Along the Garden Path: Critter-proofing Fall bulbs


Often the flower bulbs we plant in fall with great anticipation become dinner for our friendly wildlife. Whether they dig up the bulbs or nibble the buds squirrels and other wildlife can ruin your bulb garden.

Spring-blooming bulbs like tulips and daffodils should be planted in September and October, when the soil temperatures become cooler. Spring bulbs such as Dahlia and gladiolus should be dug up in the fall and planted in spring after all danger of frost has passed.

Gardeners are devasted when they find out the dozens of flower bulbs they spent hours planting in the fall have disappeared from their garden which is a victim of the winter appetite of some rodent.

You can take steps to protect flower bulbs from the hungry critters. First, purchase your bulbs from a garden center where they will be plump and firm. Avoid bulbs that are soft and mushy or have mold growing on them. Choose the bigger bulbs; the bigger they are, the more they generally bloom compared to smaller bulbs of the same variety.

Dig a hole two to three times deeper than the bulb is tall. If it’s a 3-inch tall bulb, dig a hole 6 to 9 inches deep. You should always check the planting directions that come with the bulb for accurate information.

Most bulbs do best in full sun and well-drained soil. If the bulb has a pointed end, that’s usually the side that faces up. If you don’t have a pointy side, look for where the roots came out – that end goes down.

A wide variety of animals will snack on flower bulbs. Most commonly mice are the issue but deer, squirrels and chipmunks can be the blame. We sometimes blame moles but moles do not eat bulbs or roots of plants.

Ways to protect your bulbs from rodent damage are repellents that can work 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 and weather will reduce their effectiveness.

Blood meal not only keeps small rodents away but it helps to add nutrients to the soil. One negative about using blood meal is that it can attract other unwanted animals like raccoons or skunks.

Chili pepper can be used but needs to be replaced often. The presence of human or dog hair in the bed may also deter many pests.

A more permanent approach is using barriers to protect your bulbs. You can use chicken wire to construct a cage that you place your flower bulbs in. The holes will allow your bulbs’ leaves and roots to grow but will keep pesky rodents at bay.

Use a sharp edge gravel or grit below and above your bulbs as most animals do not like to dig through sharp debris and will avoid going after your bulbs. You might even want to recycle strawberry baskets or yogurt cups to ward off pests. Punch holes in the bottom of used yogurt cups and place your bulbs inside these. Both of these methods will protect your spring bulbs from underground attacks but can still leave them open to being dug up from above.

Most rodents will avoid eating daffodils, snowflakes, snowdrops, alliums or fritillaries.

For a dramatic show of spring-flower bulbs, plant smaller perennial species such as crocus or scilla over bigger bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. That way you will have twice the color in the same space. Plant now for spring beauty.

By Charlene Thornhill

Along the Garden Path

Charlene Thornhill is a volunteer citizen columnist, who serves The Daily Advocate readers weekly with her community column Along the Garden Path. She can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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