How to keep squirrels from digging up the bulbs?

prairiemoon2 z6 MASeptember 22, 2008

I saw an episode of 'Cultivating Life' in which they suggested planting bulbs with crushed oyster shells to keep the squirrels from digging. I remember someone else suggesting hot pepper in and around the bulbs. Has anyone tried either of these ideas, or have another one?



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Hot pepper works til it rains. They have dug up my fall crocus and my other newly planted fall bulbs. I wonder how many will grow? My husband has some hot sauce he bought at the renaisance festival called satans blood and you have to sign something just to buy this stuff and I have wondered about putting some on a bulb just for them. You are supposed to use just a drop in a whole pot of chili and it will be still tooo hot for me.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2008 at 7:59PM
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I put chicken wire over the area where I've planted bulbs and mulch over that. This keeps the squirrels from digging. Don't do the hot pepper. They get it on their paws, they rub their eyes. Not good. So don't do that.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2008 at 9:13PM
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plant more deeply. Squirrels only dig down a few inches.

Feed them. That helps. I haven't had them eat any but have had them dig up a few. I just put them back where I want them.

Blood meal helps until a good rain and it's nitrogen and it's usually cheap. They don't like the smell!

    Bookmark   September 23, 2008 at 1:51PM
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kentstar(5b, NE Ohio)

Just remember that if you use bloodmeal I have heard that racoons and other rodents might like the smell of the bloodmeal.
Like Cynthianovak suggested, use the feeding method. I have a birdfeeder that the squirrels eat from, and they have not bothered my bulbs yet.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2008 at 6:22PM
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I usually put chicken wire and mulch over the first year. They don't seem to bother anything the next year.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2008 at 8:42PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Thanks for the suggestions. I think the wire over the newly planted bulbs is a good idea. I have a few old window screens that would do the trick and I do believe after the first year they should be fine. The squirrels around here seem to want to investigate any 'disturbed soil' and are in my pots, making a mess and last year ran off with newly planted iris tubers. Grrr! We already have bird feeders, that are squirrel proof, supposedly, but they do manage to get some from the ground around the feeders and have learned to hang upside down on the feeder and shake it to get a few more to fall out. [g] I really think they dig to find out if some other squirrel has buried a nut or something.

I will try the window screen idea. No, the bloodmeal, doesn't sound like a solution for me and I can't find crushed oyster shells anyway, so ...

Thank you all... :-)

    Bookmark   September 23, 2008 at 9:13PM
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+1 for the chicken wire! Just remember to take it up in the Spring when the shoots get to a few inches to keep the leaves from getting tangled in the wire. I guess if you use window screen you need to do it much sooner in the Spring.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2008 at 7:45PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Oh, right, I didn't think of that. I wonder, do I have to keep the screen down all winter? Maybe I could take it up in February?

    Bookmark   September 26, 2008 at 7:53AM
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I second the chicken wire. However, if you use the 1" wide stuff, there shouldn't be a need to pull it up in the spring; the stems will grow right through.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2008 at 10:58AM
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Maybe it is just in our yard but when I have tried feeding the squirrels during the growing season they descend upon the yard in droves. Once the feeder is emptied of peanuts they come into the yard and begin to dig. So feeding actually made the original digging problem worse. Perhaps our squirrels are special:) We've now taken to feeding the squirrels only after the ground has frozen. Otherwise they have to forage what they can from the squirrel 'proof' feeders.


    Bookmark   October 7, 2008 at 10:33AM
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Agreed. Feeding squirrels only brings more of them, more often, and when the food is gone they'll start looking harder for food...which means more and deeper digging.

If you like having squirrels around, then by all means feed them. If not, then don't.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2008 at 1:09PM
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newbie_in_nj(6b E/Central NJ)

I found a feed supply store nearby and they had the coarser type of crushed oyster shells since they feed it to chickens to add calcium for stronger egg shells. I put that down but mixed in some mole/vole repellant, sprayed bulbs with RepelsAll and still put at least the tulip bulbs in bulb cages.

