How to Protect Tulip Bulbs From Voles

common meadow vole

Meadow voles are harmless creatures and actually pretty cute, but for gardeners they can be a big nuisance. These furry, mouse-like rodents are voracious eaters. Their favorite foods include flower bulbs and tubers, root crops like carrots and beets, and the roots of ornamental plants. They also chew on the bark of shrubs and small trees.

Voles can be found throughout the northern half of the country. One vole isn’t a problem — but they don’t come in ones. Female voles mature in just 35 to 40 days and during their 12-month lifespan, they can have as many as 10 litters of 3 to 6 young!


vole-proof garden fence

My yard and gardens are surrounded by acres of pasture and hay meadows. It’s ideal habitat for voles. We manage to keep most of them out of the vegetable garden with a 24” tall fence made of hardware cloth that also extends 18” underground.

Keeping them out of the flower gardens is much more difficult. After losing hundreds of tulip bulbs to these pesky rodents, I had simply stopped planting tulips. Three years ago I decided to try again and a simple trick has made all the difference. When I plant the bulbs, I mix in a blend of crushed oyster shells, red pepper flakes and granulated garlic.


tulips and oyster shells

The garlic odor seems to mask the appealing smell of the tulip bulbs, and the hot pepper flakes and sharp oyster shells serve as a protective barrier.

You can find crushed oyster shells (sometimes called poultry grit) at farm or feed stores, pool supply stores or landscaping suppliers. A 15 lb. bag of them goes for $16 on Amazon, but a 50 lb. bag (which will last you a few years) goes for about the same price if you can find it locally. Make sure the texture of the oyster shells is coarse rather than powdery.


oyster shells with red pepper and garlic

I buy large containers of red pepper flakes and granulated garlic from Costco. Though I don’t usually measure, the proportions are probably about 10 cups of oyster shells to ½ cup of garlic and ½ cup of red pepper. Combine all three in a bucket and bring the bucket around with you as you’re planting. Put a handful of the mixture into each hole before you put in the tulip bulbs.

I hope this vole deterrent works as well in your garden as it does in mine. Please let us know if you give it a try. Happy planting!