Many thanks to Colorblends for partnering with me on this post.
Funny how a little critter can influence your plant choices. That’s what it’s come to these days. While many of you battle deer, I have an ongoing row with rabbits so my spring bulb selections are always made accordingly. As a result, I have plenty of daffodils, alliums, blue squill, and Summer snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum), but I want what I can’t have. Tulips. Or can I? Word on the street is species tulips are the way to go. Despite several attempts at growing the runway model types often splashed across garden magazines every spring, rabbits, both wild and domesticated, find their way into my garden and mow them down. It’s a problem.
I mentioned the domesticated rabbit because my former neighbor grew tired of his lionhead rabbit and “set him free.” Guess whose garden he ended up in? And guess whose Red Impression Darwin tulips got mowed down? And guess whose air conditioning line was chewed and destroyed. If you guessed mine, you’re good. You win a rabbit!
But I’ve been told that species tulips are the way to go. Rabbits won’t touch them, say several trusted members of my master gardener group. Perhaps they weren’t hungry enough? I don’t know.
In recent weeks, I’ve received literature in the mail from area landscape companies promising spring tulips despite the presence of deer and rabbits. So it got me wondering: Does something labeled deer resistant also mean rabbit resistant and vice versa? I made a quick call to several of these landscapers to see what tulips they were planting and all said species tulips.
Granted the species tulips aren’t as glamorous as the exotic looking parrot tulips, the frilly doubles, or the ice cream ones that leave me rather cold. I’m still not sure what to make of them. But what species tulips lack in flash, they make up for with their strong constitution, bright colors and ability to naturalize when planted in the right areas. And if they prove to be rabbit resistant, I’ll sing their praises!
Daffodils and Summer snowflakes contain the unpalatable alkaloid lycorine and all alliums are members of the odorous onion family, so I get why these bulbs rank low on the menu for deer and rodents. But it’s still unclear to me what makes a species tulip so deer (and maybe even rabbit) resistant. It’s still a tulip.
Perhaps their rabbit resistance is purely anecdotal. If enough people are experiencing the same outcome after planting species tulips in a garden full of rabbits, it’s more than a rumor. There’s something to it. Whatever the case, if ever there was a garden to test this theory, mine certainly fits the bill. It’s crawling with rabbits thanks in large part to the space beneath my neighbor’s deck.
At any given moment, I can count anywhere from two to five rabbits in my front and back yards and that’s not even considering the ones that are in the yards adjacent to mine. Matter of fact, the rabbits are so used to me that I’m wholeheartedly convinced this is their world and I’m just living in it. This little guy hopped right up to me one morning as I sipped at my coffee and started nibbling on my bordeaux petunias, completely unfazed by my presence. It’s humbling really.
What is a species tulip?
Unlike their big flashy cousins, species tulips are in it for the long-haul, naturalizing readily in ideal conditions which include dry, well-draining soil and plenty of sunlight. If you have a sprinkler system, you can expect a shorter lifespan from all tulips, species or cultivar. I am the sprinkler system in my little garden so that shouldn’t be a problem. My heavy clay soil is a totally different story. Sigh.
Most species tulips hail from the mountainous regions of northern Turkey where extreme weather conditions are the norm. Despite their delicate appearance, they’re used to toughing it out. While shorter than their cousins, they are capable of producing multiple flowers on a single stem. Within a few years, many will form clumps, or naturalize, an area. How true that is for me remains to be seen.
So here’s my plan…
Tarda species tulips and minnow daffodils, which are about as cute as a little daffodil can be, will be grouped together beneath my Prairiefire crabapple tree on the west side of my garden. At 8-10 inches tall, minnow is a few inches taller than tarda so it’ll be placed behind the tulips. Both have similar mid-spring bloom times, although minnow is considered an early- to mid-spring bloomer.
Colorblends website has an excellent tool for coordinating bloom times which is important when you want bulbs that bloom simultaneously or in succession. Follow this link here to go directly to the Colorblends website. Once there, select “Shop By” from their drop-down menu. I love how dialed in they are with their different garden scenarios. If you’re looking for bulbs that naturalize or are shade tolerant, or perhaps you live in the South and need pre-chilled options, this is the place to look for what’s available based on your unique planting situation.
Beneath the burgundy, lacy leaves of the Tamukeyama Japanese maple I planted this spring will be a plethora of these little pink beauties. Bakeri Lilac Wonder species tulip is another mid-spring bloomer and grows about 8-10 inches tall. Adjacent to the maple is a tri-color beech tree, also planted this year, so there’s a lot of pink and red happening in the foliage in this part of the garden so I think this little pink bloom will play off that theme rather well and lighten things up at ground level. Assuming, of course, the rabbits don’t get there first.
Very early bloomers, Tommie crocuses will be planted in the lawn in both the front and back yards. I’ve had crocuses growing in the lawn on the west side of my front garden for several years and you can see what that looks like here. They’ve never been bothered by rabbits. I suspect it has something to do with their slightly later arrival in early April and the availability of other food sources in the garden that work as distractions for the rabbits.
Tommies are considered a very early bloomer, which means late winter is their time to shine regardless of the presence of snow. It’ll be interesting to see, given the very early bloom time of the Tommies, how they do.
The plan is to get all the bulbs in this weekend and while I hate the thought of freezing for hours crouched on my knees, it’s a small price to pay for something I long for all winter…the promise of spring.
Have you planted your bulbs yet?