Today was my first bulb planting session and luckily checked last year's bulb cages for shape of tulips. Thank goodness I did because they were all disintegrated. I just dug the whole cage up, improved drainage underneath as much as I could and put new bulbs into cages.

The little squirrelies around here are like busy little beavers running to and fro with nuts and pieces of what looks like small green apples or pears. They're hysterical and I get a kick out of them but only because they can't get to the bird feeders except what falls out and they haven't dug up any of my bulbs or plants.

When I was cleaning out one garden I found a little green apple one of them must have buried in the debris falling from trees.

Well, 14 bulbs down and only about 130 left to go. I can never figure out how I ended up with so many once they arrive. Not much compared to you guys who plant hundreds or thousands to naturalize but this is more than enough for me...LOL.

I should have my head examined with all the potting up/ transplanting of perennials (that survived critters) I have to do soon but seeing those flowers in spring sure makes it all worth it.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2008 at 7:45PM
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I bought a live trap at the hardware store designed for rabbits or squirrels. I sat it out in my garden and baited it. When I caught a squirrel, I took it on the back porch, dispatched it, skinned, gutted, cut into pieces. Inside for a good wash and soak, coat in flour, salt, cook in hot oil until done. Yummy!

I took out about a dozen squirrels that way before they quit coming around. It handled the situation for the year, but then I moved to a neighborhood that doesn't have squirrels (very new area, no established trees). So I'll have to go out hunting if I want squirrel dinner, rather than letting the little fellows come to me.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2008 at 9:40AM
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linnea56(z5 IL)

Gamebird, IÂm curious, why would they stop coming around? How would they know there was danger in your yard and avoid it? Are they smart enough to figure it out and learn if they see another squirrel caught in a trap? (Obviously they are smart enough to watch you one day and come and dig up your bulbs later, even if you have concealed the planting area, so maybe they are.)

IÂll stop short of trapping them (mostly because I donÂt want to eat them or have to transport them), but IÂm interested in what can or might work in their devilish little minds. They devastate my peach tree every year: that makes me madder than the bulbs.

I was thinking of a ring of mouse traps around the bulbs, squirrels are big enough that they probably wouldnÂt get hurt but the snapping would scare them. But if one really did get caught I would have to go and release it (how?!). I hate them but donÂt really want to kill them.

I have tried every kind of hot pepper dip and spray, none worked. I still use the spray for the flowers when they come up. But the bulbs themselves must be such a concentrated food source that they canÂt resist. For the last few years I just have not planted any tulips or crocus. I pick up the packages in the store, I look, I lust, I put them back.

I bought ½ inch mesh hardware cloth this year to try. ItÂs plastic coated so hopefully will not rust in a hurry. IÂm not sure how you folks that do are constructing these cages. (Making sides, bottom and top with this. Each one will take a lot of cutting and forming.) IÂm planting a new bed in my front yard where unfortunately billions of small landscaping stones have gotten intermingled with the soil. Digging any kind of hole in this is a lot of work: nothing gets planted very deeply as a result. I was planning to just put the mesh on top with landscape staples holding it down.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2008 at 12:12PM
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As one of the previous posters pointed out, squirrels only dig down a few inches, so if you plant your bulbs deep, there should be no need for anything else. For smaller bulbs such as crocus, muscari or any other minor bulb that is planted shallow, then ok, but I can¡¦t for the life of me understand how a daf or tulip planted 6-8¡¨ is getting dug up by a squirrel¡Kunless the types of squirrels you all have are different, or bigger, then the type I have º I¡¨ve never see a hole larger than a few inches made by a squirrel.

I look at is this way¡Kif the squirrel can dig down 6 inches, and be that persistent, well, he deserves what he finds !!

