This is the time of year when many gardeners are planting spring-flowering bulbs and nothing is more frustrating than watching your local squirrel population digging around, undoing your hard work and running off with their cheeks stuffed full of tulip bulbs!
Tulip and crocus bulbs are the absolute favourite fall food of squirrels and racoons but are also regularly grazed by deer and rabbits in the spring. Narcissus the daffodil family of bulbs and hyacinths are rarely bothered by animals because the bulbs and foliage contain toxins and probably taste horrible as well. Other species of bulbs seldom bothered are Scilla, Chionodoxa (Glory-of-the-Snow), Puschkinia (Striped Squill), Anemones, Snowdrops (Galanthus), Allium (Flowering Onion) and Muscari (Grape Hyacinth). All these small bulbs are also excellent value, relatively inexpensive to begin with and the plantings actually increase from year to year. They are also readily available where you buy other bulbs in the District.
However, if you decide that you still want to plant tulips or crocuses here are few tips to deter their feeding:
Squirrels tend to dig where the ground has been newly disturbed. Cover the area over your bulbs with a two-inch later of fresh cedar bark mulch or other strongly fragrant mulch. This may be enough to mask the smell of your bulbs.
For large areas, cover with 1-inch mesh chicken-wire immediately after planting. Bulbs will grow up right through this with no trouble at all. Hide the wire using a mulch of soil, bark mulch or compost.
For smaller areas lay down old boards, shingles or even whole sections of newspaper over the area. Leave these in place until the ground freezes hard in late fall and then remove for the winter.
Purchase a repellent at the garden center. It might be wise to put a little bit into each planting hole and also apply it to the soil surface. Repellents break down in the rain, so plan to re-apply as necessary.
Blood meal instead of bone meal scattered on the soil surface is recommended but does not work for very long through damp and rainy weather. Note that the smell of bone meal will attract racoons.
Consider feeding the resident squirrel population during the fall as a distraction. Peanuts are a particular favourite.
Hot cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes (that you put on pasta or pizza) will deter squirrels. Sprinkle some in the hole and then on top of the soil. You will have to reapply in damp or rainy weather or after a very heavy or continuous frost right up until the ground is frozen. This is a very economical and effective method as long as you are diligent about reapplying after heavy moisture comes in contact with the pepper. Be careful not to breathe in any dust from the bag while sprinkling because you can burn the inside of your nose.
Here are a few other squirrel deterrent tips to keep them from creating havoc in your yard, fence or cage around or over the affected plants.
As squirrels often reach roofs and attics by running along cables and power lines or leaping from overhanging branches, keep all branches at least 8 feet from buildings.
“Tanglefoot” or other sticky materials can be applied to buildings, railings, downspouts, and other areas to keep squirrels from climbing. To prevent a mess, apply masking tape to the area beforehand.
Use wire mesh or plywood to cover holes squirrels may use to enter walls or attics. But be sure not to lock any squirrels inside in the process.
Most squirrels cannot reach bird feeders mounted on posts protected with baffles. However, the post must be located well away from overhanging branches or other structures so that the squirrels cannot bypass the baffle by leaping directly to the feeder.
Good luck! Try these tips and you may rid yourself of squirrel aggravation.