Kathy is an avid gardener who loves to grow perennials and vegetables in her zone 5 Ontario gardens.
Are squirrels stealing your flower bulbs?
Spring flowers are a treat for gardeners and non-gardeners alike, as their beauty helps us forget the cold and dreary winter days. Some of the earliest and prettiest flowers to arrive each spring are flowers that come from bulbs, including crocuses, tulips and daffodils.
Spring flowering bulbs are typically planted the fall before, and lay dormant over the winter, before they make their much appreciated appearance as flowers. Sadly, many of these bulbs will never make it to the flower stage, as they are often dug up by squirrels who find the bulbs to be tasty snacks.
5 Ways to Protect Your Bulbs from Squirrels
If you have ever been the victim of squirrel thievery, you'll appreciate how frustrating it can be to plant flower bulbs, only to have them relocated to other areas of the garden, or vanish completely.
There are five main ways to keep squirrels from digging up the flower bulbs in your garden. These strategies include:
- Planting bulbs that do not appeal to squirrels.
- Using chicken wire or bulb cages to protect the bulbs.
- Covering the planting area until the ground is frozen.
- Using natural squirrel repellents in the garden.
- Setting up a squirrel feeding station.
Each of these methods is covered in more detail below. If squirrels are particularly troublesome, the best solution is often to use a combination of several of these strategies.
1. Plant bulbs that squirrels don't like
Squirrels seem to love the taste of certain bulbs, especially tulips. However, there are other kinds of bulbs that squirrels do not like, either because of their smell or taste. Planting these bulbs can help deter squirrels from digging in your garden.
Bulbs that squirrels find unpleasant include:
- muscari / grape hyacinth
- fritillaria / crown imperial
You can either choose to plant these types of bulbs exclusively, or you can intersperse these bulbs among your other bulbs such as tulips. I've also had success planting chives and garlic bulbs in the areas where I've planted tulips. The smell of these plants seems to help keep the squirrels away from the tulip bulbs they love so much.
For more ideas, check out Better Homes and Gardens' list of 12 beautiful bulbs that deer and squirrels don't eat.
2. Use Chicken Wire or Bulb Cages to Protect Your Bulbs
An effective way to keep squirrels from digging up the bulbs in your garden is to surround the area where the bulbs have been planted with chicken wire, and cover it up with a few inches of dirt or mulch. The flowers will grow up through the open spaces in the chicken wire, but the squirrels can't get through the wire to get to the bulbs.
You can also purchase baskets or cages to plant groups of bulbs in, which will also protect the bulbs from squirrels digging in the garden.
Watch this helpful video for tips on squirrel-proofing your bulbs
3. Cover the Planting Area Until the Ground is Frozen
If you are only planting bulbs in a relatively confined area of your garden, you may want to put a barrier such as a heavy board on top of the soil once the bulbs are planted. Once the ground is frozen, you can remove the board as the squirrels will not be able to dig up the frozen soil to get to the bulbs.
This method can be quite successful, as squirrels will usually (but not always) only dig up the freshly planted bulbs in the fall. However, if you have other plants planted in the same area as your bulbs, you probably won't want to cover them up with a heavy barrier, for fear of damaging the plants.
4. Use Natural Repellents to Keep Squirrels Away from your Bulbs
You can buy repellents to keep animals like squirrels and deer out of your garden. Many people claim to have success using natural or homemade versions of these products. Some natural and organic squirrel repellents you may want to try putting around the bulbs in your garden include:
- red pepper flakes
- cayenne pepper
- moth balls or moth ball flakes
You can also place sharp gravel in your garden around the areas where you've planted bulbs. Squirrels tend to avoid these areas, as the gravel hurts their feet when they try to dig there.
5. Set up a Squirrel Feeding Station
If your attempts to keep squirrels out of your garden are unsuccessful, you can try setting up a squirrel feeding station in another area of your yard. The theory here is that by offering an easily accessible source of food that squirrels like, they will have less reason to go searching for treats in the ground.
Good foods to use in your squirrel feeder are corn, nuts, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds.
In order to ensure the squirrels will eat from the feeder and not from your garden, it's very important to not leave any evidence of your bulb planting in the garden. Always be sure to clean up any debris from the bulbs after planting. Spreading a layer of mulch over the area can help disguise the fact that something has recently been buried there, which may help keep the squirrels away.
Hopefully one or more of these methods will help protect the bulbs in your garden from squirrels. If you have any other suggestions for things that have worked for you, please share in the comment section below!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2013 Kathy Sima
Angela Russell on September 01, 2020:
Try keeping your used tea bags and soaking them in strong cough medicine then spreading them over where you have planted tulips. the squirrels hate the smell!