Just plant them deep, there should be no problem.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2008 at 1:01PM
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linnea56(z5 IL)

They dug down 6 inches for my tulips. Which I had also dipped in hot pepper repellant and planted alliums too in the same hole.

I donÂt think they "deserve" any of what IÂve bought and worked so hard to plant. Not even one toothful. The !@*&^* freeloaders get enough from my yard as it is. They dig so well they should be helping me plant. They can have a share if they do some of the work.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2008 at 3:39PM
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I've been told that squirrels are territorial and once they work out a territory in the spring, they pretty much stick to their own "area" until the next spring, when they (especially the young ones) go wandering around to find an area of their own, or a better area.

I might be seeing a seasonal thing too. In spring I had a lot more disturbed earth for them to dig in and maybe they were hungrier/more desperate. But after I took out quite a few, I didn't get any more for a long while. I took the trap in around June, I think. I put it back out in August when what squash hadn't been destroyed by vine borers was getting gnawed. I didn't catch anything. I think it might have been a rabbit. The squirrels were all over my sunflowers, but they were planted a little away from the garden proper and where I was keeping the trap.

Once I figured out it was a tremendous pain in the rear to hull the sunflower seeds, I didn't care if the squirrels got them or not.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2008 at 4:23PM
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I"ve never seen them dig down that low. Maybe mine are just lazy !

1 Like    Bookmark   October 10, 2008 at 4:25PM
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gardenpoppy(5 SE Michigan)

I sprinkle hot pepper flakes in the hole, and then again on top of the soil after planting. I dont have any problem at all. Also, if all else fails, throw a mothball in the hole when planting. They dont like them, and neither do voles or moles.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2008 at 9:23AM
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Cats work for me. We have one cat that we adopted(indoor/outdoor) and four more that adopted us (outdoor only). Two of the outdoor cats are so quick that they can catch a squirrel. With that many cats roaming the yard, the only places I see squirrels in my yard is way up in the trees. They wait till they are in another yard before hopping down to ground level :).

This does not, however, deter armadillos. They dug my pink twinkletoes up nightly for a month. Didn't eat them, just unearthed them. I replanted them daily until they sprouted, then tried black pepper and plastic pots with the bottoms cut out as barriers...those poor bulbs never did bloom.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2008 at 12:07PM
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I just planted about 500 various bulbs, large and small. I used 1" chicken wire and covered them all. Checked them this morning, and although the squirrels dug thru the topsoil to the wire, they could not get thru the wire. No damage whatsoever.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2008 at 6:16PM
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I heard an "expert" recently on the radio who said he does not use hot peppers or hot pepper spray because animals can seriously harm themselves scratching at their burning eyes and nose. This may not bother everyone, but it put me off the idea.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2008 at 3:22PM
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I am a newbie. In Oct. I planted some alliums and crocus. It was about 60 total. Thanks for the info. on the squirrels. I had no idea this could happen!

    Bookmark   November 6, 2008 at 8:02PM
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An update.

Just got finished planting the last of my 1500 or so bulbs for this year. In ground and in raised beds/pots. Used the chicken wire over all of them. Absolutely no damage whatsoever. Holes in the lawn, around the chicken wire, but not thru it. I even watched a few squirrels as they attempted to break thru. As soon as their paws hit the wire, they jumped off it. It must irritate their feet as well.

Fool proof.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2008 at 12:57AM
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linnea56(z5 IL)

mchad21, tell me a little more since I am trying this for the first time. How did you fasten the chicken wire down? And I take it you covered it with dirt? How far down? Or, how much dirt was over the wire? I was thinking about pinning it down or folding over the edges to hook it in, then putting landscape bark over it.

