By Heather Rhoades
Of all the pests that can plague a bulb garden, the most frustrating is by far squirrels and chipmunks. More than a few gardeners have toiled for days over a bed of bulbs, digging holes and lovingly placing them in, only to wake up one morning and find that every single bulb has been whisked away in the night by a furry thief.
Rodent Control in Bulb Gardens
Bulb protection from rodents takes a little know how. As infuriating and wily as squirrels and chipmunks are, one of the first things you can do to help combat them is to understand why squirrels and chipmunks act like this in the first place and how your bulb garden looks from their one foot and under perspective.
Squirrels and chipmunks spend a large amount of the warmer seasons storing food for the colder seasons. The classic image we see is a squirrel storing food in a hollow tree, but the reality of squirrel behavior is that they are just as likely to bury their stores of food in several holes around their territory. On top of that, squirrels will often forget where they buried their stores of food and will have to rely on their sense of smell to help relocate food that they have stored away.
Chipmunks do not rely on several stores, but rather will search around for food to store in one location. What a better way to fill a nest with tasty treats for winter than to find a forgotten squirrel mind field of food.
So, keeping these facts in mind, what do you think your bulb garden looks like to them? If you put yourself at their level, you can quickly see that in their eyes, your bulb garden is actually the squirrel and chipmunk equivalent of a Las Vegas all-you-can eat buffet.
Of course, knowing this does not give them the right to empty out your bulb garden in the name of a tasty winter snack. There are quite a few things you can do, however, to help deter a hungry squirrel or chipmunk.
How to Repel Squirrels and Chipmunks
Below are some methods you can employ as bulb protection from rodents, specifically squirrels and chipmunks in the garden.
One recommended method for keeping squirrels and chipmunks out of gardens is to use blood meal in the bulb hole and over the bulb bed. The thought is that the smell of the blood meal (which is made with real blood) will scare the animals off. Unfortunately, this method can backfire, as squirrels and chipmunks can develop a taste for blood meal.
Another method that is frequently used is the addition of cayenne pepper in the bulb hole and around the bulb bed. This method does work better than the blood meal, but is only a short-term solution. The cayenne pepper will lose strength and will get washed away over a pretty short period of time and will need to be reapplied.
Caging Bulb Plants
Another method is to cage your bulbs. You can either cage your bulbs below the ground or above the ground.
Below ground – To cage your bulbs below the ground, use either strawberry baskets or make small wire baskets out of chicken wire. Dig the hole for the bulb, put your bulbs in the hole and then turn the basket upside down over the bulbs and refill the hole. This method works best when used with smaller bulbs whose foliage and stems will not easily get stuck in-between the “bars” of the cage.
Above ground – For larger bulbs, you can cage your bulbs above ground by simply laying down a piece of chicken wire over your newly planted bulbs and tacking down the edges. In the spring, you will need to remember to pull up the cage so it does not interfere with the leaves of the bulbs growing beneath it.
Interplanting daffodil bulbs among your tastier bulbs is another way to discourage squirrels and chipmunks. Rodents find the taste of daffodils to be quite offensive and will not eat them. If daffodils are planted among your tulips, the squirrels and chipmunks may miss the scent of the tastier bulbs when they smell the daffodil bulbs.
There are also several products on the market which advertise themselves as squirrel and chipmunk repellent. One such product is Get Away Squirrel Repellent, which uses Capsaicin (the chemical in hot peppers that makes them hot) and other less than tasty vegetable products for keeping squirrels and chipmunks out of gardens.
Other repellents may use predator urine to frighten the pests away. The store bought squirrel and chipmunk repellents have the same problems as the blood meal and cayenne pepper in that they will need to be reapplied almost weekly in order to remain effective.
Of course, there is always the old fashioned use of a cat. Sometimes, simply having a cat on the property is enough to keep squirrels and chipmunks at bay but, if not, you can always let nature take its course.