Crocus in spite of voles –You Can Grow That!

When I moved to my current home fourteen years ago I had visions of wonderful drifts of crocus blooming in response to lengthening daylight and slowly warming temperatures of late winter in south-central Connecticut. I planted groups of crocus bulbs right outside my front door, on either side of the walkway near the porch steps, where nearby hardscape would hold the warmth of the sun and beckon the crocus to bloom as early as possible.

I don’t recall the exact year I first planted these crocus, but I found a photo from 2004 showing how one clump had expanded from a small group of earlier planted bulbs.


Here is a clump a year later, in 2005, peeking through snow.


By 2006, the clumps on either side of the walkway had multiplied to about a foot in diameter.


These late-winter to early-spring bloomers delivered much joy to my winter-weary soul.

Then voles moved in.

Though I continuously flattened the vole tunnels I found running through the areas where these crocus were planted, the bloom numbers continued to decline. Each year they bloomed more sparsely until only a couple of blooms, from bulbs voracious voles missed, came up.

I have an ongoing battle with voles in my gardens. They seems to consume, from underground, much of what I’ve planted over the years while deer do the same from above.

I had nearly given up on having crocus in this spot when I learned about tommies – crocus tommasinianus – a type voles were reported to avoid.

I learned about tommies from a fellow blogger in response to my April 2011 post about voles eating my crocus, so in the autumn of 2011, I purchased two types of tommies, Crocus tommasinianus ’Barr’s Purple’ and ‘Ruby Giant’ and went about planting them in various places in my gardens – some frequented by voles, some not.

I was thrilled to see the tommies pushing up through the chilly late winter soils this past March.


Though the winter of 2011-2012 was mild in Connecticut, and voles had ample opportunity to tunnel through this planting of tommies, they still bloomed. Here’s how they looked 11 days later.


The ‘Barr’s Purple’ variety I planted elsewhere also bloomed beautifully, though, for some reason I have no photos to show.

The true test of the vole-resistance of Crocus tommasinianus will come with time … vole populations increase and decline according to many conditions, including weather and predator populations. I won’t yet, after just one year of watching, claim tommies as completely vole-proof. However, my experience with tommies shows that gardeners should never give up … You Can Grow That! Even if I get only a bit of joy from my tommie crocus blooms, it’s worth it.

You Can Grow That! is a blog meme seeded by C.L. Fornari at Whole Life Gardening, to remind everyone that gardening is good for people. It enriches our senses, our food, our health, fosters friendship and increases ones appreciation of nature. C.L. enlists the garden-blogging world to spread this news in posts on the fourth of each month. Read You Can Grow That! posts at Whole Life Gardening and at the newly created You Can Grow That! website.



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12 comments for “Crocus in spite of voles –You Can Grow That!

  1. November 4, 2012 at 10:47 am

    I went over to the other post you linked to and was appalled to find out a deer nibbles your Tete-a-Tete. Didn’t she read the book that says deer don’t like the narcissus family–it’s poisonous to them? And then the commenter who had all her alliums moved–rodents aren’t supposed to like alliums! Oh, wait, they didn’t eat them, they just moved them! Well, snowdrops are in the same family as daffodils and are supposed to be equally (ahem) deerproof. Worth a try. At my old house I was plagued by voles, but they left my crocus bank alone. The only reason I can figure out is that the corms were planted in subsoil. It was too hard for the rodents to dig. And perhaps you’ve heard of the trick of planting tasty bulbs in grit? That’s in a back issue of the Old House Gardens newsletter, and they got it from a Fine Gardening tip, but I had seen it before. I tried that with the fall-blooming crocus I planted, and they’re blooming now. Of course, soon after that a cat adopted us, and she’s a mouser, so that helped, too, I’m sure. Anyway, I’m getting ready to plant crocus in my new-house lawn. They’re mostly Tommies, but not all–I couldn’t resist a few kinds described as fragrant. I’m not planting the full area I’d really like to cover. This is a trial run. And Gail at Clay & Limestone did plant Tommies in her lawn, and something ate them, but it might have been squirrels or chipmunks. I bet you have those, too.

    • November 4, 2012 at 11:08 am

      Kathy, it is amazing to learn of the variety of deer tastes that range from region to region. I am aware of the planting in grit trick but have not tried it yet. I’m still trying to grow plants resistant to deer and voles, as these are my two top plant destroyers. I have squirrels and chipmunks, but right now they are not on my top foes list. From what I continue to hear, straight species bulbs are generally less favored by bulb eaters than other varieties … could be that breeding practices remove the compounds that make plants less attractive to munching?

  2. November 4, 2012 at 11:01 am

    I am glad you found a crocus that voles leave alone ( for now..). We have lots of mice and last year all my freesia bulbs got eaten. Someone told me to place some cat hairs in the hole before planting and it has worked so far. Not sure if it will help with voles but who knows!

    • November 4, 2012 at 11:09 am

      Laila, my experience with voles is nothing short of deep layers of grit and/or 1/4 inch or less sized hardware cloth stop them.

  3. November 5, 2012 at 2:11 am

    Your pictures are glorious, and I appreciate your information about the right crocus species. Laila’s information makes me chuckle because every spring, my four cats are on constant vole alert–and do a great job eliminating them from our garden. No wonder voles are afraid of cat fur!

    • November 5, 2012 at 9:45 am

      Thank you, Benita. Around here we cannot allow cats to stay outside unless supervised … too many larger predators such as coyotes, fisher cats, owls, and hawks. Neighbors with cats cannot give them the time outside that would allow them to adequately hunt for voles so we all must resort to planting things they don’t like.

  4. November 6, 2012 at 9:27 am

    It’s good to know about the tommies surviving voles and they certainly are sweet little flowers. I have voles here, but they did not invade the strip between my garage and walk at all . . . until I planted crocuses in there. Then the voles arrived and ate the roots of everything.

    In that strip they also moved all my allium bulbs, as an earlier commenter on your other post experienced. They did not eat them, just stockpiled dozens to hundreds of the littler bulbs in a big underground mass off to the side of my garden!

    I did take everything out, all the bulbs and especially the crocuses, and replanted. Now the voles seem to have gone elsewhere. I might try the little tommies in that strip now!

    • November 6, 2012 at 11:40 am

      Laurrie, you might still be able to find some tommies available for planting. I just ordered some from John Sheepers.

  5. November 6, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    I guess I’ll always have a warm spot for these classic bulbs. Ah, memories of the past and living in cooler climes…. I may not have luck with them here in the desert (and our gophers and ground squirrels would adore them!), but I can enjoy being nostalgic as I gaze through your lovely pix. Thanks.

    • November 6, 2012 at 9:38 pm

      Jane, I’m glad you can enjoy my crocus through photos … I cannot imaging going through a spring without crocus, daffs, etc. I guess this is the price you pay for living in a warmer climate. Thanks for stopping by … watch for more spring bulb pics come March.

  6. November 6, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    Joene, Great photos, I love the one with the crocuses poking up through the snow. I don’t have too many issues with voles (knock on wood) but I do find that the deer, or some other critters, like to eat the flowers so I usually end of with just bits of foliage!

    • November 6, 2012 at 9:42 pm

      Thanks, Debbie … I hope you didn’t just jinx yourself – hope your voles cannot read blogs. I have to either hide my crocus from browsing deer or cover their blooms each night with an upside-down apple basket. So far – fingers-crossed – critters besides voles and deer have left my crocus alone.

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