Learning how to stop squirrels digging up bulbs can feel like a thankless and never ending task. Many gardeners can even get put off from planting bulbs at all, as they're so used to never seeing the fruits of their labor.
In actual fact, squirrels are most likely to be digging because they think freshly dug earth means a stash of nuts has been buried.
You might think that knowing how to get rid of squirrels is your only option if you want to protect your bulbs, but luckily there are lots of tried-and-tested methods to stop them from digging up your prized bulbs instead. From covering bulbs with chicken wire or netting to using natural repellents like mint, coffee grounds and crushed eggshells, there are some simple solutions you can try in your plot.
With a little bit of strategic planning, you can even use companion planting to make the squirrels vanish before they've even had a chance to dig up your prized bulbs.
Expert tips on how to stop squirrels digging up bulbs
If you've gone to the effort of learning about planting bulbs for spring, you'll want to use some of these simple methods to stop squirrels digging them up and ruining your stunning floral displays come spring.
1. Delay your bulb planting times
Most gardeners will start planting their bulbs in fall, when the cooler weather is beginning but before the ground is too cold and hard.
Unfortunately, fall is also the prime time of year when squirrels really get digging, as they're gathering for winter hibernation and might be feeding too. They only begin to quieten down by late October.
Luckily, it's possible to delay the planting time of some bulbs. If you're planting allium bulbs or other hardier summer varieties like crocosmia, these can be planted slightly later in October, and if you're planting tulip bulbs, you can wait as late as November to get them in the ground.
2. Plant strategically by choosing bulbs that squirrels don't like
While you'd be forgiven for thinking squirrels eat every type of bulb, there are actually a few favorites they tend to go for: tulip bulbs are the most common, along with crocus bulbs.
In comparison, some types of plants can be repellent to squirrels, which means they should be your new faves when planning your planting.
- Daffodils have a strong smell that squirrels don't tend to like – and as hardy reliable bloomers, all types of daffodils can easily fill an area of your yard.
- Alliums as a genus are not squirrel friendly thanks to their scent. Planting onions, leeks, scallions and garlic will all help repel squirrels, so if you learn how to plant allium bulbs around more tempting flowers and bulbs, it should reduce a squirrel's attempt to forage.
- Snowdrops are an unexpectedly repellent plant. Because they're mildly toxic (particularly the bulbs), squirrels and other pests tend to stay away.
- Hyacinths (H. orientalis) have a similar toxicity that stops squirrels from being interested.
As well as disliked bulbs, use companion planting to discourage squirrels from digging up your bulbs. Inter-plant your tulips and crocuses with marigolds, mint and nasturtiums to keep them at bay.
3. Plant your bulbs at the proper depth
Most squirrels won't dig further than a few inches beneath the soil, so if your bulbs are planted at 6-8in (15-20cm) deep, it's more likely the squirrels won't reach them.
Using a long handled bulb planter (like this one from Amazon (opens in new tab)) makes the job of planting bulbs to this depth that much easier.
4. Make a barrier to cover the bulb planting area
Making the soil more difficult for squirrels to dig into is a favored tactic, and there are plenty of different options, whether you're planting bulbs straight in the ground or in pots as part of your spring container ideas.
Many people vouch for using chicken wire or hardware cloth (a similar metal mesh but with a smaller grid pattern) to cover the planting area or the top of the pot or garden planter.
Simply lay the chicken wire onto the soil's surface, cover with a thin layer of mulch and stake it down with bricks to keep in place. Your bulb stems will grow through the holes, but the bulbs themselves won't be dug up. You can even add strips of foil into your mulch, as squirrels and rodents hate the feeling of foil in their teeth.
Another more intensive method is to use a bulb planting basket (available from Amazon) (opens in new tab), the top of which is covered with chicken wire. You'll need to dig a hole deep and wide enough to accomodate the basket for this though.
When choosing a barrier type, just make sure the bulbs will still be able to grow through any material you lay down.
5. Use natural deterrents to make digging unpleasant for squirrels
There are plenty of natural squirrel repellents, although some seem to work more universally than others when you're trying to stop them digging up bulbs.
Using sharp materials like crushed oyster shells, crushed stones or gravel can do wonders to stop squirrels from digging up bulbs. You can either scatter this onto the surface of the soil, or actively place it in the hole where your bulbs are planted too.
- Squirrels turn their noses up at the distinct aroma of coffee grounds, making it an obvious choice to scatter on the surface of the soil where you have planted your bulbs.
- The tangy smell of white pepper powder, garlic powder, cayenne powder and black pepper are all naturally unpleasant to a squirrel. The RSPB (opens in new tab) recognize that most squirrels cannot put up with the burning sensation, and will leave powder-scattered soil alone. However, the potential issue here is that squirrels may rub their eyes after digging through these, which might not be too pleasant for them.
- Similarly, sweet smells like peppermint essential oil will deter squirrels. You can grow mint to elicit this smell, or even soak cotton balls in peppermint oil and place them near to the bulbs planted in your yard.
- As well as being used for fertilizing plants, blood meal is sometimes suggested as a squirrel deterrent because of its high ammonia content – although some gardeners say it seems to do the opposite and attract them. Blood meal also has to stay dry to act as a deterrent.
Why do squirrels dig for bulbs in potted plants?
If your container gardening ideas are getting trashed each year, you may have noticed that it's squirrels that are to blame. But why?
Well, squirrels like to stash their food in preparation for the winter, and hiding it in the ground keeps it safe from birds. Planters full of soft compost are tempting storage solutions as they are so easy to dig in.
They also love the space that bulbs create in the soil. Once the bulb is out, it's the perfect size for storing all their scavenged nuts.
Try placing large pebbles around the top of the soil to deter them from digging – it looks attractive too.
Freelance writer and author Flora Baker is a keen amateur gardener and houseplant enthusiast. Her small garden in South London is a constant work in progress as she gets to grips with snail prevention, DIY trellises and what to plant in shady spots overrun with ivy.
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