Daffodils are one of the best bulbs to plant for our area

  • An employee of the Chicago Botanic Garden plants bulbs that will beautifully appear in spring.

    An employee of the Chicago Botanic Garden plants bulbs that will beautifully appear in spring. Courtesy of the Chicago Botanic Garden

By Tim Johnson
Chicago Botanic Garden
Posted10/17/2020 7:00 AM

If you are planting bulbs for next spring, keep in mind that daffodils are one of the hardiest, most adaptable and pest-resistant bulbs for Chicago-area gardeners.

They naturalize beautifully and are available in many sizes and bloom times. Proper selection of varieties will give three to five weeks of constant bloom. Deer, squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits do not eat them. Ornamental onions also will not be eaten by animals.


Tulips are a deer and rabbit favorite. In my garden, squirrels and chipmunks have left winter aconite and snowdrops alone while devouring all of the crocuses.

Proper placement is important for success with spring-flowering bulbs. They prefer moisture in early spring and fall and to be dry in the summer when they are dormant. They do not like wet sites or heavy clay soil. If your soils are on the heavy side with a high-clay content, plant bulbs higher than normally recommended. In general, plant bulbs at three times the diameter of the bulb.

Crocuses are ideal bulbs for naturalizing, for rock gardens or for under-planting beneath tall trees. They may be scattered in lawns, but their grasslike foliage must remain intact at least six weeks before being mowed at a short height for best results long term.

Crocuses, which are planted shallowly, are easy targets for rabbits and squirrels and might require repellent products or light chicken wire screen placed directly over them at planting time. Blood meal sprinkled on the ground after planting may help repel squirrels and chipmunks.

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• Warm fall days are great for installing holiday lights. It is much easier to wrap branches with strings of lights on warm days in mid-to-late October versus cold days in late November or early December.

Use LED lights to save on power and be able to use more strings on a circuit. Buy warm color white LED lights if you want to match the color of the commonly used white incandescent lights. Cool color LED white lights will have a blue cast to them.

Wrap branches of your trees with strings of lights to accent the tree's form. The Chicago Botanic Garden staff starts installing strings of lights in early October.

• Watch for Volutella blight on pachysandra this fall; it is more common in spring and early summer, but I have been seeing this disease in home gardens recently.


Volutella is a fungus that can cause necrotic blotches on leaves and stems. The blotches range in color from brown to black. The blotches have lighter and darker zones that appear as irregular concentric rings.

Pachysandra beds that have been stressed by winter, drought, insects or overcrowding are more susceptible to this fungal disease. Prune out badly infected areas and discard the foliage. If the infection is bad, you may want to consider applying a fungicide this fall while temperatures are warm and the disease is active.

Plan to monitor the disease and treat as needed next spring.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.

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