Rovin on June 27, 2020:
The squirrels in our area love to eat my stargazer lily bulbs. It was my first time planting and I was happy when sprouts came out. Sadly, I didn’t expect that squirrels dig them up. They killed almost half of my lilies! They also like star flower bulbs, but not as much as lily bulbs.
Glenda L maurer on May 27, 2020:
They love my Lilly bulbs day or Asiatic seems to make no difference
Lisa on February 09, 2020:
Thank you for the tips!! I did the chicken wire. Bulbs are starting to sprout so I'm going to try taking off the wire to see how it goes There is great rodent repel recipe on the P. Allen Smith channel. i think I'll try coffee grounds. Sounds the easiest!
Mary Landers on May 12, 2019:
Vinegar works well I have 72 acres and I spray vinegar around the perimeter of my property all animals and rodents from dear squirrels rabbits coons even dogs and cats I raise big gardens all kinds of veggies and fruits and lots of flowers just spray vinegar around the areas spray some on cloth and hag it on trees and it last through a rain shower or two every couple of weeks I keep a big 4 acre area sprayed I spray it on trees just spray well around the area that u have flowers or veggies or what U are growing no animal will come around they hate the smell
Marilyn Hoare on February 25, 2019:
It seems to be my snowdrops they take the most, I have for many years bought new bulbs for none to ever appear.
Valerie on October 13, 2018:
Cayenne pepper works well for me as well as used cat litter ( after removing the dry stuff). Used coffee grinds works well too so save after drip or pick up free bags from Starbucks.
Kathy Sima (author) from Ontario, Canada on February 22, 2013:
Hi MJ! Thanks for the visit, the feedback and the share. I hope your partner finds the information useful!
Mactavers - I've never had to deal with javalinas in my garden, and I grateful for that! The squirrels never touch my irises either. I guess they must either taste or smell bad to them - thank goodness!
Thanks for the suggestion of the mosquito plant, Roberta! I imagine citronella plant would likely have a similar effect.
We have a lot of squirrels around here pstraubie48. I don't really mind them, and they can be fun to watch - but I do take offense when they dig up my tulip bulbs! I can just picture your squirrels working together to have themselves a feast. :-)
I stopped planting tulips for awhile too, Glimmer Twin Fan. It was too frustrating! A couple of years ago I did decide to give it another try, and for the most part the squirrels left them alone last summer. I'm waiting to see what comes up this spring - fingers crossed...
Claudia Mitchell on February 20, 2013:
Sadly I have given up on tulips. The chipmunks and squirrels have eaten every last one of them. If I had more motivation I would try the chicken wire method. At least they don't eat my daffodils which are my favorites anyway. Good suggestions. Now I need to figure out how to keep the deer away.
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on February 20, 2013:
I love the little squirrels. They are so much fun to watch especially when the babies arrive.
I have to laugh at them stealing the tulip bulbs. I even have put screen down over the bulbs. Not a deterrent. They have a whole lot of relatives who help them uncover the smorgasbord of bulbs.
Thanks for sharing.
Sending you Angels today :) ps
RTalloni on February 19, 2013:
A super look at protecting bulbs from squirrels. We have such a problem with the rascals. They carry fleas and ticks, and are so destructive, even eating aluminum attachments on fences!
I can't plant sunflowers or bulbs unless I protect them. Nothing worked until I planted mosquito plant with them. It was the perfect answer! I think citronella plant would work just as well.
Right now and I hear an owl outside. :) I also love to see the hawks near and within our property lines. These birds do a good job with the rodents they catch!
Brenda Kyle from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA on February 19, 2013:
I am sharing this hub with my ex-mother in law. Her love for tulips always leads to criminal wildlife! I am happy to see the bulbs I buy are on tge unpleasant list. Thank you for sharing great gardening tips.
mactavers on February 19, 2013:
Great Hub. Here in Arizona, battling Javalinas to grow bulbs involves the same problems as fighting squirrels. Javalinas are not pigs but root like pigs and are very territorial about returning again and again to the same place they have once found food. They will not touch Iris bulbs, not sure if squirrels won't eat them.
mjkearn on February 19, 2013:
While I like flowers it's not one area I get involved in as I leave it to my partner. I do however run the pipes and sprinklers where ever she says. Great in depth hub and fabulous lay out. Voted up, ticked and shared. I have also bookmarked for my partner.