A commonly asked question from readers of my blog is “how to keep squirrels from digging up bulbs in my garden?” Since fall is bulb-planting time for daffodils, crocuses, and tulips, the question is posed even more often right now.
If you spend much time in the garden, you will likely have had a run-in with squirrels. There is no worse feeling for a gardener than planting a lot of spring blooming bulbs in the fall only to discover, a few months later, that squirrels and other rodents have dug them all up and now you have no spring flower display.
Crocuses and tulips are common bulbs that squirrels like to eat, but they will target a few others, too.
If you have an issue with squirrels eating bulbs in your garden, keep reading – these 10 tips will help you protect bulbs from squirrels all season long.
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Why do squirrels eat bulbs?
Bulbs are so beautiful in the spring – if you can get them to grow. They show their pretty faces much earlier than spring perennials do and are a welcome arrival after a long, cold winter.
However, most gardens have a very large population of critters, such as squirrels, moles and chipmunks, that consider bulbs a delicacy. This can make it a real task to grow some types of bulbs.
Rodents depend on plant sources that are protein-rich. This means that they are always on the look out for nuts and bulbs to help them survive the winter months.
Another reason that rodents dig up bulbs is so that they can use the cavities to store black walnuts, acorns and other nuts which are abundant in the fall months.
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How to keep squirrels from digging up bulbs
As notorious as squirrels are in the enjoyment of eating bulbs, there are several things you can do to prevent this happening.
From mulching over up after planting deeply, to choosing just the right type of bulb and using barriers, these tips will you keep the bulbs in the ground where they belong this year.
Make it hard for squirrels to dig up bulbs
Be sure to plant your bulbs at the proper depth. It is much easier for a squirrel to dig up a bulb just under the soil than one planted 6-8 inches deep.
Planting bulbs deeply is easy with a bulb planter, which has depth markers on it.
Tamp the soil down with your hands after planting and water the soil well. This makes the soil more compact and harder to dig through.
Clean up after planting
Critters like squirrels and chipmunks love to dig in fresh, soft soil. If you leave soil unprotected, you are giving them a clue that something tasty is waiting for them just underneath the soil.
To prevent this curiosity, spread a layer of bark or mulch over the newly planted area. Even a layer of fall leaves is effective at hiding your planting area.
You should also be sure to get rid of any of the papery outer layers from bulbs that may have dislodged, and any damaged bulbs not planted. These material are a signal to the squirrels that a treat is nearby.
Overplanting with low ground covers also makes it more difficult for squirrels to get to the bulbs that have just been planted, since they will have to dig through the foliage and roots of the ground covers.
Use bulb cages to keep squirrels away from bulbs
One of the most effective ways to protect flower bulbs from squirrels is to use wire bulb cages.
Although the process is time consuming it is a good choice for those who plant their bulbs in the same place every year. There are lots of choices for bulb cages online.
You can make your own bulb cages by digging an area for your bulbs and lining it with wire mesh. Plant the bulbs and then lay another piece of wire on the surface of the soil.
Add large stones to hold it down for the winter and then remove the top when the bulbs emerge in spring.
You can also use hardware cloth to prevent squirrels digging up your bulbs. Just cut a section of the material large enough for your planting area, plant the bulbs on top and add another piece of the hardware cloth, then secure it with stakes.
Adding leaves or mulch over the top will hide the wire. The stems of the bulbs will grow up through the holes in the hardware cloth but the actual bulbs will be protected from digging squirrels.
Bulbs baskets prevent squirrels from eating bulbs
If the idea of making special cages is not something you like, try planting bulbs in baskets.
A bulb basket is similar to the cages mention above, but it is already formed so you don’t have to mess with making one yourself.
Some retail bulb baskets have hinged tops which make the process easy.
If you don’t have one, you can use a normal basket with some mesh wire over the top of it.
The basket will protects pests from digging up or damaging the bulbs. Be sure that the hole for the basket is deep enough so that the bulbs are planted at the correct depth.
Arrange the bulbs inside the basket with the pointed end facing up and spaced as directed for the variety of bulb you are planting.
Since the baskets have holes in them, the stems and roots can grow up and down, but the critters can’t get to the bulbs themselves.
Cover the planting area with a barrier to prevent digging
Once you have an area planted with bulbs abut they don’t have a basket or cage, you can use a barrier to cover the top area to keep squirrels from digging up the bulbs. There are lots of items that can be used:
- Old window screens
- Chicken wire
- Old grill grates
- Thorny branches
- Plastic garden netting
Just make sure that the bulbs will be able to grow through the barrier but will discourage critters from digging.
Squirrels tend to stop digging when the ground is frozen, so if you planted your bulbs early, you can remove the barrier when the ground freezes.
Does blood meal to keep squirrels away?
It has long been thought that bone meal, a natural source of nitrogen and phosphorus, is a good squirrel repellent. I have not found this to be the case. In fact, both bone meal and fish emulsion (another suggestion for keeping squirrels away,) seem to attract them, in my experience.
However, adding blood meal to your garden does seem to be a way to deter squirrels from your yard and keep them from digging up bulbs. Blood meal is dried animal blood (often cow’s blood) which is collected, and dried into a powder. Blood meal adds nitrogen to your garden and is often used as a fertilizer.
Note that blood meal only deters squirrels from bulbs if it remains dry. To use it to keep squirrels from bulbs, place small containers of the dry powder around the area where you planted the bulbs and replace it when it rains.
The reason it is effective is that rodents don’t like the smell of blood meal because it has a high ammonia content and it smells, as you might expect, like blood.
One thing to note: as easily as blood meal is not appealing to squirrels, it may attract unwanted visitors such as dogs, possums and raccoons who will be delighted by the aroma. So while you might be keeping away one pest, you could be attracting another!
