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Enjoying Bulbs: It’s Either You or Them

By Cindy Murphy

Tags: spring bulbs, daffodils, deer-proofing, squirrel-proofing, rabbit-proofing,


CindyMurphyBlog.jpgWinter aconites, snowdrops, glory-of-the-snow, narcissi, crocus, and the first early tulips; these spring-flowering bulbs are thought of as colorful harbingers of spring. Color in the garden is a welcome sight after a long, cold winter, and now is the time to plant for it. It’s not too late – spring bulbs can be planted from September to December – for as long as the ground is not frozen.

Narcissus bulbs

But who enjoys the spring-flowering bulbs more? Too often the spring fever remedy they provide is destroyed before we even see it! Deer graze and rabbits nibble. Mice don’t eat the flowers, preferring the bulbs themselves, and pesky squirrels dig them out of the ground. There are a few tricks you can try, though, to make the bulbs less attractive to the animals, and therefore more attractive in your garden.

1.) It’s the squirrels in my yard that most often enjoy the bulbs more than I do. They dig them up almost as soon as I plant them – they dig anywhere fresh earth is overturned. I found laying pieces of bulb sacks, onion sacks, or bird netting over the newly planted bulbs works well. Secure the mesh to the ground with landscape staples, and cover with mulch. Remove the fabric in spring when the bulbs begin to sprout. By that time the freshly dug soil has settled, and the squirrels have no interest in digging there. I’ve tried burlap instead of mesh without the same success; they dig under the burlap. Squirrels don’t seem to like pawing the mesh because their claws get stuck in it.

2.) The same principle can be applied to deterring deer from eating your tulips (or other plants in your garden beds). Grazing deer are a problem for many homeowners, and tulips are one of their favorite foods. You can keep them out of the tulip bed by placing deer netting on the ground around the bed. The deer will stay out of the area, afraid of catching their hooves in the netting. Chicken wire works just as well.

Deer netting

3.) There are many commercial repellants on the market, many of which are very effective. Deer can destroy a flower bed in a very short period of time. See the pretty tulips blooming as you’re walking out the door on your way to work, return home at the end of the day to only nubs. Spray before you notice damage and at regular intervals according to the product instructions. Most deer repellants will also work to deter rabbits. It’s been suggested that animals will sometimes get used to the scent of the repellant, and it’s been recommended that you switch brands every six months or so.

Commercial deer repellants

4.) In addition to commercial repellants, some household products are said to keep the animals away. Garlic powder sprinkled around bulbs deter mice, as well as keeping raccoons, rabbits and squirrels out of the bulb garden. The raccoons, rabbits and squirrels won’t come near cayenne pepper, black pepper and Tabasco sauce either.

Bulbs dusted with medicated baby powder keeps away moles, voles, and grubs. Place 3 tablespoons of baby powder in a sealed plastic bag with a half dozen bulbs and shake gently. This not only keeps away the critters that eat the bulbs, but it also helps reduce bulb rot.

5.) After years of frustration with rabbits, a friend of mine started taking his bulbs out of the garden, and putting them in pots instead. The rabbits don’t come up on his porch, and his flower boxes are too high for them to reach, so he enjoys his springtime display there where the rabbits can’t get to them.

Plant the bulbs in pots in fall, just as you would if you were planting them in the garden. Move the containers into an unheated garage or basement during winter, making sure to keep them moist … a handful of snow thrown on top of the soil every week works well. Or keep them outside, with the pots covered with mulch. The danger of leaving them outside in a pot comes from the freezing and thawing cycles of the winter weather; this can cause the bulbs to dry out – keeping them protected with insulation such as mulch prevents this. If leaving them outside, just be sure to store them in an area that’s not accessible to rabbits or squirrels.

6.) Plant bulbs that the animals don’t find appetizing. Deer and rodents dislike Allium, Chionodoxa (glory-of-the-snow), Hyacinthoides (Scilla campanulata), Leucojum (snowdrops), and Narcissus.

Allium bulbs

None of these remedies, of course, is fool-proof … or deer-proof, rabbit-proof or squirrel-proof. Whether they work depends on how hungry the animals are, and how tenacious they are in satisfying their hunger in your garden instead of moving on to other grazing grounds. The key is making your bulbs less appealing than other feeding areas. One, or even a couple of these methods used in combination, just might mean you’ll be able to enjoy a colorful display in your garden more than the animals passing through enjoy eating it.

