Bulbs, like any other plants, are susceptible to pests. Of all the pests that disrupt the growth of your bulb garden, the most frustrating ones are the squirrels and chipmunks. Squirrels and chipmunks are bulb eating animals. It is infuriating that when you go to sleep after a day of toiling, digging and placing your bulbs in your garden, these little critters descend at night and whisk away your bulbs like little furry thieves.
But before you start putting out traps on for the squirrels and chipmunks, understand why they act as they do and what your bulb garden represents from their point of view. Squirrels and chipmunks spend their time over the warm weather months storing food they require for the winter season. While most childhood cartoons will have you remembering squirrels storing food in a hollow tree, they actually store their food by burying them in holes around their territory. And just like humans, squirrels will also at times forget where they bury their stores of food. They rely on their sense of smell to help the re-locate food that they have stored away. Chipmunks on the other hand, do not store food, but will forage for them in one location (like a food storage forgotten by the squirrel).
Your bulb garden probably looks like utopia to them, an all-you-can-eat buffet or a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. You get the drift. And while you think that that is no reason for them to empty out your yard, there are some ways you can deter them from thieving from your garden without the need to terminate their little lives.
Adding blood meal (which also acts as fertilizers) to your bulb hole before planting them is one way. The smell of blood puts off these creatures and deters them from digging up the bulbs. However, blood meal will attract larger animals like dogs, cats and raccoons who are attracted to the smell of blood.
You can also use cayenne pepper in the same manner in place of the blood meal (or in addition to the blood meal as added protection) as these critters hate them. But this is a short term solution because the pepper loses its strength and is washed away over a pretty short period of time. They require reapplication.
Another effective method (which also deters larger animals like dogs and cats, is to cage your bulbs. Caging can be done below ground or above ground. You can use strawberry baskets or make baskets out of chicken wire if you are caging below ground. Start by digging a hole for your bulb, placing the cage into the hole then placing your bulb in the cage and filling in the soil. Make sure that the mesh on the cage is not too small for the roots and foliage to grow through and ensure that it will not get stuck in the cage. Also consider planting several bulbs (about a dozen) in one big cage instead of one cage per bulb.
Caging above ground is suitable for larger bulbs. Lay down a piece of chicken wire over the newly planted bulbs and tack the edges down. Pull up the cage in spring to allow the leaves of the bulbs to grow from beneath it.
Planting daffodil or crown imperial bulbs among other types of bulbs is another great way to deter squirrels and chipmunks from foraging in your garden. The taste of daffodils is offensive to them. You are basically camouflaging the smell of the desirable bulbs by planting daffodil bulbs among them.
There are also products available in the market that is being sold as squirrel and chipmunk repellents. Some of these repellents are made from capsaicin, which is the chemical in hot peppers, vegetable products and even predator urine that frightens the pests away. These repellents need to be reapplied almost weekly to be stay effective against these pests as they can wash away fairly quickly.
Introducing a predator
Last but not least, introducing a cat of course is the old fashion way of deterring squirrels and chipmunks. Provided your cat isn’t too lazy, and that you can withstand the idea of your feline friend presenting you with offerings of little carcasses in the mornings after a good hunt.
What ever method it is that you use, remember that these creatures are just doing what comes naturally to them to survive, to look for food. They are not maliciously vicious and aren’t really set out to destroy your bulb garden just for the heck of it. Sometimes, the “if you can’t fight them, join them” philosophy works. Put out a food station for these creatures. When they know they have a good supply of food to take from without having to dig hard at your bulbs, they will more than likely leave your bulb garden alone.