I bought a finer mesh wire since I know from experience how determined my local squirrels are (IÂm the only gardener in my neighborhood and they have my house staked out). I was considering paw size when picking this! If it was regular hex mesh chicken wire I could see them reaching in between the wires and scooping out dirt. So far I will be using this for crocus, whose leaves should have no problem getting through the wire. I want to buy some more species tulips but want to see how much work this is before committing to do large areas.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2008 at 12:05PM
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I used plain old metal landscaping spikes to hold it down. I placed the mesh right on top, didn't bury it. I guess you could, but it doesn't make much difference and would be tougher to pull up later if you wanted to. Since I grow tulips and hyacinth as annuals in my zone, I need to pull the mesh up to plant annuals in the spring. Folding over the edges doesn't work too well..what I did was acually fold the edges up, so it acts as a sort of spike. The squirrel will step on that only once, then won't come back. No need for bark either, they are still going to dig. I leave the bark off so the ground will stay cool, until after the first frost, then the bark goes on until spring. The 1 inch mesh is fine...they might be abble to get a paw in, but if the plant the bulbs at least 2 inches down, the mesh holes are not big enough to let them dig down that deep. I've planted tons of minor bulbs and not one has been dug up using this method.

good luck.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2008 at 3:54PM
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Don't know if it will work, but my 'expert' told me to start peeing into a bottle, then pour the urine over where I have planted. Suppose to keep almost all critters away, but I do not profess to know if it will actually work.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2008 at 4:16PM
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Fox Urine and other scents can be found at most hunting/sporting stores. mark the border of the garden with the scent of a natural predator, and squirrels (as well as other pests) should avoid the area. I've been told that human urine can provide the same results, but never tried it.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2011 at 1:48PM
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Havaheart makes traps that will catch squirrels. You can then relocate them. Pellet guns work remarkably well too :)

    Bookmark   July 20, 2011 at 12:37PM
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pippi21(Z7 Silver Spring, Md.)

Soak or spray with Ropel was the suggestion I had from a gardening coach that I had a consultation with. I think there is a Ropel for Squirells and deer. Do all of the pepper, oyster shells, chicken wire. Is a sling shot a legal weapon? Remember those when you were a kid? Most boys made their own instead of buying them. I think I saw an article in GardenGate magazine about this very subject matter, even showed how to make a bulb cage for planting the bulbs in using the chicken wire. I'll see if I can find which issue it was in and post it.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 8:31PM
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I have also heard that moth balls work so we were planning on using them & maybe keeping a bag of mulch on top of the area planted until the ground freezes. So has anyone actually done the moth ball thing?

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 9:21PM
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Home centers like Lowe's, Menards, etc. now have pre-planted bulbs in early spring. They are just beginning to grow and have
unopened bulbs.

I planted a bunch a couple years ago; the squirrels didn't bother them b/c there was no disturbed dirt to alert them, so they bloom, come back every year.

If you have rabbits, well, that's a whole nother story :)

    Bookmark   October 5, 2013 at 8:48AM
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I just planted over 250 bulbs, and I think the squirrels have dug up the majority of them. I am just sick. I am new to this gardening thing. Absolutely hooked. One question though..... What is a "bulb cage"??

    Bookmark   October 8, 2013 at 6:20PM
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fieldofflowers(3 or 4a)

I'm suffering from squirrels that eat ANYTHING. They are despirate. They get fed by fellow neighbors in the apartment complex. When not fed, then they raid the trash can. When they can't find anything in the trash can, they dig. And they dig deep. They eat toxic plants without effect (caladium bulbs, elephant ears, begonias, daffodils and the list goes on...)

Needless to say my attempt at planting Daffodils (fancy varieties too.) failed. Siberian Squall, dwarf iris, deer resistant tulips, also all dug up and eaten or shredded. Granted they seemed to leave more of the dwarf iris bulbs intact than any of the other stuff.

I'm looking for help and desperate, but stuck with a few restrictions:

1. The flower bed is shallow. It goes less than a foot deep before I hit hard vinyl sheets. These cover the entire bed, are too heavy for me to remove alone, minus a hole in the center. The hole is blocked by a dead tree stump. I can't remove it without special equipment. This doesn't give me a chance to make cages or dig the bulbs deep enough for me to plant them securely.

