For gardeners, fall is planting time for tulips, daffodils, alliums and other spring-blooming bulbs. While we are busy planting bulbs, chipmunks and squirrels are busy gathering nuts, berries and seeds for the winter ahead. If you’re a rodent working hard to fill up your food cache, newly planted flower bulbs are a perfect to-go meal. They’re tasty, nutritious and easy to transport.
It's heartbreaking to have your flower bulbs carted off and become dinner for some pesky critter. Here are 5 ways to keep your bulbs safe from chipmunks and squirrels, so you can enjoy a rainbow of colorful flowers next spring.
Don’t tempt them. Not all flower bulbs are appealing to chipmunks and squirrels. So one strategy is to plant bulbs they tend to avoid, including daffodils, alliums, scilla (Siberian squill), hyacinths, muscari (grape hyacinths), fritillaria, camassia, chionodoxa, galanthus (snowdrops) and leucojum (summer snowflake).
Planting your bulbs with smelly a organic fertilizer such as bone meal or fish emulsion may attract skunks, dogs and cats as well as chipmunks and squirrels. Bulbs already contain everything they need to flower, so skip the fertilizer and avoid attracting attention to your newly planted bulbs.
Hide the evidence. Clean up the planting area when you’re done, so you don’t leave clues that there might be something tasty underground. Chipmunks and squirrels are curious, and freshly dug soil is a clue that something has been recently buried. Spreading a thin layer of bark mulch or shredded leaves over newly planted areas will help to hide the disturbance.
Another way to cover your tracks is to plant your bulbs into a low groundcover such as vinca, pachysandra, ajuga or lamium. Squirrels and chipmunks are unlikely to notice the newly planted bulbs, and they may also be less inclined to dig through foliage and roots.
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.
Chicken wire won't protect your bulbs. Hardware cloth is stiffer and more difficult to work with, but rodents can't get through the 1/2" mesh. Dig out a planting area and line it with the wire mesh. Plant your bulbs and then lay another piece of wire on the soil surface. Use large stones to weigh it down for winter and then remove it in spring when the bulbs emerge.
Deter them with a repellant: Another way to protect your bulbs is to plant them with crushed stone or crushed oyster shells (available from feed stores). The gritty texture deters digging and chewing. To mask the appealing aroma of the bulbs, spray a deer repellant into the planting hole. Adding granulated garlic or crushed red pepper flakes may also help deter nibbling.
Wait them out: As summer turns to fall, squirrels and chipmunks shift into high gear. In addition to gathering food for winter, they may also be feeding a second litter. By mid-October, their activity levels begin to slow. Planting your bulbs a bit later than usual will help you avoid that frantic foraging period. In most areas, the ideal time for planting bulbs is after Halloween and before Thanksgiving.