By: Heather Rhoades
There are few things more devastating to a gardener in spring than to find out the dozens (or even hundreds) of flower bulbs they spent hours planting in the fall have disappeared from their garden, a victim of the winter appetite of some rodent.
But, this does not have to happen to you. You can take steps to protect flower bulbs from hungry critters. With just a little extra effort, you will not have to worry any longer about whether your spring bulbs will make it through the winter.
A wide variety of animals will snack on flower bulbs. Most commonly, mice are the issue, but squirrels, chipmunks, voles, and gophers can also be to blame.
Oftentimes a gardener will blame moles as well, but moles do not eat the bulbs or roots of plants. More often than not, it’s the usual suspects listed above that will use a mole tunnel to make their way to your spring flower bulbs.
There are several ways to protect your bulbs from rodent damage. All of them can be broken down into two categories: barriers or repellents.
A barrier to protect your flower bulbs in the winter needs to be put in place when the flower bulbs are planted. In the fall, when planting your spring bulbs, you can choose one of the following methods to help keep your flower bulbs safe over the winter:
Repellents can work well for flower bulbs that have already been planted. These methods tend to be short term though and will need to be replaced periodically, as time or weather will reduce their effectiveness.
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Voles are a little larger than mice and have short tails instead of long ones. Voles spend their lives under the soil surface, as opposed to mice, which have adapted to many different environments. Flower bulbs are one of the vole’s favorite garden foods, so if you cherish your daffodils, tulips, Dutch iris, gladiolas, narcissus and other flowers that come from bulbs, you’ll want to control the population of voles in your yard by using some simple, natural methods, or chemical remedies if your vole population is large.
If you want your bulbs to produce flowers, you need to protect them from digging and bulb-eating rodents, including cute ones like chipmunks. Planting bulbs in loose soil is like laying out the welcome mat to chipmunks. Some things you can do to protect your bulbs from hungry chipmunks include creating physical barriers, discouraging chipmunks from your yard and killing these pests.
Choose bulbs that naturally contain lycorine, which is poisonous, bitter and repellent to chipmunks. Pick snowflakes (Leucojum vernum) or daffodils (Narcissus spp.) that include this substance to naturally keep away chipmunks. Daffodils can be grown in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3b through 10. Snowflakes grow best in USDA zones 4 through 8.
Plant your bulbs inside planting cubes with lids in the ground to keep out chipmunks. Block out a larger planting area as an alternative to using planting cages. Remove the top 6 inches of soil from the bed where you planted your bulbs. Lay a piece of wire mesh that is at least 1 foot longer than your planting area on top of your planted bulbs so 6 inches of the material extends beyond the planting area on two sides. Recover the ground with the removed topsoil.
Move bird feeders at least 15 feet away from your garden where you have bulbs planted. Separate woodpiles and other brush from your garden area, and mow the grass to remove hiding places for chipmunks close to your garden.
Bait rattraps with peanut butter and place them in places like chipmunk burrow openings or runways where you have spotted these rodents. Prop up an overturned cardboard box over each trap to allow access to the trap by chipmunks and to keep birds from being caught. Keep children and pets out of the area.
Get a cat to roam your yard and take care of your chipmunk and other rodent problems.
Available at just about any grocery story, finely ground cayenne pepper can spice up your food as well as your garden. I tried sprinkling the soil in my front door container with cayenne pepper, and it worked. No more dug up plants to greet me every evening. Normally you have to reapply the pepper after each rain or every time you water the container, but I found that my squirrel lost interest after that and went off to dig somewhere else.
You can also use a number of repellents marketed specifically for squirrels and chipmunks. These products contain ingredients that are not harmful to your family or other backyard wildlife. One such product is Woodstream Get Away Squirrel, which uses capsaicin (the chemical that gives hot peppers their heat) as a deterrent. Many gardeners have luck by drenching the soil in plant containers with castor oil repellent, sold for mole control. Other repellents use predator urine to frighten rodents away. All of these products need to be reapplied after a time and certainly after a rain.
Autumn is the time to plant your spring-flowering bulbs. But have you, in the past, wondered what has dug them up again or why nothing grew in spring where you planted in autumn?
There is a good chance that hungry rats and mice have discovered your newly planted bulbs, dug them up and taken them away to cache in their winter food store or eaten them on the spot. Many bulbs will provide a tasty food source for rats and mice as their other food sources dwindle in autumn. Bulbs that are palatable to rodents include tulips, crocus and gladioli as well as our vegetable bulbs.
To prevent rats and mice eating your bulbs the best thing to do is get rid of the rodents. Be prepared rodents seek food and shelter in autumn as the weather cools and the natural food supplies disappear.
You can also try and protect bulbs you plant by laying or burying chicken wire or gravel over the area of planted bulbs.
This autumn is likely to see the usual influx of rodents entering buildings and causing harm such as eating bulbs. Protect your home and garden now!
Whether squirrels are your problem, or other neighborhood animals, adding spices that are offensive to sensitive noses will definitely discourage anyone from rooting around your garden. For squirrels, sprinkle a decent amount of cayenne pepper, paprika, or cinnamon into and on top of your dirt during planting. When the squirrels come around, their noses will hurt too much for them to finish their robbery.
Neighborhood cats are also a huge problem since they can lay on the dirt and kill small seedlings before they grow up. They also tend to use the garden as their litter box, killing plants who get too much of the wrong nutrients. The best way to keep cats and dogs from your area is to sprinkle your leftover coffee grounds in your garden and around your bulbs. Once you’re done, just take the filter out and layer the grounds on the dirt. The strong odor will chase the cats away.
As the squirrel population grows, more of us are having our tulip bulbs nicked as soon as they are planted. To prevent this, plant in deeply, whether in pots or in the garden, to a depth of 6in. Then lay some black plastic netting (approx 1½ cm (½ in) square) directly over the bulbs before covering both with compost. Unless the squirrels are very canny, this should protect your bulbs.
For bulbs already planted, dust the top of pots with chilli flakes or powder. That should keep squirrels away, along with rats and mice too.
The risk of tulip fire can be greatly reduced if you plant your bulbs from November to Christmas, when the soil is colder so the fungus is less likely to spread.
As the tulip season approaches, keep a look out for any odd-looking, distorted or sick-looking foliage. If you see any, dig out that tulip, or clump, as soon as you can and burn it.
If you don't notice any problems until the tulips begin to flower, but then see mini flecks and burns, these must also be uprooted and got rid of.
This should keep the fungal scourge of tulip fire at bay in your garden.