2. The guy in charge of the garden committee hates the chicken wire or anything to ruin the aesthetics. If he sees it, he removes it and tells me not to put it there again.

3. Not allowed to kill the squirrels or harm them in any way. Guy mentioned above (and many other neighbors) view these squirrels as their pets and would be very offended if they got treated any other way.

So I'm looking for help coexisting with these cute but obnoxious tree rats.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 3:37PM
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jerseygirl07603 z6NJ

If the bulb bed is small in size, I've had success with laying down old boards or plywood or vinyl siding over the bed, anchoring down with rocks. I don't care what it looks like but my DH complains it's unsightly. So I cover the boards with mulch. Once the ground freezes the boards can be removed. Then wait for next challenge in spring when squirrels come back to chomp off the flower buds. :-(

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 3:49PM
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linnea56(z5 IL)

I use the green coated hardware cloth, cut into squares, and fastened down with landscape staples. I toss a handful of mulch over the top. I take it up in early spring. I like the coated stuff rather than chicken wire, because it doesn't rust, and it is easy to use over and over again. You don't need to make cages: way too much trouble. With the larger mesh of chicken wire, I think they could still get their greedy little paws in the holes. I plant a lot of very small bulbs that could get dug up that way.

I have tried every bulb dip known. If they dig it up to taste it, it's still a problem.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 9:28PM
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fieldofflowers(3 or 4a)

The bulb bed is a bit too large, but it could be doable if we had some lumber laying around.

I'm going to put up some plain daffodil decoys and plant them at night when the rodents are hopefully asleep. The fancy ones will have to wait. Right now the bulbs are soaking in a fungicide solution w/ a few habanero seeds/ slices. After getting about 43 bulbs of spicy, bitter, poisonous bulbs they shall learn to leave any future bulbs alone. (I can hope anyway.)

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 10:32PM
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Have you tried Liquid Fence? I use that on my lettuce and tomatoes and it works extremely well for deer and rabbits, not sure about squirrels. It is basically rotten eggs and garlic, but it works much better than when I have tried to make it myself. I buy the concentrated kind and spray around the perimeter of the plants.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2013 at 9:04AM
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fieldofflowers(3 or 4a)

Tried it, both liquid and the granule stuff. The squirrels/ rabbits were like, "Thank you for the seasoning" and went ahead and ate the stuff anyway. Or they waited for the next rainstorm or after I watered. Whatever the case it didn't work, even after a day of use. I also used cinnamon, both powdered and oil form. That helped with some success. At least until either it rained or the stuff wore off. But being too expensive to apply on a regular basis, didn't help. (But I'll add specifically for this topic, the powdered form of cinnamon did not do anything for bulb planting.)

But so far the trick I did mixing like thai hot pepper garlic + Habanero seeds + neem oil and rubbing on/ soaking on approx.. 41 daffodil bulbs seems to be helping. I left one half rotted bulb out with said treatment just to allow them to try one. That one was tried and shredded, but very few others have been dug up since then. But it remains to be seen if it will work in the long run.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2013 at 11:34PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I didn't realize this thread went further along. I just wanted to update, that I've used the hardware cloth (wire) as suggested ever since someone here gave me that idea. Hard to believe it was 5 years ago! I just finished planting more bulbs this week, well I still have one 50 ct bag of crocus to go in the lawn, but I saw the squirrels in the yard today and ran out there to get the wire out and cover them. It works fine for me. I take it up in the spring and store it in the garage for the next time.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2013 at 5:24PM
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fieldofflowers(3 or 4a)

You have google to thank for extending the life of threads here. When I google up a topic and this forum pops up, it is almost always an archive post.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2013 at 5:36PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Interesting fieldofflowers, I didn't realize that, thanks.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 1:00PM
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I have never had a problem with critters when planting gladioli in the Spring, but would putting down some kind of wire be recommended?

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 11:07AM
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