What Are the Best Deer-Resistant Bulbs?

Bulb Plants That Deer Don't Eat

Fritillaria imperialis with yellow flowers.
Fritillaria imperialis in yellow. Lijuan Guo Photography/Moment/Getty Images

Whether it be deer-resistant bulbs or another class of plants, there's a lot to be said for battling Bambi simply by growing what he's less likely to eat. While all bets are off if he's hungry, planting bulbs that he tends not to eat at least puts the odds in your favor. Fencing is another option but comes at a price and can detract from the appearance of your landscaping. Below you can learn about some of the types of bulbs less often lost to deer:

  • 01 of 11
    Snowdrops (image) look just as good with closed flowers as after opening. That's why they're drops.
    Snowdrops look just as good (maybe better) when the flowers are closed as after they have opened. David Beaulieu

    Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are one of the first plants to pop up in late winter or early spring, sometimes even before the snow has completely retreated (which is why they have "snow" in their name). I'm a big fan of all such precocious plants because I'm impatient for the gardening season after enduring all that cabin fever. Fortunately, Bambi is not a big fan of snowdrops.

    Snowdrops can spread for you and naturalize over the years, eventually forming white drifts that are pretty impressive visually, considering how small the individual flowers are.

  • 02 of 11
    Photo shows Chionodoxa, a bulb with pink flowers. Chionodoxa is commonly called "glory-of-the-snow."
    Picture of Chionodoxa. David Beaulieu

    Another plant with "snow" in its name, and for the same reason (given above) as for snowdrops. So you know you can rely on this plant to cheer you up with blooms early in the season. And for those of you who aren't huge admirers of white flowers, such as snowdrops, take note that glory-of-the-snow doesn't come only in white: other options are light pink (picture) and blue.

    Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa; the Greek Chion means "snow"), like snowdrops and all the deer-resistant plants discussed here, should be planted in fall. As with all plants bearing small flowers, it needs to be grown en masse to produce an appreciable visual effect.

  • 03 of 11
    Crocus picture. Crocus flowers such as the one in this photo provide vibrant spring color.
    Crocus flowers such as this yellow crocus provide vibrant spring color. David Beaulieu

    Bambi didn't miss the memo about not eating the crocus. I wish I could say the same for the Easter Bunny. One spring I went out into my yard on one of those mornings that hold so much promise, expecting to view my crocus in bloom. The local rabbit had other ideas. Overnight, he had eaten everything, flowers and leaves alike!

    When critters nibble at shrubs, at least there's usually something left over afterward (rabbits have trouble accessing high branches on mature shrubs). But when they eat plants like crocus, that spells "the end" in no uncertain terms: you have to wait a whole year to enjoy your plants' displays.

    So between rabbits dining on them and squirrels digging them up, I do protect my crocus now in the spring with netting.

  • 04 of 11
    Scilla. David Beaulieu

    Blue flowers are greatly sought-after by gardeners, and Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) is a wonderful source of blue for the spring garden. The cultivar, 'Spring Beauty' is more robust in all ways than the species plant. That's apparent immediately as the plant first breaks through the ground in spring, unfolding leaves that are much thicker than those of the species. This foliage reminds me of hyacinth.

    But it's not only with its leaves that 'Spring Beauty' flaunts its superiority over the species. My regular old Scilla siberica bears fewer scapes (a "scape" is a leafless stalk), and each scape tends to bear just 1 or 2 blooms. 'Spring Beauty' sends up more scapes, some with 6 blooms on them!

    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11
    Pink Hyacinthus orientalis picture
    Pink Hyacinthus orientalis. Michael Boys/Corbis/VCG/ Corbis Documentary/ Getty Images

    Because hyacinth flowers occur in clusters on a flower spike, hyacinth may be showier than any of the plants I've mentioned so far. They are also the most aromatic of the early-bloomers. And that's one reason why Bambi disdains them: powerful fragrance seems to be one of the best protections that plants have against his incursions. But there's a second reason: hyacinths are poisonous.

