If you have squirrels, chipmunks, mice, or other rodents near your property, then you will likely need to take a few extra steps to keep your fall bulbs safe until spring. While it might seem like an endless battle, it really isn’t that difficult with a few simple tips.
Fall is the time of year when you need to get those spring-flowering bulbs like crocus, tulips, hyacinth, and allium in the ground.
You’ve taken the time to pick out your favorite fall-planted bulbs. You’ve prepared the perfect location. And you’ve planted them at just the right time of the year.
Unfortunately, that perfect time of year is also when squirrels and other rodents are foraging for their stash of winter food. Besides nuts, one of their favorite delicacies to store away is flower bulbs. And as far as the squirrels and mice are concerned, they are all fair game!
So what can you do to keep your fall-planted bulbs safe from these critters? If you follow one or more of the following suggestions, you will be able to watch your fall-planted bulbs pop up through the soil in the spring while still enjoying seeing the playfulness of the squirrels and chipmunks out your back window.
Just maybe take some additional steps to deter the mice from making your home their home as well though! (Check out this great article on how to keep mice out of your outdoor sheds and garages.)
Types Of Pests To Watch Out For
There are some animals that are more adamant about finding and digging up your precious flower bulbs than others.
Squirrels – These cute little fluffy-tailed animals are full of energy. It’s so entertaining watching them dart around from tree to tree, often chasing one another in the process. They are the most common pest to dig up your flower bulbs.
Chipmunks – These animals are a smaller version of a squirrel that are ground dwellers. They love to burrow and prefer to dine on nuts, but will also chow down on bulbs as well.
Mice – These tiny timid creatures with large ears and cute little whiskers. They seem to be able to squeeze into any sized hole. Once in, they can cause massive amounts of damage in no time at all.
There are a few other pests that can dig up bulbs. Those animals include skunks and raccoons, but squirrels, chipmunks, and mice are the most common.
How To Keep Your Fall Bulbs Safe From Squirrels, Mice & Other Rodents
Not All Bulbs Taste The Same
While tulips and crocus bulbs must be one of the tastiest to eat, not all bulbs are appealing to squirrels, mice, and chipmunks.
Some bulbs produce a bitter-tasting compound that is called lycorine. This compound will actually repel some animals.
Flowers like daffodils, hyacinth, and allium all give off this compound and are less likely to be consumed by animals. Planting these bulbs amongst the tastier bulbs will help keep pests away.
Steps To Take When You Plant Your Bulbs
Take steps to deter squirrels and chipmunks when you plant your bulbs in the fall.
Make sure you are planting your bulbs at the correct depth. If you plant bulbs too close to the surface of the soil, it will be much easier for squirrels and other rodents to find. Most bulbs should be planted at least 4 to 6 inches deep.
Adding Coarse Materials
One way to deter pests from digging up the bulbs is to add extra materials to your planting holes. Materials such as pea gravel and smooth crushed rock will make digging difficult for the squirrels and mice. The rounded edges of the gravel keep your bulbs from being damaged while still discouraging digging from tiny paws.
Just add a half-inch of pea gravel after your bulbs are set in the soil, and then backfill with soil as usual. As an added bonus, these materials can help aid in soil drainage!
Skip The Fertilizer
Even though using a natural fertilizer is a great way to boost your bulb’s growth and flowering power, it can also attract pests. It might be best to skip adding natural fertilizer, bone meal, fish emulsion, etc. to your planting hole and save those products until spring.
After you get your bulbs in the ground and cover them with soil, make sure to tamp the soil down and cover with mulch. Leaving bare soil is like an open invitation for the squirrels and chipmunks to investigate what’s underneath.
Using mulch such as straw or shredded dead leaves works perfectly to add just a small layer of protection
After you have added your mulch, make sure to remove any remnants from planting the bulbs. Sometimes, dried bulb casings and other debris are left behind. The scent of those items may attract animals to the planting site.
Using Bulb Baskets Or Cages
Using bulb baskets or cages is one of the most effective ways to keep your fall bulbs safe from squirrels, mice, and other rodents. The cages are sold at most garden centers, or they can be purchased online. You can also make the cages yourself out of a few pieces of hardware cloth.
These boxes or cages are simply a container that you can directly plant your bulbs into, usually multiple at a time. Their design allows the bulbs to still sprout up through the holes at the top while still protecting the bulbs in general.
Downsides of Baskets Or Cages
There are a few downsides of using baskets and cages, however. The first issue is the cost of purchasing them. You’ve already spent money on the bulbs themselves and these might not be in your budget.
In addition, they can be a bit of a pain to use since you have to bury the entire cage. This might cause an issue with your design layout since you have to consider planting the whole basket instead of individual small bulbs.
Making Your Own Basket
To make your own baskets, purchase with ¾ inch to 1-inch stainless steel hardware cloth at your local hardware store. Carefully cut the cloth using wire cutters and bend the wire into a box shape. There are several tutorials online that you can find for more information.
Protecting After You’ve Planted Your Bulbs
Now that you gave your bulbs the best head start on safely making it all the way until spring, there are still a few additional strategies you can employ to help keep squirrels, mice, and other rodents at bay.
Use Hardware Cloth
One of the easiest things you can do to deter pests is to simply lay down a piece of hardware cloth or chicken wire on top of your bulb planting area. The squirrels and mice won’t be able to dig through the wire.
Just make sure you extend the wire out a few inches past the planting area so the animals can’t get at the outside bulbs from an angle. You may need to anchor the cloth down with some bricks or other heavy material at the edges.
Offer Alternative Food Sources
Consider setting up a place for offering alternative food sources for the squirrels and chipmunks. The thought process behind this solution is that if you provide the animals with easy access to corn, grain, or nuts that the squirrels won’t bother attempting to dig up your bulbs.
However, this method should be used with caution. These easily-accessible food sources are just inviting mice and other unwanted rodents to come to your property. In addition, you may be attracting more squirrels and chipmunks to your area than would’ve been there without the additional food sources.
There are a few unconventional methods that you can maybe consider trying. Keep in mind that these are not widely known for working and their success will vary. Most of them are also short-lived solutions if they even work at all.
Some gardeners will swear by hanging Irish Spring soap bars in mesh bags around the planting location. Another folklore is to sprinkle cayenne pepper, chili pepper, or crushed red pepper flakes around the soil. Lastly, some gardeners say that spreading human or pet hair around the planting area will deter pests as well.
No matter which method you use to help keep your fall bulbs safe from squirrels, mice, and other rodents, you will get the best results by implementing a combination of multiple methods. If one combination isn’t working for the pests in your area, try a different combination.
You will eventually be able to find what works for your planting location and will be able to enjoy not only planting your bulbs in the fall but be able to see them grow and bloom when spring finally arrives!