Fritillarias are never bothered by deer and other pests

The pungent odor of the spring-flowering bulb fritillaria keeps pests away.

Courtesy of Donna Williamson
The spring-flowering bulb fritillaria comes in several different types and flower colors. All emit a pungent odor that repels deer and other wild creatures.
Courtesy of Donna Williamson
Fritillarias are interesting bulbs that flower after daffodils have finished and give off a strong and unpleasant odor that belies their beauty in the garden.

We’ve been fortunate this year to get only a smattering of snow. My friends up North are getting pounded, and I remember the feeling.

About an inch fell here earlier in the week, but the wind was fierce and whipped the inch into little mini-drifts. Makes me think of spring. And that causes fritillarias to come to mind.

Pest-proof bulbs

Fritillarias are interesting bulbs and anyone who has problems with deer, voles, or other ravenous creatures stripping the garden of joy can look at this family of plants.

They emit an odor that is pungent -- especially when you leave the bulbs in your car after picking them up from the nursery in September and you stop for a gallon of milk and a few other things at the grocery. Opening the car door will expose your nose to the full force of fritillaria’s pest defense. Pure skunk.

Several kinds add interest to the garden

There are several tiny and exquisite fritillaries -- the snake's head (Fritillaria meleagris) is lovely and has a tiny, checkered, downward-facing bell that welcomes damp soil. It’s perfect for a bottomland, or near a creek or pond.

Fritillaria persica has a tall, dark, candelabra of downward-facing bells. It is statuesque and a contrast to the pinks and yellows of spring: The darks make the brights brighter, etc.

The crown imperial, Fritillaria imperialis, is a showstopper. About three feet tall and coming a little later in spring, this beauty has three color choices – yellow, orange, and red. This one prefers a drier soil when dormant – in summer and winter - and if given a sunny location and good drainage will last for years.

There are more fritillaries for you to explore. Try them all. Most are not long-lived, but if you can approximate their native Kazakhstan or Turkey or Afghanistan conditions, they will thrive.

Actually, I lied about the drifted snow making me think of spring – everything about winter makes me think of spring. At least I haven’t ordered any dahlias yet – that’s a job for the truly snowbound.


Donna Williamson blogs regularly at Diggin' It. She's a master gardener, garden designer, and garden coach. She has taught gardening and design classes at the State Arboretum of Virginia, Oatlands in Leesburg, and Shenandoah University. She’s also the founder and editor of Grandiflora Mid-Atlantic Gardening magazine, and the author of “The Virginia Gardener’s Companion: An Insider’s Guide to Low Maintenance Gardening in Virginia.” She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. To read more by Donna, click here.

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