).

    Thanks Margaret, and I promise to stop pestering you for a while and just r e a d!


  20. Dahlink says:

    Margaret, thanks for the reminder to order bulbs and seeds now. I did some online shopping Friday and Saturday, when it was just too hot and humid to do much outside. I felt that by thinking about fall planting I was at least doing something productive for the garden! There will be new tulips, some minor bulbs including guinea flowers, or checkered lilies. I also purchased seeds for annual poppies and a nice hollyhock mix to fill in a corner of my garden with something nicer to look at than a drainpipe!

    I want to second the recommendation for High Country Gardens–we have had some wonderful and interesting perennials from them. I checked Annie’s Annuals for some of the interesting poppies, but they were sold out of the variety I wanted. However, they have a “wish list” feature if you register with them, so i hope to buy from them in the future.

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