Blooming daffodils

cindy murphy
11/16/2009 6:28:15 AM

HA, Michelle! Yes, garlic...perhaps the most amazing bulb of all: said to ward off the common cold, squirrels, mice, rabbits, and vampires. And sleezy guys in bars....if you eat enough of it, that is.

michelle house
11/15/2009 12:31:30 PM

Garlic will keep vampires away as well. lol, The squirrels around here, are so brazen they will come up onto the back deck, and dig in my roses. You would think the cat would deter them, but nope. Now I am go this week, buy some bulbs, and hope the squirrels, don't get to them. lol Michelle

cindy murphy
11/14/2009 5:45:45 PM

Glad you could use the bird feeder tip, Vickie. The squirrels at my bird feeder get me so mad! Grrrrr. They not only devour the seed, they've destroyed I-can't-count-how-many feeders trying to get to the food. Another trick is to use safflower seed instead of sunflower - most of the song birds like safflower, but the squirrels don't. Good luck - because I agree, it gets expensive feeding the birds when the squirrels dine there too! Dave - I bet your your flower garden in spring will be glorious with all those daffodils (my favorite), crocus, and tulips! And go with the daylilies, for sure! (They're another favorite of mine - there seem to be so many.) Daylilies are a good choice in a bulb bed - the daylily leaves will fill in quickly, covering the bulb foliage as it starts to die back. I'm looking forward in hearing what you've got in store for those two new beds.

nebraska dave
11/13/2009 4:23:22 PM

Cindy, you read my mind. I was going to ask you about container Spring bulbs and you answered my questions before I even asked. It inspired me to go out and buy 60 daffodil and 30 tulips but I planted them all in the earth bound flower garden. I guess I just got carried away and left none for the containers. I’ve sent off for an order of Crocus and more tulips that should be here in about a week. Maybe some of those will make into containers. It’s supposed to rain for a couple three days and then I’ll make a pass over the lawn with chomper the lawn mower to pick up leaves and spread it over the just planted bulbs until Spring. Then I’ll uncover them in the Spring and wait for the flower show to begin. Old chomper doesn’t really like this 40 degree weather. He kind a thinks his work should be over for the summer and grumps and complains every time I drag him out of the shed to munch up the leaves. I keep assuring him that his hibernation time is coming when he can slumber away the entire Winter without being disturbed. I’m really thinking seriously about over planting this area in the Spring with Day Lilies to continue the color display into the summer as by June the Spring flowering is completed and by July there’s nothing but dirt where the Spring blossoms entertained the neighborhood. My earth bound garden is already into hibernation and the two new beds are completed and ready for Spring planting. A garden is never so good as it will be next year. - Thomas Cooper

11/13/2009 1:27:50 PM

Cindy, I love the last little tip about the bird seed -I'm definetly going to do that one -this one squirrel has been at the "bird" feeder this morning for an half an hour! Even though I love them -that gets expensive! thanks again vickie

cindy murphy
11/13/2009 11:27:18 AM

Hi, Vickie. Yep, squirrels are fascinating to watch. They are my garden nemesis though; they're into everything! One year the squirrels and I played a marathon game of Let's Replant the Bulbs. I'd plant them, come home from work to find them strewn across the yard, and then replant them again for them to dig up later. I don't think I'd mind so much if they were actually using them for food. But they don't - they just leave them laying there on top of the ground to shrivel up and die. I've never tried the pepper trick myself, (the bulb sack thing for me is easier because it's a one-time thing, whereas pepper has to be reapplied every so often). One of the nursery's customers swears by it though - one year the landscaping crew planted a few hundred bulbs for her, and she requested each one be dipped first in Tabasco sauce. As a side note: ground cayenne or capsicum pepper can be mixed with bird seed or homemade suet to keep the squirrels out of the feeders. Or you can even purchase bird food with it already mixed in. It doesn't bother the birds' palate, but the squirrels turn their twitchy little noses up at it. It's also one of the main ingredients of commercial squirrel repellants.

11/13/2009 12:18:10 AM

Cindy, Such good information. I have squirrels who I see every once in a while with one of my bulbs. You gotta love them though. I'll sprinkle some pepper around thanks for the tip. Crocus's have to be my favorite I think because they poke their head out of the snow first in my garden. I just love spring flowers -just a little work in the fall and you have beautiful flowers. vickie