Enjoying Bulbs: It’s Either You or Them

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Winter 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.