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In the Garden: Go beyond tulips for beautiful bulbs

Oct. 3, 2020 Updated Sat., Oct. 3, 2020 at 6:08 a.m.

Crown Imperial fritillaries are standouts in the garden because of their 3-foot height, massive flower heads and resistance to deer and rodents.  (Susan Mulvihill/For The Spokesman-Review)
Crown Imperial fritillaries are standouts in the garden because of their 3-foot height, massive flower heads and resistance to deer and rodents. (Susan Mulvihill/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Susan Mulvhill For The Spokesman-Review

I have a confession to make. Even though bulbs are probably the last thing I need more of in my garden, I just can’t help myself.

Bulb catalogs and garden center displays do this to me every time: Whenever I spot something new and unusual, it goes into my cart. I try reminding myself that I’ll have to dig a hole for every bulb, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

Fall is the time to plant bulbs that will bloom in the spring. The most commonly grown types are tulips, daffodils and crocuses. I think tulips are gorgeous, but there’s a problem. Since gophers and deer think they are delicious, I have to focus on bulbs that are rarely bothered by them.

As members of the onion family, alliums really fill the bill, and they come in a variety of sizes. Ivory Queen has wide, strap-like, gray-green leaves and large white flowers and are just 8 inches tall. Nigrum is an heirloom variety with small white blossoms and grow on 2-foot-tall stems. The downside to alliums is that Idaho and five Washington counties (Adams, Benton, Franklin, Grant and Klickitat) do not allow the shipment of alliums due to quarantine laws designed to protect onion crops from white rot disease.

Fortunately, we gardeners have other options for deer- and rodent-resistant bulbs. I’ve long admired crown imperial fritillaries (Fritillaria imperialis) both for their beauty and gopher-repelling qualities. The bulbs are rather expensive, which has always put me off. This year, I decided to buy a bulk package to take advantage of a better price and add crown imperials to my garden. They grow an impressive 36 inches tall and feature either bright yellow or orange flowers.

Other attractive fritillaries are Guinea hen flowers (F. meleagris), with their checkered petals and a height of 12 inches, and Persian lily (F. persica) with cream-, plum- or mahogany-colored flowers and a 30-inch height.

Daffodils, which belong to the genus Narcissus, are appreciated for their bright, perky appearance and the fact that deer and rodents avoid them. I love how their flowers never get smaller over the years (like tulips typically do), and they multiply, giving you more bang for your buck.

Most gardeners are familiar with the all-yellow King Alfred daffodils, but there are so many more to choose from. Three cultivars that feature white petals with peach-colored trumpets are British Gamble, Martha Stewart and Salome. All-white Thalia has multiple blossoms per stem and a sweet fragrance.

Foxtail lily (Eremurus) is a real showstopper at 4 to 5 feet in height and has flower spikes in white, apricot, yellow and pink. After admiring them in Claude Monet’s beautiful French garden last summer, I just had to add them to my bulb order.

Once you get your bulbs, unpack them and plant them before the ground freezes. The packaging will tell you how deeply to plant them and how far apart to space them. Good soil drainage is important.

I recommend adding bulb fertilizer or bonemeal to the holes; be sure to follow the label instructions. Mark your plantings so you won’t forget where they are. Next year, you’ll have some lovely additions to enjoy in your garden.

This is my final column of the 2020 garden season. I will continue to write about all aspects of gardening on my blog and Facebook page, so please drop by for a visit.

Susan Mulvihill is author of “The Vegetable Garden Pest Handbook.” She can be reached at Watch this week’s “Everyone Can Grow a Garden” video at

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