If you’re a gardener, fall is the perfect time to plant tulips, daffodils, alliums, and other spring-blooming bulbs. But as you dig holes and tenderly place each bulb in the ground, did you know that you’re planting a feast for mice, voles, and other rodents? “Most people don’t realize that as far as these animals are concerned, fall is a big buffet,” says Paul Haan, a wildlife damage specialist with the Michigan State University Extension. “They’re trying to put on as much body fat as possible before winter sets in, and your bulbs are an easy food source.”
What’s more, these rodents don’t just nibble on the bulbs—they often devour the entire thing, root and all. Even worse, they may bury some bulbs for later and accidentally “plant” them in your garden. (The thought of those critters returning next spring to feast on your tulips is enough to make any gardener’s blood run cold).
It’s distressing to have your flower bulbs from taken away and turned into food for a noxious critter. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to protect your bulbs from becoming a midnight snack.
Table of Contents
Don’t Tempt Them
The first step on how to prevent rodents from eating your flower bulbs is to make your garden less attractive to rodents in the first place. “If you have a lot of debris or weeds in your garden, that’s inviting them in,” says Haan. “You want to make it as unappealing to them as possible.” To do this, clean up your garden in the fall, removing any dead leaves, weeds, or other debris. This will help discourage rodents from taking up residence—and snacking on your bulbs.
Moreover, some plants are poisonous to rodents. You can look for squirrel-resistant bulbs like alliums, daffodils, and anemones. Or choose chipmunk-resistant plants like lupines, French marigolds, and sage.
Hide the Evidence
If you wonder how to prevent bulbs from being eaten, there is a way to keep rodents from finding your bulbs. Just plant them beneath a layer of mulch. Mulch conceals the scent of the bulbs, so animals can’t sniff them out as easily. It is recommended to use at least 3 inches of wood chips, shredded bark, or another type of organic mulch. (Just be sure not to use stones or gravel, as these can injure the bulbs).
Protect the Plants
You can also try covering your planting area with chicken wire. This will keep rodents from getting to the bulbs, but it’s essential to remove the wire in the spring before the bulbs start to sprout.
Strawberry baskets or yogurt cups also come up when you are looking for how to protect bulbs from squirrels. Simply place the basket or cup over the hole, and then fill in around it with dirt. (Be sure to punch a few holes in the bottom of the cup so water can reach the bulb.)
A final way to protect bulbs from squirrels is to plant them in a wire cage. You can make your own cage out of chicken wire or buy one at a garden center. Just be sure the cage is at least 12 inches tall, so rodents can’t reach over the top and get to the bulbs.
Plant Them Deep
Do chipmunks eat flower bulbs? Yes! And another way to protect your bulbs is to plant them deeper than usual. For most bulbs, a depth of 8-10 inches is sufficient. This extra layer of soil will make it more difficult for animals to dig them up. However, this option is not the best one for some plants. Make sure that the flower bulbs of your choice can be planted deeper to not be disappointed in spring when you won’t see any flowers.
Try a Natural Repellent
There are a few natural repellents that can help keep rodents away from your bulbs. One is a blood meal made from dried blood and available at most garden centers. You can sprinkle it around the perimeter of your garden or mix it into the soil before planting. Another option is to make your own repellent by mixing 1 part cayenne pepper with ten parts water. Spray this mixture around your garden, being careful not to get it on the plants themselves. (If you do, rinse it off with water). You can also try using a commercial repellent, such as Bobbex Animal Repellent. This non-toxic spray uses a blend of natural ingredients, including mint and cloves, to keep animals away.
The best way to protect your bulbs from animals is to take preventive measures. By making your garden less inviting and taking steps to conceal the bulbs, you can reduce the chances of having them dug up and eaten. And if you do find that your bulbs have been nibbled on, don’t despair—you can always try again next year.