How to Protect Fall Bulbs From Chipmunks and Squirrels
Fall is planting time for tulips, daffodils, alliums and other spring-blooming bulbs. While gardeners are busy planting bulbs, chipmunks and squirrels are busy gathering nuts, berries and seeds for the winter ahead. If you’re a furry rodent working hard to fill up your food cache, the flower bulbs we’re planting are like buried treasure: tasty, nutritious and easy to transport.
Sure these guys are cute and just trying to survive. But it’s heartbreaking to spend time and money on bulbs, and have them be devoured or carted off. Read on for some easy planting tips that can help you keep your fall bulbs safe from chipmunks and squirrels.
Don’t Tempt Them
Not all flower bulbs are appealing to chipmunks and squirrels. So the simplest strategy is to plant bulbs they avoid. These include daffodils, alliums, scilla (Siberian squill), hyacinths, muscari (grape hyacinths), fritillaria, camassia, chionodoxa, galanthus (snowdrops) and leucojum (summer snowflake).
When planting these and other bulbs, don’t add a smelly organic fertilizer such as bone meal or fish emulsion. The scent will attract skunks, dogs and cats, as well as chipmunks and squirrels. Flower bulbs already contain everything they need to bloom, so skip the fertilizer and avoid attracting attention to your newly planted bulbs.
Hide the Evidence
After you finish planting, take time to clean up and minimize any clues there might be something tasty underground. Chipmunks and squirrels are curious, and freshly dug soil invites investigation. Spreading a thin layer of bark mulch or shredded leaves over newly planted areas will help hide the disturbance.
Another way to cover your tracks is to plant your bulbs into a groundcover or among low-growing perennials such as vinca, ajuga, heuchera or lamium. Squirrels and chipmunks are unlikely to notice the newly planted bulbs, and may also be less inclined to dig through foliage and roots to get them.
Use barriers to protect your bulbs
The most effective way to keep your bulbs from being eaten is to plant them inside a wire cage. It’s fussy and time consuming, but it works and is something to consider, especially if you plant your bulbs in the same place each year. Many public gardens use this technique so they can always get a crowd-pleasing display.
For wire, you can use a 2” mesh (such as chicken wire). It will deter digging, but the openings are too large to ensure complete protection. Hardware cloth has much smaller openings, but is stiffer and more difficult to work with. Dig out an area to the correct planting depth and line it with the wire mesh. Plant your bulbs and refill with soil. After planting, lay an additional piece of wire over the soil surface. Use stones or boards to weigh it down for winter and then remove it in spring when your bulbs begin to emerge.
Deter Them With a Repellent
Another way to protect your bulbs from rodents is to plant them with crushed stone or crushed oyster shells (see photo above). The gritty texture deters digging and chewing. Feed stores usually carry crushed oyster shells.
To mask the appealing aroma of the bulbs, consider spraying them with a deer repellant. Granulated garlic and crushed red pepper flakes can also discourage nibbling.
Wait Them Out
Squirrels and chipmunks shift into high gear during late summer and early fall. In addition to frantically gathering food for winter, they may also be feeding a second litter. By delaying planting, you can avoid their most intense foraging period. Planting after Halloween and before Thanksgiving is the ideal planting time for most regions of the country. See our planting chart HERE.
You may also be interested in reading: How to Protect Flower Bulbs from Voles.