Deer-Resistant Fall Bulbs

Given up on growing tulips because of deer? Don’t worry, there are many beautiful bulbs to plant in the fall that deer will usually ignore in the spring.

Planting bulbs is easy and rewarding. Figure out where you’d like the flowers to pop up in the spring, dig a hole to the required depth (usually two or three times the height of the bulb), drop in the bulb, and that’s about it! The bulbs listed here are perennial, meaning you’ll be able to enjoy them year after year.

You’ll normally find specific planting directions on the bulbs’ packaging, including space requirements between bulbs and best time of the year to plant in your particular USDA plant hardiness zone.

Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.)

Snowdrops are among the earliest blooming flowers in the spring. Members of the Amaryllis family, these lovely tiny flowers often emerge through the snow, hence their name. Thankfully, deer usually leave them alone. Try the popular species Galanthus elweseii for large and early blooms. USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4-7.

Allium (Allium spp.)

I’m crazy about alliums. These puffball members of the onion family evade the deer except perhaps for a tiny nibble of their foliage in spring. I used to have a big display of the giant Allium ‘Globemaster’ at my front door, which got a lot of praise from neighbors and passers-by. However, I recently decided to switch them out for the elegant Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ cultivar to be more in scale with the rest of the garden. USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4-7.

Fritillaria (Fritillaria spp.)

If you’ve ever seen a checkerboard fritillaria (Fritillaria meleagris, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3-10) pop up in the garden, you know it can stop you in your tracks. It’s just so striking! These tiny bell-shaped flowers make me think of an Alice-in-Wonderland tea party…to which the deer are not invited, since they do not care for their fragrance. There are actually dozens of species of fritillaria to choose from, large and small, each as fanciful as the next!

Camassia (Camassia spp.)

Looking for something a bit out of the ordinary? Try camassia, a blue or white drop-dead-gorgeous plant with star-shaped flowers. Use them to contrast with your peonies, or in groups all on their own. Camassia blooms later in the spring, offering 3′-tall flowers that are generally unattractive to deer. Camassia leichtlinii ‘Blue Danube’ is a particularly lovely cultivar. USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5-9. Camassia is a native North American plant.

Daffodils (Narcissus spp.)

You can’t go wrong with daffodils. These iconic spring-flowering bulbs will bring life and energy to your landscape every year. Find everything you need to know about these favorite plants at the American Daffodil Society website. Deer usually do not browse daffodils. My current favorite cultivar is the pure white Narcisuss ‘Thalia.’ USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3-8.

How to plant fall bulbs like a pro

Plant bulbs in clusters to grow as they do in nature. No straight rows, and not uniformly spaced apart. Some people literally throw the bulbs up in the air and plants them where they land on the ground with a few adjustments for proper spacing. This creates a carefree, naturalistic arrangement. I like to situate them in little groups with a few single outliers here and there.

Plant all bulbs with their root ends down, but if you happened to mess this up, bulbs are so smart they’ll usually right themselves in the soil when they begin to grow in the spring.

Should I use a special bulb planting tool?

For years I used my regular pointed garden shovel to plant bulbs. I’m not a fan of little hand tools that require kneeling or bending, and the shovel always worked fine.

However, since I have limited my own flower gardens to two 20′ x 8′ borders at my front door, I tried a bulb planting tool for the first time this year and loved it! I enjoyed the precision of being able to choose a planting spot, twisting the bulb planter to remove a core of soil, popping in the bulb, and releasing the soil plug back on top. I liked how this process disturbed none of the surrounding plants and soil, so I’d recommend using one of these simple tools if you have tight spaces. Especially if you can find one with depth markings on the side, which makes it very easy to get that right.

Do I need to add fertilizer or other soil amendments?

I prefer to keep things simple and have discovered that bulbs usually do just fine in most typical garden and landscape soils without a lot of fuss. Do make sure the site is well-drained and will receive sun at blooming time. Keep in mind some bulbs bloom before many trees have leafed out, so you can often plant bulbs in otherwise shady spots.

Avoid planting in places where snow piles up, and under eves where rainfall does not reach the soil. Although there’s some wiggle room if you have melting snow to supply moisture. Experiment with a few test bulbs in your specific conditions.

Can I plant bulbs directly into my lawn?

Yes. But don’t mow bulb-planted areas until after the foliage of the spring flowers has begun to yellow, which will ensure the plants have had enough time to create and store enough energy for next year’s growth. Some bulbs may “naturalize” in your lawn, which means they produce their own smaller bulbs year after year that expand your initial planting (bulbs can naturalize in your planting beds, too, of course).

There are many other deer-resistant bulbs to try out. But remember, it’s always a great idea to try planting a few test bulbs before making any large investments. This way, you can gather firsthand information about your specifics growing conditions and deer situation.

This post appeared previously on The Simple Landscape blog.


Elizabeth Douglas is the founder of Pocket Meadows. She holds a degree in landscape architectural studies and is a member of the NY State Nursery & Landscape Association.

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