Often the flower bulbs we plant with great anticipation become dinner for our friendly wildlife. Whether they dig up the bulbs or nibble the buds squirrels and other wildlife can decimate your bulb garden. This is a guide about protecting bulbs from wildlife.
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Two seasons ago, I lost 200 bulbs to squirrels. They cross the highway to get to our yard like it was a salad bar at Boston Market. I read that an older lady used spices, particularly cinnamon and cayenne. So I went to Costco and bought 500 more bulbs and a bulk jar of cinnamon because there was a coupon for it at their door and the cayenne was not on sale. Anyway, as I planted my bulbs I dusted them all with plenty of cinnamon. This year I really don't think we lost a single one.
Source: Mother Earth News
By Edmund from Manchester, England
We have had the same problems. Last year when we planted tulip bulbs, we prepared the area with bone meal deep underneath the bulbs, as we are convinced that the bone meal is what they smell, and want to dig up. We then cut up some old screens and dense chicken wire and placed them over the area, securing them with lawn stakes. We laughed watching the squirrels try to get to them! This last spring we sprayed the area with liquid fence and did not remove the wire/screens until we saw evidence of sprouting. Once they start to grow, I think they will leave them alone. We swear the use of liquid fence early in the spring deters them from nibbling on the new sprouts.
By Diane from Iowa City, IA
After I plant my bulbs, I put a piece of very fine screening (like on windows) over the dirt to keep squirrels from eating the bulbs.
By Cabill from Lakeville, NY
As a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and also an Advanced Master Gardener I frequently have people ask questions about keeping their gardens from being eaten by wildlife while not harming the wildlife. There are a number of simple and inexpensive ways to keep wildlife from injuring plants and bulbs.
For large bulbs (like lily trees), an easy way is to wrap the bulb in a bit of chicken wire before planting. I cut a small square big enough to fold over the bulb and crimp down the edges. Just be sure to not let the cut ends poke into the bulb. For small bulbs, the easiest way is to dig a long trench and put a piece of chicken wire at the bottom, place the bulbs and then put another piece on the top. I like to fold the edges a bit to seal the bulbs into the wire. I also add a couple of cloves of garlic in the hole before adding the dirt. You can also sprinkle the top of the soil with garlic powder (I buy the big container at Sam's Club) and the critters will usually stay away from the newly planted bulbs.
There are a couple of ways to keep deer, bunnies, and mice from chewing on plants, particularly in the winter when food is scarce. Unused fabric softener sheets can be tucked under the mulch around plants to keep mice from burrowing. They can also be clothespinned to those little bamboo skewers and placed around the perimeter of the gardens. Just use the strongest fragrance you can find. A longer lasting method is to take one of those little muslin drawstring bags that you can find at feed stores (usually around 25 cents a piece) and cut a small piece of original scent Irish Spring soap and place in the bag. The bag can be loosely tied to a tree or shrub branch or again placed on a little bamboo skewer. When it rains or snows, the soap actually permeates the bag better and the fragrance lasts for a number of months. I have suggested this to friends with cherry orchards and they have had great success with deer not chewing on the trees and breaking the branches.
One more way to keep animals away from your gardens is to buy some of those cute little foil pinwheels; check the dollar stores. Since they seem to turn in the slightest of breezes they work well to scare animals from the gardens, particularly bunnies and deer. As a side note, you will be the talk of the neighborhood as the "eclectic" neighbor.
The fabric softener sheets also work very well to keep mice out of things that are being stored, such as cars, boats, etc. I place a number of the sheets (buy a big box) in our shed during the winter. The key is to have as much scent as possible, since their little noses really do not like the smell and they will usually find another place to spend the winter.
You may have to experiment with your particular situation to see what works the best. One additional benefit of putting garlic gloves in with your bulbs is that in the spring you have new garlic plants emerging. Planting garlic in the fall is best and that is usually the best time to plant your spring bulbs. When you buy the garlic, look for a head that is firm and gently separate the head into the individual cloves. Take care to not peel off the outer paper-like skin, since this protects the clove until it starts to grow. When you plant the bulb, place the root side down like you would any other bulb.
If you are placing bulbs around roses, the roses love garlic. They have a symbiotic relationship. Just be careful to place any bulbs as far away from the roses feeder roots as possible.
I find that the other solutions for keeping animals away from bulbs and plants are much more expensive, i.e., fox urine, liquid fence, etc. I prefer things that are simple and inexpensive. The only commercial product I usually recommend is one of the mole deterrents like Mole Med. It is made with castor oil and seeps into the soil to make the grubs unappetizing to moles. From what I have been able to research it doesn't seem to have any negative impact on the animals or the environment.
Good luck with your gardens and I hope these suggestions help.
By Lilly M from NW MI
Dig a hole for your bulbs, press gravel at the bottom of the hole and along the sides, put the bulb into the hole then put more gravel on top, cover with dirt. Squirrels and other wildlife cannot get at the bulbs.
By Eileen from Yorktown, VA
Planting bulbs can really enhance your landscaping. Use a little bone meal to help fertilize each bulb (place about a teaspoon full under each bulb).
That works great, unless there are dogs around. I planted over 100 bulbs one Saturday and got up Sunday morning to face 100 bulbs that my dogs dug up! Dogs love bone meal.
After some thought, I replanted the bulbs. Most of them were not hurt. I collected some of my dogs feces and mixed them with the bone meal. The dogs lost all interest. They smelled the feces in the ground and ignored the bulbs. They left them all alone. I had beautiful flowers.
By Ed from Durham, NC
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Here are questions related to Protecting Bulbs from Wildlife.
I already planted my tulip bulbs; I live in zone 5. Now the wildlife are digging them up and friends are telling me to dig them back out of the ground and wait another month or so. I have spent hours searching on the web and have ended up more confused. I would appreciate any ideas anyone may have. Thank you so much
By Joan 09/15/2011
I have had squirrels dig the dirt out of my flower pots and eat the roots of the plants. I wish it wasn't illegal to shoot pellet guns where I live.
What is the best way to protect bulbs from wildlife?
By Susan from Hamilton (Guest Post)05/05/2007
Dip the bulbs in talc powder before you plant them. the animals don't like the taste and will try one and then leave the rest alone
How do you keep squirrels from eating your bulbs?