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Use squirrel repellents
There are many things which are considered natural squirrel repellents.
Use crushed oyster shells or crushed stone in the hole where the bulbs are planted. Place them a few inches above the bulbs.
They both have a gritty texture that helps to prevent squirrels from digging and chewing bulbs. (Crushed oyster shells are available at feed stores.)
Many gardeners say that spraying a deer repellent into the planting hole is a good way to repel squirrels. Granulated garlic also helps, as does crushed red pepper flakes. A liberal sprinkle of these flakes over your freshly planted bulbs will make them much less appealing.
The idea it to make the bulbs less tasty to the rodents by adding a flavor they do not find appealing.
Delay planting of bulbs
At the end of summer, the energy in squirrels and other digging rodents is high. They are gathering food for the winter and may have offspring to feed, as well.
By the middle of October, their activity begins to slow down.
If your weather permits it, delay planting your bulbs until late in the fall so you can avoid the frenzy of digging that comes earlier.
How to keep squirrels out of flower planters
When the squirrels got all my tulips one year, I decided to plant tulip bulbs in pots on my front steps, only to discover lots of holes in the soil where the adventurous squirrels had dug them up! Sso, how do you keep squirrels out of flower pots?
Since squirrels dig to in spots to bury their supply of food, flower planters are an easy place for them to dig. The soil in most planters is soft and pliable – thus easy to dig.
Compare this to garden beds that are walked on with compacted soil, which is much harder to dig in.
The answer to how to stop squirrels digging up bulbs in pots uses some of the same techniques as bulbs in garden beds.
If you plan to use garden planters to hold spring bulbs, the key is to add something to the soil that the squirrels won’t like the taste of. Some choices are:
- cayenne pepper or moth balls (be careful with moth balls if you have pets or small children)
- crushed red pepper flakes
- peppermint oil
- blood meal
Adding a layer of rocks or mulch on tops of the soil may keep squirrels away from bulbs in flower planters. Moving pinwheels can be a deterrent for squirrels since they will scare them, so consider adding these in your pots.
A last choice is effective, although not the prettiest idea, is to make cages from netting, chicken wire or hardware cloth. If you don’t like the idea of a cage, cutting pieces of the material to fit the top of the pot under the soil will also work.
Plant wisely to keep squirrels away from bulbs
Not all flower bulbs appeal equally to squirrels and other rodents. This means that gardeners should be careful not to tempt critters in their aim of producing pretty flowers.
Below are two lists – the first is a list of bulbs that squirrels and other rodents find particularly appealing. The second is a list that are not as tasty to them.
As you can see, the second list is quite long. There is no reason to sacrifice spring blooms just because of squirrels. You can print this list out in the project card at the bottom of this page.
Bulbs that attract squirrels
There are some bulbs that squirrels, chipmunks and other digging critters especially like. Unfortunately for gardeners, they are some of the prettiest bulbs.
- Tulips – These are like candy to squirrels. They like them as much as nuts!
- Crocuses – They are generally very tempting but one type – crocus tommasinianus – is often left alone.
- Star Gazer Lilies – rabbits, voles, mice and deer like to munch on the shoots and leaves
- Oriental and Asiatic Lilies – Chipmunk, squirrels, and voles love to nibble on these crunchy bulbs.
- Dahlia tubers – Not so much a problem with squirrels, but rats, mice, voles, gophers and chipmunks like them.
Squirrel resistant bulbs
As tasty as the bulbs in the list above are to squirrels, there is still a list of those that rodents tend to avoid. If you have a problem with squirrels digging up bulbs, ty planting some of these:
- Alliums – in the onion family and come in many shades
- Anemone – jewel tones colors
- Camassia – tolerates dampness well
- Daffodils – super easy to grow and poisonous to squirrels and other rodents
- Dutch Iris – also deer and rabbit resistant
- Fritillaria – large variety of blooms and colors
- Glory of the Snow – early star shaped blue flowers
- Grape Hyacinths – will multiply easily
- Hyacinths – nice in mass plantings and can be forced indoors, too
- Leucojum (summer snowflake)
- Lily of the Valley – has bell shaped flowers with a sweet perfume
- Siberian Iris – early season color with frilly flowers
- Snowdrops – these are among the earliest bulbs to bloom
- Star of Bethlehem – grows in clumps with star shaped flowers
- Winter Aconite – blooms even earlier than crocuses
- Winter Squill – showy spikes of star shaped blooms
- Onions – all types of onions are unpalatable to squirrels
- Garlic – also not appealing to rodents
One way to take advantage of both the likes and dislikes of the squirrels when it comes to bulbs is to interplant the tasty ones with those that don’t appeal to the varmints.
Narcissus bulbs are poisonous to squirrels and other digging rodents. If you surround those appealing tulips with daffodils, you’ll have more of a chance of seeing the tulips in bloom next spring!
Pin these 10 tips for how to protect squirrels from bulbs
Would you like a reminder of this post for how to keep squirrels from digging up bulbs? Just pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.
Admin note: this post for yada first appeared on the blog in June of 2013. I have updated the post to add all new photos, more tips for keeping squirrels way from bulbs, and a video for you to enjoy.
- Heavy card stock or printer paper
- Computer printer
- Load your printer with heavy card stock or printer paper.
- Choose portrait layout and if possible "fit to page" in your settings.
- Take the shopping list with you the next time you go plant shopping.
Using this print function on this card will print a calendar that fills about 3/4 of an 8 x 11 sheet of paper. To fill the entire page, choose "fit to page" on your printer if you have this setting, or use the link in the post above and print using the browser print feature
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