By Debbie Clark

It is that time of year when the packaged spring flowering bulbs start appearing in the stores. If you want spring blooms, fall is the time to plant. When purchasing bulbs, look for bulbs that are large, firm and plump and not ones that are dry, soft or mushy. Make sure that you plant your bulbs to the correct depth as shown on the packaging or plant to a depth of 2 ½ to 3 times the bulbs largest diameter. Add some granular fertilizer to the planting hole. After planting, cover the area with about 2 inches of shredded leaves or mulch. Always plant bulbs late in the year just before the ground freezes. Bulbs can have additional fertilizer after blooming before the foliage turns yellow.

As much as you want to protect your newly planted bulbs, you will always have a few bulbs that will be eaten by animals. Mice, squirrels, voles and chipmunks eat many bulbs in the ground where deer and rabbits chew off flowers and flower buds. When selecting bulbs remember that scilla, alliums and muscari emit odors that many animals do not like. Bulbs that are normally not bothered by animals are daffodils (Narcissus spp.), hyacinths (Hyacinthus spp.), ornamental onions (Alliums spp.), wood squill (Scilla spp.), snowdrops (Galanthus spp.), grape hyacinths (Muscari spp.), fritillaria (Fritillaries spp.), Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica), and glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa spp.).

If animals become a problem eating your bulbs, here are a few things you can do. If you have planted a mass of bulbs, cover the bulbs with a piece of chicken wire and then recover the bulbs with soil and then mulch. Another way to protect bulbs is to purchase wire cages for bulbs. The cages are made of galvanized heavy gauge steel wire. You insert your bulbs inside the cages and bury the cage. The animals cannot get inside the cage to take the bulbs and the foliage will grow through the holes of the cage. Blood meal, kitty litter, human hair or dog hair can be used to deter animals by sprinkling these items on top of the soil in the area where bulbs were planted. There are several different types of chemical repellents that can sprinkled or sprayed over beds to discourage animals from digging or coming near your beds. Remember that chemical repellents will need to be reapplied during the growing season and after periods of rain. Some people use pepper sprays, but beware it can hurt animals. A final option is fencing the garden in with deer netting or a battery operated electrified fence.

When your bulbs are done blooming, deadhead the flowers. You want to put the plants energy back into the bulb for the next growing season. Allow the foliage to turn yellow, then you may remove it. Commercial bulb growers do not recommend using string, rubber bands or braiding to tie up leaves. This damages the leaves and reduces the amount of sunlight the leaves can receive to make food for the plant and bulb.

Grape hyacinths (Muscari spp.) are easy to naturalize and grow in the landscape. They do emit an odor that many animals do not like.


Tulips add lots of color in the garden but they are a favorite food of squirrels and deer. Plant your tulips in the garden with bulbs that emit odors that deer and squirrels do not like such as scilla, alliums and muscari bulbs.

Ornamental onions (Alliums spp.) are beautiful in the garden and they come in several sizes and colors. They can add lots of interest in the garden because of their round shaped blooms.


Hyacinths (Hyacinthus spp.) come in colors such as pink, yellow, purple and white and they have a wonderful fragrance. This is one spring bulb you can pick or force the bulb to bloom inside the house.


Do you have garden tools that you do not use or need? Donate your garden tools to the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge. Tools can be dropped off during the day on Tuesday or Thursday. Donations will be greatly appreciated by the volunteers who maintain the bridge.


Debbie Clark is a NC Master Gardener, Garden Writer and Speaker. She is a Judge for the International Rose Trials at Biltmore Estate, a member of GWA – The Association for Garden Communicators and a member of the American Rose Society.

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