One of the prices of living in an old neighborhood full of mature trees is that we have a very, very healthy squirrel population. Squirrels nest almost every year in at least one of the trees in my yard. While their antics can (sometimes) be amusing, more often than not you can find me shaking a fist at them and (maybe) cursing. Not that that helps, other than to make me feel a bit better.
The worst annoyance, as far as I'm concerned, is the fact that my neighborhood squirrels see my annual fall planting of spring bulbs as their own personal smorgasbord. Unless I take a few precautions to ensure that my bulbs stay where I planted them, the dozens of bulbs I plant in October can dwindle to almost nothing by the time spring rolls around.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to keep your spring-blooming bulbs where they belong.
Chicken Wire or Hardware Cloth
One of the most fail-safe ways of protecting your bulbs from ravenous squirrels is to protect them with either chicken wire or hardware cloth. Hardware cloth is a metal mesh, much like chicken wire, except that it is a grid, usually of half-inch squares. There are two general ways to use either chicken wire or hardware cloth to protect your bulbs. The first way is to simply cut a section of it the size of your planting area, and lay it over the top of the soil once you're done with the planting. You'll have to secure it, either with stakes or large rocks, to keep it where you install it. Simply cover it with a mulch of shredded leaves or shredded bark mulch so you won't have to look at the wire. The stems will come up through the holes in the chicken wire or hardware cloth, but the bulbs themselves will be protected from digging squirrels. This admittedly works best in open areas of your garden where you won't have to work around perennials or other plants.
Another way to use chicken wire or hardware cloth is to make simple cages from the wire mesh place the bulbs inside, and plant the whole thing in the garden. This is especially effective if you have tunneling animals, such as moles, in your garden.
There are several natural, organic repellents on the market. Don't just limit yourself to squirrel or rodent repellents; I've had decent luck with organic deer repellents as well.
Another natural repellent that works well against squirrels is red pepper flakes. A liberal sprinkle of red pepper flakes over the area you've planted will do a good job of keeping hungry squirrels from digging there.
If you're planting small areas of bulbs or planting a few bulbs in an established garden bed, you may want to consider adding some sharp gravel to the top and sides of your bulb planting holes. Squirrels won't like trying to dig through the sharp gravel, and will usually give up once they encounter it in your garden. Look in home improvement centers or landscape supply yards. It is often used to provide drainage under patio stones.
Set Up a Squirrel Feeding Station
The theory behind setting up a squirrel feeding station is that if the squirrels have their own little buffet available, they won't bother trying to dig up your bulbs. Ideas for stocking your squirrel feeding station include dried corn cobs and peanuts. The flip side of this advice is that providing food for squirrels may just attract more of them to your yard and that they'll dig up your bulbs anyway. It may be worth a try, but it's not a solution for every gardener.
Keep the Planting Area Clear of Debris
When you are finished planting your bulbs, be sure to pick up any papery bulb husks, bad bulbs, or other debris. Any of that will attract the attention of squirrels, who will start digging to see what other goodies you've left lying around for them.
Plant Bulbs That Squirrels Don't Find Delicious
- Muscari (grape hyacinth)
A bit of prevention, and you won't be cursing the squirrels next year. Instead, you'll get to enjoy all of those bulbs you lovingly planted in the fall!