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How to Deter Squirrels from Eating Your Fall Bulbs

Although their antics are fun to watch, squirrels can be a real nuisance when they dig up your newly planted bulbs. The simplest way to prevent problems is to plant bulbs they don’t like to eat. Here are some of the bulbs found to be distasteful to squirrels (the ones in bold are available for purchase now):

Allium Globemaster

Alliums, like this 'Globemaster', are avoided by squirrels and deer.

Allium, Anemone, Arum, Camassia, Daffodil, Fritillaria, Galanthus, Leucojum, Muscari and Scilla.

Plant tulips and crocus, on the other hand, and you’re putting out the equivalent of catnip for your cat (or chocolate for me). That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy these beauties, it just means you have to outsmart the squirrels. There are two ways to approach this: place a barrier between the bulbs and the squirrels, or use a deterrent — something the squirrels avoid.

Some gardeners go so far as to dig out the entire planting bed, line it with chicken wire, plant the bulbs and then wrap the chicken wire up the sides and over the top of the bed. The squirrels can’t dig through the wire mesh but the bulbs can easily grow through the holes.

Squirrels are particularly attracted to newly planted bulbs — when the diggin’ is easy! Covering the planting area for the first month or two after planting may be enough to let the soil settle and trick the squirrels. You can cover it with anything squirrels can’t dig through but rain can permeate, like chicken wire, hardware cloth or window screens. Planting bulbs later in the fall, after the squirrels have done most of their food cacheing, may prevent some loss of bulbs, too.

There are a number of repellent sprays on the market that may help deter squirrels, with mixed reviews on how effective they are. You may need to reapply them frequently, especially after a rain.

Our Early Spring Delight Mix includes Daffodils & Hyacinths, both resistant to squirrel damage.

Avoid sprinkling ground hot pepper around planting beds. The powder can get into the eyes of animals and cause them excruciating pain. If you want to try hot pepper, the Humane Society recommends using a hot pepper wax spray, which adheres to plants and is less likely to get into animals’ eyes. And avoid using mothballs; they’re toxic when ingested and may add unnecessary toxins to your soil.

Other Tips
Instead of planting a solid bed of tulips and crocus, you can try interplanting with some of the bulbs mentioned above that are usually avoided by squirrels. That may offer some measure of protection.

You can use the old “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude and set up a special squirrel feeding station. By offering the squirrels a ready supply of easy-to-access food, you might keep them from digging.

Tidy up after planting, too. Don’t leave bulb debris (like the papery “tunics” that fall off tulip bulbs) around the planting area, because it acts like a breadcrumb trail to the bulbs.

Hopefully, these techniques will help you foil foraging squirrels this fall, so you can enjoy colorful blooms next spring.

November 11, 2010 · Suzanne DeJohn · 16 Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Flower Bulbs, Gardening in Fall, How-Tos

16 Responses

  1. Paul Cass - November 12, 2010

    what about putting a little hair from a dog in with the bulb. Does this help stop the squirrels

  2. Suzanne DeJohn - November 12, 2010

    It might help for a short time, but I suspect that the squirrels will get used to it and ignore it after a short time, once they realize it isn’t dangerous. But if you try it, let me know if it works!

  3. Mary - November 12, 2010

    I planted hundreds of bulbs the end of sept. then thanks to a warm spell many of them started to come up. Should I shear the green sprouts down to the ground to save their energy for spring?

  4. Suzanne DeJohn - November 12, 2010

    My inclination would be to leave the foliage as is. Shearing it back leaves an open wound that can lead to disease problems or cause rot. The sprouts should stop growing when the weather starts to cool down. Unless the sprouts continue to grow and actually start blooming, I think the bulbs will be OK and will begin growth again in spring. If you’re in a region where temperatures drop well below freezing, I’d suggest mulching. Wait until the ground freezes, then apply a loose mulch like shredded bark over the sprouts to insulate them from the most extreme cold.

  5. cathy laudermilk - November 12, 2010

    To keep squirrels away from planted bulbs, cover bulb with small, marble sized or pea gravel. Squirrels do not like walking on it. After bulbs have sprouted, I have no idea, but hair or chili powder is a waste of time. Good luck.

  6. Suzanne DeJohn - November 12, 2010

    Thanks for the tip, Cathy!

  7. gkohrs - November 12, 2010

    I use a product called Shot-Gun Repels-All. I spray my tulip bulbs, let bulbs dry, then plant bulbs. I then spray top of ground after I plant. I have found a couple bulbs dug up but, was left laying in spot where was dug up so. i just replanted them. the product covers many type animals. i feel this product is well worth trying! I found the product at my local greenhouse store.

  8. Leen - November 12, 2010

    Some one told me to use chopp daffodill bulbs with the tulip bulbs I did it and the squirrels left them alone – I had a beautiful display of tulips I am doing it again this year – of course this is a good solution only if you get daffodills in bulk to have extras

  9. Suzanne DeJohn - November 12, 2010

    Thanks for these suggestions!

  10. gkohrs - November 12, 2010

    A great big time saving hint,, too,, is,, to buy a plant auger,, and use your cordless drill, to plant bulbs with.. I buy a sack of top soil dirt to cover over the bulbs. saves lot of digging! and harder work! have convinced many friends, and family,, to plant bulbs this way!

  11. Melody - November 13, 2010

    I also have had a lot of success with Blood Meal – after planting, I sprinkle a handful across the dirt or pot and the squirrels stay out of it – at least until the next big rain. This has especially helped during fall and spring when my squirrels are most active.

  12. Alice - November 14, 2010

    I appreciate your efforts to provide advice. The list of “distasteful to squirrels” was quite reassuring. however, this fall I have had several daffodil bulbs dug up and small remaining pieces scattered around. the same with a large Camassia.
    I had heard that daffodils were toxic, and yet I even found one with a large bite out of it and no dying critter nearby. some of this appears to happen at night, so I wonder if skunks or raccoons might be the culprits. my daffodils were planted seven or 8 inches deep, heavily watered, and with chopped leaves spread on top.

    and another question: is there a way to tell if bulbs have become too warm in a store or basement and are no longer viable? I notice that crocus corms tend to show very yellowed sprouts in this situation, but ones that are accidentally dug up have a white sprout, though similar in size. information would be appreciated.

  13. Suzanne DeJohn - November 15, 2010

    Hi Melody, Blood meal sometimes attracts dogs and cats, but it sounds like it’s working for you. My only other concern is that it’s very high in nitrogen so I’d take care not to apply too much.

  14. Suzanne DeJohn - November 15, 2010

    Hi Alice, Sorry to hear about your squirrel troubles — unfortunately, there are no “squirrel-proof” bulbs. However, it’s not too late to take some measures to protect the bulbs you have left. Skunks and raccoons are usually after grubs, bugs and worms so they may be inadvertently unearthing your bulbs. As far as the stored bulbs, if the bulbs are sprouting they need to be planted right away. I can’t explain the color difference, except perhaps the ones in storage are exposed to a bit of light, whereas the ones underground are in complete darkness.

  15. Garnet Green Lucas - November 15, 2010

    I have to agree with the “if you can’t beat them, join them” saying. My neighbor has have a fully loaded Fig tree right on the side border of our properties, and in the back of our yard we have two large Juniper bushes with berries on them. The squirrels go back and forth between the two locations, and recline on the Junipers while they eat their spoils. So far they have completly left my 80+ bulbs alone that were planted last month, and I know they saw me out there doing the planting. So far so good.

  16. Suzanne DeJohn - November 16, 2010

    I love that image of the squirrels reclining on the junipers to eat!