Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
There's good news for gardeners who share their yards with deer. There is a nice selection of bulbs that deer usually stay away from. A hungry deer will eat anything, but these bulbs are a last resort. A few of them are even poisonous.
Snowdrops are one of my favorite bulbs. They grow and bloom so early that very often there is still snow on the ground. Their tiny white bell flowers blend with the snow, so you have to look closely for their green foliage. I know that spring is not far off when the snowdrops start to bloom. Another of my favorite things about them? They increase in number every year.
Winter aconite is another flower that blooms through the snow. A member of the buttercup family, their cheerful yellow flowers brighten up the dull winter landscape. They spread freely throughout your garden.
Does the word "snow" in the name tell you anything? This is another early bloomer. Unlike its monochromatic counterparts, its star shaped flowers come in white, blue or pink. It spreads both via bulbs and seeds.
When the crocus start blooming, you know that spring has officially begun. They come in an array of bright, primary colors and increase in numbers every year. Deer stay away from them, but rabbits love to eat them so if you have rabbits in your yard, you might want to think twice about planting crocus. My own experience is that the rabbits in my yard left my crocus alone, preferring to dine on my tulips.
Who, besides deer, doesn't love daffodils? They come in a variety of colors and flower form. Trumpet, doubles, small cup. There is something for everyone. And each kind blooms at different times from early to late spring. You can literally have months of daffodil blossoms. The bulbs readily multiply every year. And why don't deer like them? They are poisonous.
Deer stay away from strong scents. Hyacinths are not only strongly fragrant, but like daffodils, are poisonous. That's good news for hyacinth lovers. You can plant all the colors. For truly perennial hyacinths that will come back year after year, try the multiflora hyacinths. The flowers are looser, but the bulbs live longer than the 3 to 4 years that are normal for the more formal varieties.
Bluebells are a member of the hyacinth family and look a lot like them. Their flowers aren't packed as tightly as hyacinths. Contrary to their name, they also come in white and pink. They are hardier than hyacinths and multiply each year.
Grape hyacinths aren't really hyacinths. Their flowers grow along a stem like a hyacinth but are packed along it like a cluster of grapes. I refer to them as "escape artists" because they escape from my garden and pop up in my lawn. Grape hyacinths come in purple, blue, pink and white. Like other spring blooming bulbs, the foliage dies after they have bloomed. Then they develop a second flush of foliage in the fall. They don't bloom, however. Gardeners take advantage of this second flush of foliage by planting a few grape hyacinth bulbs in the same holes as their other spring bulbs "marking" where they have planted them so that they don't accidentally dig up their spring flowering bulbs when adding perennials to their gardens in the fall.
Although they don't look like it, Siberian squills are a member of the lily family. They produce blue, downward facing flowers with six petals. The bulbs don't produce offsets. They only reproduce by seeds.
Lily-of-the-valley is a classic cottage garden flower with a delightfully old-fashioned scent. Be careful, though. It spreads so aggressively that it is considered invasive in some areas. I find its white, bell shaped flowers irresistible. Like hyacinths, it's not just the scent that keeps the deer away. Lily-of-the-valley is also poisonous.
"Allium" is just a fancy name for ornamental onion. Deer don't like the onion smell, so feel free to plant as many varieties of allium as you have room for. From large purple globes to "hairy" flowers that look like bedhead, there is something for everyone in shades of purple, pink, yellow and white. Which ones are in my garden? Globe alliums, of course, and drumstick alliums with flowers that look like eggs.
Fritillaria come in all sizes from the impressive Crown Imperial to the tiny Snake's Head. Deer hate them all. Be careful not to plant the crown imperial too close to your living areas. The scent has been described as like a fox. I've never smelled a fox, but I can attest to the fact that it smells similar to a skunk! The smaller bulbs lack the noxious odor but are still deer resistant. My personal favorite is the Guinea Hen Flower. From a distance, the flower appears to have a checkerboard pattern on it.
Deer can be very destructive to your landscape. Planting deer resistant plants can help alleviate the destruction. Fortunately, there are quite a few bulbs that bloom in the spring and are not on the deer's menu.
Questions & Answers
Question: Do deer eat zinnia, impatiens, begonia, shocking blue flowers?
Answer: This is all covered in my article: https://hubpages.com/gardening/Flowers-and-Shrubs-... I don't know what "shocking blue flowers" are. Can you provide me with the latin name?
Question: Do deer eat mole plants?
Answer: Deer will avoid mole plants (Euphorbia lathyris) because the plants are poisonous. They were introduced into the US as rodent repellents because of their toxicity. Be careful introducing mole plants to your landscape. They freely self-seed, eventually crowding out more desirable plants.
© 2013 Caren White
Mary on April 12, 2018:
Thanks for all the feedback on plants that could grow without the deer eating them.....
Caren White (author) on November 10, 2013:
You're welcome! Enjoy your bulbs!
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on November 10, 2013:
I only knew one...daffodils, so thanks for enlightening me.
Caren White (author) on November 10, 2013:
Pearl, you're going to love alliums! There are so many flower types. I hope you have lots of room because it's difficult to choose which to plant.
Connie Smith from Southern Tier New York State on November 09, 2013:
Very useful information for gardeners like me who love the deer as much as the deer love my gardens! I have planted most of these bulbs without realizing the deer would pass them by! I haven't put in any alliums yet, but they are definitely on my list ;Pearl
Voted Up+++ and pinned
Caren White (author) on November 08, 2013:
Flourish, deer don't dig up bulbs but rabbits and squirrels do. i'll be publishing another hub in the future on preventing squirrels and rabbits from digging up bulbs. thanks for reading and commenting.
FlourishAnyway from USA on November 08, 2013:
This is a great topic, and I learned useful information from this hub. I used to plant masses of bulbs in the fall for an explosion of color, but productivity waned likely due to deer and squirrels. I now feed them so they don't have to go digging.