Spring-Blooming Bulbs


Fall, that time of year when we are thinking about putting the garden to bed for winter months, is also the season when we should plant the promises of next spring.

By Barbara Perry Lawton

[This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener November 2007 issue]

Fall, that time of year when we are thinking about putting the garden to bed for winter months, is also the season when we should plant the promises of next spring. The more spring-blooming bulbs we plant now, the more colorful and spectacular will be our spring. Few plants are easier to work with than the spring-blooming bulbs. Once planted in well-draining soil, we need do nothing but admire the results that we know will come when the soil warms again. Here are a few bits of information that may help you have more healthy and beautiful spring-blooming bulbs.

Deer-Resistant Spring Bulbs

For those of us who must constantly cope with those “rats with antlers” (a phrase aptly used by friends of mine in Connecticut), here’s a list of the spring bulbs that will survive deer predation and also the appetites of some bulb-loving rodents. We’ve all learned that the deer don’t eat daffodils but there are other bulbs that are resistant to animal damage as well.

Crocuses in bright colors of white, yellow, and lavender will brighten the early spring landscape and not feed the deer. Dwarf irises, also early bloomers, come in blues, purples, yellow and white and are spurned by deer. Alliums, ornamental onions are the most deer-resistant of all the bulbs. Striped squills (Puschkinia libanotica), camassia, snowdrops (Galanthus), glory of the snow (Chinodoxa forbesii) and fritillaries also are deer resistant.

Even though they are favorites of those white-tailed deer, I will still plant tulips in sheltered spots, especially the very perennial Darwin tulips—their bright colors always give a lift to the spirit.


Plant bulbs when soil temperatures approach 55 degrees F. and night temperatures stay between 40 and 50 degrees. Bulbs will thrive in sunny sites with organic soil that drains well and has good texture. Easiest way to fertilize is to purchase formulations such as Bulb Booster that is especially made for feeding bulbs. Fertilizing in the spring when the first shoots appear will help rebuild the bulb for next year’s bloom. Cut back flower stems after bloom, but never cut back the foliage—it provides nutrients for the next flowering season. Let the foliage ripen and die back naturally. Plant bulbs in perennial or annual beds—the annual and perennial growth will hide the bulb foliage while it ripens. Maintain soil moisture—a moisture meter will help you read the soil. Plant bulbs with the pointed end up, at a depth of about three times their diameter.

Need I say to always read directions that come with bulbs, fertilizer and other garden products?

Barbara Perry Lawton is a writer, author, speaker and photographer. She has served as manager of publications for Missouri Botanical Garden and as weekly garden columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The author of a number of gardening and natural history books, and contributor to many periodicals, she has earned regional and national honors for her writing and photography. Barbara is also a Master Gardener and volunteers at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, MO.