    Don't confuse hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) with grape hyacinths (see below).

  • 06 of 11
    White daffodils picture.
    White daffodils picture. David Beaulieu

    Like hyacinths, daffodils are toxic. This fact helps explain why Bambi doesn't eat them, and why even those pesky squirrels leave them alone. It certainly can't have anything to do with the way they look (although Bambi isn't much concerned with aesthetic matters) because daffodils are widely recognized as among the most beautiful flowers hardy in cold regions.

    I prefer the yellow daffodils, myself, and especially the types with big trumpets. But they also come in white, as you can see from my picture.

  • 07 of 11
    Grape hyacinths picture.
    Grape hyacinths picture. David Beaulieu

    As mentioned above, grape hyacinths (Muscari botryoides) are quite distinct from true hyacinths. In fact, I don't know how they ever came to be associated with each other. Grape hyacinths bear smaller flowers that come in a totally different form -- more of a bell shape, whereas true hyacinths have flowers shaped like little starfish. The "grape" in the name derives from the fact that the flower clusters resemble bunches of grapes.

  • 08 of 11
    Photo of Schubert's Allium, an ornamental onion. Flower heads are jaw-dropping.
    Ornamental onion picture: Allium schubertii. David Beaulieu

    The plants mentioned above are the earliest bloomers. Some alliums bloom earlier than others. There are many types of alliums: they come not only in different colors but also in different sizes, and the larger ones will, understandably, come later than the smaller ones.

    What's also understandable is why Bambi tends to turn his nose up at allium: it's in the Onion family. Bambi doesn't go in for such strong flavors and/or smells.

    There are various white alliums, blue alliums, and purple alliums. The one in the picture is pink. There are even some that bear yellow flowers.

    But the type in the picture at left is my favorite: Allium schubertii. Click on the picture to learn more about it, including a warning I urge pet owners to heed.

    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • 09 of 11
    As photo shows, Fritillaria is a sensational lily. Crown Imperial Fritillaria has orange blooms.
    Crown Imperial Fritillaria. David Beaulieu

    Some things in life are an acquired taste; plants are no exception. Some are short and lacking in bold coloration. True, they have their admirers, especially among gardeners who have "seen it all" and are now scouring every nook and cranny for plants overlooked by the general public. But such mousy plants will never be appreciated by gardeners in pursuit only of "loud" plants.

    Well, Fritillaria imperialis, commonly known as "crown imperial," doesn't have that problem: it's about as bold as can be!

  • 10 of 11
    Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley) has white flowers, as photo shows. Convallaria is invasive.
    Convallaria majalis has white, bell-shaped flowers. David Beaulieu

    Lily-of-the-valley is often used at weddings, being fragrant and white, so you may think of it as a romantic flower. But as always, it depends on how you look at things. For some people, romance is the furthest thing from their minds when thinking of lily of the valley, because it's an invasive plant in some regions. Constantly having to defend your perennial bed against an unwanted intruder has a way of souring you on the "romance" of a plant.

    Also unromantic is the fact that lily-of-the-valley is toxic. But if you're more worried about Bambi eating up your landscaping than you are about invasive or poisonous plants, then you may just fall in love with lily-of-the-valley.

  • 11 of 11
    Iris reticulata flowers bear 3 colors. An early bloomer, Iris reticulata flowers in March or April.
    Picture: Iris reticulata flower. David Beaulieu

    Netted iris (Iris reticulata) will catch your eye in the first part of spring with its purple flowers (accented with a bit of yellow and white, to boot). I love checking in on mine daily in late March to see what new progress the exquisite buds have made in unfurling. There are good and bad aspects to this iris. If you are looking for something small, you will get it with netted iris, which is classified as a dwarf. On the negative side of the ledger, it lacks the aroma you may have come to associate irises with; nor is it long-lived.

    Its inclusion on this list reveals another positive feature: it's not a preferred part of Bambi's diet.