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Do Deer Eat Hyacinth?

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gardener notes Gardeners Notes
Plant type: bulbs
Deer resistant: yes
Our plant hardiness zone:
New Zealand: subtropical
U.S. Zone 10b

Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis) is a popular bulbous spring-blooming plant that belongs to the family Asparagaceae. It produces clusters of highly fragrant, bell-shaped flowers. It is native to the eastern Mediterranean region, but now widely cultivated around the world for ornamental purposes.

goregeous hyacinths and a buck

Hyacinths are typically planted in the fall, 6-8 weeks before the first frost. They prefer well-draining soil and full sun to partial shade. Hyacinths bloom in the spring, usually from March to May, depending on the climate.

Ok, So What About Hyacinths Deer Resistance?

Perhaps one of the reasons why hyacinths are popular among gardeners is their deer resistance. It was one of the factors we’ve considered before purchasing bulbs. Deer tend to avoid eating hyacinths because they are toxic to them. Hyacinth bulbs contain a poisonous alkaloid called lycorine, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and even convulsions in animals [source]. Furthermore, Hyacinths produce a strong scent and that’s usually repulsive for ultra-sensitive deer noses.

Warning: hyacinths are also toxic to cats, dogs, and other common household pets, including rabbits and guinea pigs. In fact, it is even advisable for humans to exercise caution when handling these bulbous plants.

Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) though, according to ASPCA is non-toxic to dogs, cats or horses. These species look a bit different:

grape hyacinth are safe

Grape hyacinths (Muscari) by Laura Paredis

Grape hyacinths (Muscari) are not directly related to true hyacinths, but also bloom in mid-spring and have the same care requirements.

Now let’s share what was our very own experience growing hyacinths near deer. 

Our ones are just emerging and some starting to bloom (despite this being autumn in New Zealand, not spring, but maybe they’re following the Northern Hemisphere’s timezone). We might’ve planted too early (mid autumn) for our mild climate. 

Anyway, here’s what we are witnessing: deer may still nibble on young, non-blooming hyacinth plants. They don’t dare take a bite of the blooming ones, even fawns, who often don’t know any better, stand sniffing in disbelief that such a succulent, pretty looking flowering plant can be smelling so awful (to them). They sniff and sniff and sniff and then walk away. Once saw this fawn rip off a leaf off of the hyacinth, only to quickly spit it out. Wish they wouldn't even look at them but that's best behavior you can expect from little buggers.

hyacinths emerging and blooming

hyacinths getting a bit of a nibble while not flowering and being safe once blooms pop out

So hyacinths are looking as deer resistant as it gets.

If your garden is frequented by deer, and you don't have a kitten or puppy who likes to nibble on everything in sight, you might want to make room for hyacinths. The sweet scent of these flowering plants is truly a delight and they provide plenty of color and vibrancy to the garden.

pink hyacinth blossoms

Image by Ralph from Pixabay

We've covered more deer-proof plant options on our website under deer resistant plants section.

Now a quick word of desperation about other garden pests: slugs and ­čÉî. HELP! They're sliming away our hyacinth blooms!

slugs and snails attack hyacinth blooms

We're in humid climate and entering our wettest season and nothing seems to help with these gluttonous bastards! Come out at night with a torch and pick a couple off of each plant! Their other favorites are marigold and echinacea - two other deer resistant plants. You can't win, can you?

Last modified 2023-07-06 at 00:52

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