Q: Last winter, squirrels ate up the 300 crocus bulbs I’d just planted. In spring they ate the leaves of any they’d missed, as well as my tulip blossoms, especially the orange ones. Are there bulbs I can plant this fall that squirrels don’t like? — Katherine Bach, Longmeadow, Mass.
A: There is one kind of crocus, the pale-lavender “tommies” (Crocus tommasinianus), that might work better for you. Squirrels often leave them alone. But if you can acquire a love of daffodils, your free buffet for squirrels is history. Squirrels will turn away in disgust the instant they taste one. Like most of their relatives in the Amaryllis family, daffodils contain a toxin that would kill any squirrel dumb enough to keep eating — which is why daffs are about as close to a pestproof perennial as you will find. You can build a fabulous spring garden around daffodils, too, because there are so many truly different kinds — from as short as 6 inches to as tall as 2 feet — with diverse flower forms and color combinations in every class. If you plant kinds with varying bloom times, you can have daffs in flower for six to eight weeks. A planting of Narcissus ‘February Gold,’ N. ‘Camelot,’ N. ‘Quail,’ and N. poeticus var. recurvus will extend the season, but there are many other good choices. Many kinds multiply freely and make excellent cut flowers. For us two-legged crocus-lovers, daffs have only two drawbacks: Their blooms can be bright-yellow to orange-red to pure white, but never purple, and they flower a few weeks later in spring than crocuses.
But you don’t have to be without early spring flowers if you plant a couple of other Amaryllis relatives: snowdrops (galanthus) and spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum). Their small white flowers may not be as dramatic as those of crocuses, but planted thickly, even a few square feet of them make a beautiful statement — and the squirrels won’t eat them, either. Both snowdrops and snowflakes spread nicely on their own and grow better in the shade of tall trees than either crocuses or daffodils do. Two other squirrel-proof spring bulbs that multiply quickly (and thrive in shade, too) are muscari (grape hyacinths) and hyacinthoides (bluebells or wood hyacinths). Members of the Lily family, they don’t contain the toxin, but rodents find them distasteful and tend to leave them alone. These two bloom later, with late daffodils and tulips. In sunnier flower beds, where you would plant tulips, try large-flowered hyacinths for the early part of the season, interplanted with ornamental onions (alliums) to finish the display. Allium aflatunense, A. giganteum, A. karataviense, and A. moly are all late-spring-blooming. They are perfectly edible and would do wonders for the heart-health of rodents, but most squirrels (like most people) find the flavor of a raw onion just a little too powerful to make into a meal.