Sometimes it’s good to provide a wildlife buffet in your yard. I’ve left all my coneflowers in despite the fact that they’ve gone to seed because the birds enjoy the seed heads. Ditto for sunflowers – it is entertaining to watch the goldfinches hanging from them trying to get lunch.
Squirrels and chipmunks are entertaining, too – which is why we have a corn cob feeder and bowls of cracked corn scattered around the garden for them. It’s just one of several strategies we’ve employed in hopes of distracting them from the more delectable fare below the ground.
Squirrels and chipmunks both seem to fancy themselves as garden designers. Plant a carefully designed area with crocuses and come spring you’ll notice that several have been rearranged so that blocks of separate color now mingle, and odd bloom pop up where none were planted. Granted, sometimes the little critters display marvelous taste in their rearrangings – but it’s my garden and I like to make my own mistakes and have my own triumphs. And I truly abhor their other habit – either eating or running off with a good portion of my plantings. That’s why I keep hoping that providing more easily accessible food will keep them away from my bulb buffet.
Wildlife aren’t called wild for nothing, though – they simply refuse to cooperate with your best-laid plans. So we’ve had to develop other strategies to keep our bulbs in place.
The first and ideal way to keep the critters away, (along with their cohorts, the moles, voles, groundhogs and rabbits) is to plant in secret. This is tough, since they seem to have sentinels posted to send out the call as soon as your tasty tidbits go into the ground. But it helps if you don’t help with the advertising campaign. Make sure when you plant to remove any debris from the ground – the packing material, little bags, bits of bulb skin or anything else that might clue the critters in.
And while you’re planting, you may want to incorporate a barrier to prevent them from reaching your bulbs if they do notice you furtively planting. Hardware cloth is a great barrier. Get the one with 3/4″ holes and your bulbs will have no problem sprouting right through it – but the creatures will find that their anticipated treat is out of reach. You can make little cages for each bulb, but a much easier method is to dig out a large area, lay hardware cloth to deter anything tunneling up from below, place your bulbs and lay another layer of hardware cloth on top before replacing the dirt.
Image by mamamusings
If you can’t do that, then try the really simple (although somewhat unsightly) method of putting an old window screen over the planted area. This will allow rain and air and light to get to the ground and to your bulbs, but will make it tough for little critters to burrow into the midst of them.
You can also try some “sensory” deterrents.
I routinely add a tiny scoop of moth flakes with my tulip bulbs, because the aroma appears to be as repellent to small burrowing creatures as it is to me. Another thing that repels burrowers are daffodils – apparently they taste truly dreadful. So I have been known to wind a planting of the tastier bulbs (and tulip bulbs are said to be delicious) with daffs as a sort of natural barrier.
I used to use cayenne pepper, but two things have stopped me. One is my too-soft heart – I saw a little chipmunk get the pepper in its eyes and it was almost as painful to watch the poor thing as I’m sure the whole episode was to him. But worse, it didn’t seem to stop his buddies at all – and the pepper blew around at each gust of wind. When I got it in my own eyes while working in that bed I gave up.
Once the ground is frozen, I mulch. It’s tempting to mulch earlier, when the weather is more pleasant, but early mulching is like sending out formal invitations for critters to burrow. It’s getting cool out, and mulch is fluffy and warm – and deeper is warmer still – and look! Lunch! So I wait.
Planting deep also discourages burrowing – apparently most of the little creatures who threaten your bulbs don’t really tunnel much deeper than 6″ – so bulbs planted at 8″ or more are safer than their shallower-planted counterparts. Don’t worry about this being too deep for the bulb – they’ll come up! In fact, if you live in the south, you’ll get better results with tulips perennializing if you plant them extra deep.
Some people swear that scattering human hair around the area works to scare away small creatures and even deer. But deer, I think, have Ph.D.s – at least it doesn’t take them long to figure out that there is no body attached to the hair. And squirrels and chipmunks that are fed by people may not mind the human scent at all.
Image by shisuka25
Many are scent-sensitive, though
There are many commercial mixtures with which you can spray surrounding foliage to repel deer and rabbits. Or you can use a homemade concoction. Some people beat an egg into water and let it sit until the smell develops, then spray it on plants. Others make teas of crushed garlic and red pepper, strain the tea and spray it. Add a drop of dishwashing liquid to help it stick, or use dormant oil and the evil-smelling brews will have more staying power.
None of these remedies can absolutely guarantee that your bulb planting won’t be at least a minor stop in the wildlife progressive dinner, but they can at least keep the damage to the minimum. And if the squirrels and chipmunks do rearrange a bulb or too, take a good look before you get upset. Sometimes they have excellent taste in bulbs.