Protect Bulbs From Pesky Critters

By Trisha Gedon, Oklahoma State University

First posted on 11-06-2014

As the weather begins to cool down, homeowners may notice the squirrels and other rodents in their yards are gathering food before winter sets in. Unfortunately, some of these yard dwellers may think a gardener’s freshly planted bulbs will be a tasty treat for winter.

Kim Toscano, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension assistant specialist and host of “Oklahoma Gardening,” said although gardeners are not intentionally providing food for the squirrels and rodents, these creatures cannot help but sink their teeth into the juicy bulbs.

“Unfortunately, this is the ultimate fate of many flower bulbs,” Toscano said. “There are a few things gardeners can do so their hard work doesn’t go to waste and help ensure abundant spring blooms.”

When it comes to gardening tools, most people are familiar with a rake or a trowel. However, hardware cloth with half-inch openings is a tool that may not come to mind.

“This simple, inexpensive tool can certainly help protect bulbs over the winter. Simply dig out a small planting bed rather than single holes for each bulb,” she said. “Plant your bulbs at a depth of about three times the height of the bulb. Be sure to include your mulch layer when determining the depth of the planting.”

Dig a bed a few inches wider on all sides than the intended bulb planting and set the bulbs. Remember to place them with the growing tip pointing up. Once all the bulbs are set, begin filling the bed with soil until the bulbs are covered, but do not completely fill the planting bed.

Stop adding soil an inch or two below grade. Place the landscape cloth over the planting area, securing the edges in the soil with stakes, then finish filling the planting area with soil and mulch. The cloth will prevent animals from digging up the bulbs, but the openings are wide enough to allow the foliage and flower stalks of the bulbs to move freely through.

“If your bulb problems are caused by burrowing rodents such as moles or voles, you may need to try something different,” Toscano said. “Make small boxes or baskets out of chicken wire and place the bulbs inside, then plant the entire cage in the ground. This method also is useful if you’re trying to squeeze bulbs in among perennials and don’t have room to dig a larger planting bed.”

Keep in mind squirrels do not find all bulbs to be tasty treats. In fact, there are some varieties they avoid altogether. Consider planting a less favored bulb such as daffodils, muscari, hyacinth, scilla or fritillaria.