Fall is the time to purchase spring-blooming bulbs in the Washington DC metro area. There is a wide variety of choices but if you have a severe deer problem, you may want to plant deer-proof bulbs. I know, you say, there is no such thing as “deer-proof” but with bulbs there are a few that are actually poisonous. I spoke with Brent Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA, who explained the difference between deer-proof and deer-resistant.
“Critter-proof bulbs are poisonous to animals such as deer, rabbits, squirrels, and voles,” Brent said. “Critter-resistant bulbs have some quality that is unpleasant to the critter but if the critter is hungry enough it will eat the plant.” Of the spring-blooming bulbs, the amaryllis family offers three popular critter-proof bulbs that contain lycorine, a poisonous crystalline alkaloid. Somehow critters know about lycorine and stay away from daffodils, snowdrops, and snowflakes. A subsequent article will describe critter-resistant bulbs for gardeners who are not plagued by deer.
Daffodils are very hardy in this area, they last for years. There is a wide range of daffodils–flowers vary in color, size, shape, and bloom time. In fact, daffodils are categorized in 13 divisions according to the American Daffodil Society. Usually people think of yellow when they think of daffodil flowers but colors range from yellow to white to cream to orange to pink. Plants can be as short 3 inches or as tall as 2 feet. The bloom time varies from January to the end of April. “The earliest daffodil to bloom is Early Sensation, which blooms in January and February in my area,” said Brent. Because there are early bloomers and late bloomers, you can extend your range of bloom time by a few months.
Drifts of daffodils about to bloom under deciduous trees
Daffodils are usually planted in a mass for a natural look. They blend well with the front garden or landscape but the small ones should be planted up close to the walkway for visibility. The flowers are perfect for floral arrangements so when you buy bulbs consider planting bulbs for flowers in the landscape and flowers for cutting. Daffodils should be planted in a well-drained area with full sun or part shade. Usually bulbs are planted 5-6 inches deep and 6 inches apart but because the size of daffodil bulbs vary this depends on the size of the bulb. The rule of thumb is to plant 2-3 times the width of the bulb. When I asked Brent which daffodils he recommends, he said that the recommended daffodils for this area have a heart symbol next to them in their catalog (which they mail free). There are also several local daffodil clubs and shows if you want to get additional recommendations and see what the flowers look like before buying the bulbs.
Daffodils for landscape as well as cutting
Snowdrops are very early bloomers, sometimes as early as January with snow on the ground. They bloom until March and then their thin, green foliage seems to blend into the landscape and disappear. The plants are small, about 6 inches tall, with white pendulous bells of flowers. Usually each flower has six tepals (a modified petal) but there are double-flowering types too. The tepal length plus the green markings on them vary tremendously. Although they are considered common here in the United States, they have achieved cult status in Great Britain where they have been bred since Victorian times. There are thousands of cultivars, some of which are very expensive.
Because they are small, it is best to plant many in a group. They naturalize well and can be used in rock gardens. They can be grown in full sun but do best in dappled shade or under deciduous trees. Snowdrops tolerate clay soil and black walnut trees. Plant bulbs 4 inches deep and about 2 to 4 inches apart.
Snowflake or summer snowflake (Leucojum)
There are two species of snowflake: Leucojum vernum and Leucojum aestivum. L. vernum blooms in the winter and early spring, at the same time as snowdrops. They are about 8 to 10 inches tall. L. aestivum blooms much later in April and is about 12 to 18 inches tall. A common L. aestivum cultivar is ‘Gravetye Giant’ which is slightly taller with larger flowers.
Leucojum ‘Gravetye Giant’ next to azaleas, photo courtesy of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs
Snowflakes have wide, strap-like foliage and dainty bells of flowers hanging above the green leaves. Each flower is white with green tips. Snowflakes can be grown in full sun or dappled sunlight. It is best to grow them in a drift, along river banks, and under deciduous trees. The L. aestivum in particular is a great companion plant for spring blooming shrubs and perennials in the garden because of its height and bloom time. Snowflakes prefers rich, well-drained soil, and can tolerate moist soil more so than other bulbs. They also can tolerate clay soil and black walnut trees. Plant the bulbs 6 inches deep and about 6 inches apart.
If deer are an issue for you, try these bulbs in the amaryllis family. You can plant them after a hard freeze, usually late October through November. All of these bulbs are easy to find at local independent garden centers or they can be ordered from these bulb companies.