Keeping Rodents and Other Pests Out of the Bulb Garden

Keeping Rodents and Other Pests Out of the Bulb Garden
Many animals are drawn to gardens by nearby weeds or high grasses; therefore, keeping this growth cleared may help ease the problem. Rodents are by far the most persistent pests in the bulb garden. These critters can easily burrow beneath the ground, devouring bulbs without ever having been seen. Of course, many other animal pests can quickly demolish a bulb garden, especially if some of their favorites, such as tulips, are planted there.

Of the numerous species of rodents, the most suspect in damaging bulb gardens include gophers, mice, voles, and squirrels. Gophers generally eat grasses and woody plant materials but have been known to feed on flower bulbs as well. Sometimes confused with moles, gophers deposit cone-shaped mounds at tunnel outlets with openings to the side, while moles leave continuous trails of raised soil with a more circular appearance and a centered hole. Oftentimes plant damage is attributed to moles, when, in reality, mice and voles are to blame. Moles normally do not seek out to harm your bulbs; in fact, they’re not even interested in them. More often than not, moles accidentally disturb bulbs as they forage and dig in search of grubs. Voles and mice, on the other hand, will oftentimes use mole tunnels in order to seek out and munch on tasty bulbs. The best way to discourage this is to safely repel the moles so these varmints won’t be able to use their tunnels. One method I like to use is a whirl-a-gig placed within the bulb garden. Moles do not like the vibrations given off by these objects and will try to avoid the area. Keeping tall grasses and weeds cleared will also help alleviate most problems with mice and voles.

Squirrels are probably the worst pest for bulb gardeners to deal with, along with rabbits, deer, and similar garden grazers. Try giving squirrels an alternative to digging for food, such as your bulbs, by providing something just for them instead, like peanuts or corn, placed in tree feeders along the outer edges of your property. As cute and innocent as they may appear, rabbits can wreak havoc in a garden by eating the leaves and flowers of many low-growing plants, especially bulbs. Try cutting down areas that are overgrown, and if necessary, place small fencing around your beds to keep them out of a garden. I have found that placing combed-out fur from my cat in and around my beds greatly reduces rabbit and squirrel problems. Cats are a rodent’s natural enemy, and the scent left by cat fur discourages them from venturing into the bulb garden.

Deer can cause some of the worst damage to your garden, especially in late winter and early spring; however, this normally occurs when their food supply is low. As a result, deer may browse through flowers and other vegetation, and when hungry enough, will consume almost anything, including flower bulbs. What the deer do not eat, they trample. You can discourage these animals by avoiding or removing some of their favorite plants such as lilies, tulips, and hosta and try planting deer-resistant plants like wax begonias, irises, and daffodils instead. There are also different types of deer fencing that can be used to deter these animals. Woodchucks, or groundhogs, will feed on the leaves, flowers, and young shoots of both herbaceous and bulbous plants. Although these animals rarely venture far from their burrows, scarecrows or moving objects placed sparingly in or around your garden will help keep them at bay, as they are quite timid and easily frightened.

The best way to discourage future problems by any of these animals is to simply plant bulbs that they don’t like. In fact, you might want to consider planting unfavorable bulbs, such as daffodils, around the perimeter of your home to keep them away. Bulbs that are rarely eaten or troubled by animals include hyacinths, narcissus, crocuses, eranthis, crown imperials, snowdrops, bluebells, snowflakes, grape hyacinths, and scillas. It also helps to clean up loose bulb tunics and other planting debris once you’ve finished planting. Their scent, as well as freshly dug soil, is like a guide map to the location of your new bulbs. If animals dig your newly planted bulbs, try covering them with plastic bird netting, wire mesh, window screening, or burlap bags until the smell of freshly dug earth has faded. If animals burrow their way to your bulbs, try lining the planting hole with wire mesh or plant your bulbs in buried pots covered with chicken wire. If all else fails, you may need to consider spraying emerging flower bulbs with a bitter, nontoxic repellent available at many garden centers. Although I personally do not use them, repellent sprays are safe, odorless alternatives that will make all parts of the plant distasteful to lurking animal pests.

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