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How to Deter Squirrels from Eating Your Fall Bulbs

squirrels-eating-bulbs

Pesky, hungry squirrels love devouring your garden, bulbs and all! Read on for our best tips in keeping them away from your favorite plants.

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:

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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.

Squirrel and Rodent Repellents

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.

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.

Tips for Deterring Squirrels with Repellents:
  • Spray (or sprinkle) deterrents early in the season, before your garden plants are even available to munch on. This can help to prevent your garden from becoming a favorite spot.
  • Alternate between different types of repellents, so that rodents don't become used to your tricks. Keep them guessing!
  • Be more mindful of applying repellents after long winters or dry spells, when food sources are scarce. This type of weather encourages competition between all kinds of garden critters in their search for food, and you may notice more activity than you have seen in the past.

Squirrel Proof Barriers

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.

squirrel proof garden bed

Hardware cloth lines the bottom of this raised bed, and is folded and secured up the outside edges. Unlike chicken wire, hardware cloth has much tighter openings that smaller rodents can't squeeze through! You can find it at home improvement stores in 10 and 25 ft' coils. Chicken wire, however, is the smarter choice for covering your plantings, as it will allow your bulbs to sprout and emerge 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.

Other Squirrel and Rodent Garden Proofing 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.

squirrel-garden-pests

Ideally, you want squirrels to make their meals away from the garden. This may require some trickiness on your part!

  • Keep bird feeders away from the garden, or make an effort to clean fallen seed up off teh ground regularly. You can always 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.
  • Keep the area mowed and free from rock and wood piles, which offer the perfect habitat. 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.
  • Trees, clotheslines, and other structures near the garden can offer squirrels a sense of comfort and protection when maneuvering through the area. If possible, limit these 'jungle gym'-type
    networks close to your planting beds.
  • The regualr presence of a cat or dog is a powerful way to deter squirrels!

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

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23 thoughts on “How to Deter Squirrels from Eating Your Fall Bulbs”

  • Paul Cass

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

    Reply
    • Suzette Brown

      No. Tried it, does not work. Plenty of feral cats and my dog around too, does not deter the squirrel.

      Reply
  • Suzanne DeJohn

    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!

    Reply
  • Mary

    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?

    Reply
    • Suzanne DeJohn

      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.

      Reply
  • cathy laudermilk

    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.

    Reply
  • gkohrs

    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.

    Reply
  • Leen

    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

    Reply
  • gkohrs

    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!

    Reply
  • Melody

    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.

    Reply
    • Suzanne DeJohn

      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.

      Reply
  • Alice

    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.

    Reply
    • Suzanne DeJohn

      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.

      Reply
  • Garnet Green Lucas
    Garnet Green Lucas November 15, 2010 at 11:20 am

    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.

    Reply
  • Terry Johnson

    I have read that Irish Spring soap cut up into 1" squares and placed around the garden or distributed in the garden keeps deer's and rodent pests away. Has anyone else hear of this

    Reply
    • Jenny

      Hi Terry, I have definitely heard of this and have tried it myself with some success! Over time I've learned that one helpful trick is to keep switching the offensive repellent often in the early season. So, Irish Spring soap, like other deterrents (peppermint oil-soaked fabric, mothballs, etc...) should be set out for a short period and then replaced with another 'yucky' repellent. This is because eventually the rodents will figure out that the soap doesn't really harm them, and can just be ignored. Switching things up keeps them guessing! Thanks for your input - I will add it to our list. Happy Gardening - Jenny

      Reply
  • Fred Bumba

    I am in search for all or any natural plants that repel or have any other adverse effect on ferel cats in a zone 9 area

    Reply
    • Jenny

      Hi, Fred - I only know of a few 'cat-repelling' plants and I'm unsure how well they really work: rosemary, lemon balm, lavender, and pennyroyal. However, I have heard of people having luck with motion-activated sprinklers and/or sirens. If you can create some unexpected, scary situations they may begin to leave you alone. Best of luck! - Jenny

      Reply
  • tess

    Squirrels don't eat my Triumph tulip bulbs or daffodils in Pacific NW but they did enjoy all of my crocus - except tommasinianus which they leave alone

    You might try laying down chicken wire over the beds fastened down w garden staples It seems like the bulbs would grow up thru it but nothing could dig down under it

    Reply
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