Bulbs, Bunnies and Bambi

Bulbs, Bunnies and Bambi

Planting bulbs and keeping critters at bay.

If you’ve ever planted bulbs in the fall, only to have a squirrel or other small animal dig them up that very night, this post is for you. If you’ve been joyful to see the tulips budding in the the spring, only to find that a rabbit or deer has eaten them all before they opened, read on. It’s time to plant bulbs, and we have tips for how to prevent animal damage.

Bulbs planted now will bring such joy next spring!

What bulbs can I plant that the deer and rabbits won’t eat?

There are many spring-flowering bulbs that the critters will leave alone. Daffodils, allium, Camassia, and wood hyacinths are just a few. Did you know that on most packages of bulbs they will have a symbol that shows a plant isn’t favored by deer? And the ones that are deer-resistant are usually distasteful to the bunnies as well. See the packages of pictured below.

Camassia is a native bulb that comes in a few varieties. It looks great in perennial gardens, because the foliage goes dormant a couple of weeks after the plant finishes flowering. This is also one of the few bulbs that tolerates wet winter soils.
Camassia also comes in white! These flowers are great for cutting. Note the deer symbol on the bottom of the package.

I planted tulips last year and the rabbits ate them all!

Unfortunately, bunnies and deer love tulips as much as we do…or more. There are two ways to deal with this. First, you can spray the plants with liquid Plantskydd as soon as they come up, and again when they form their flower buds. Plantskydd is blood-based, and the liquid gets the smell into the plants so that it repels critters for weeks. Although you will see and smell it when you first spray it on, both odor and look go away after 24 hours. The key is to spray it right when the tulips poke up, and again when the flower buds appear.

The second way to grow tulips that the critters won’t eat is to plant them in large pots or boxes on your deck or porch. The key to success with bulbs in containers is to be sure to use fresh potting soil and only plant in containers with drainage holes. (You can use this soil for planting summer annuals in those containers next year, once the bulbs are finished and removed.

The key to growing tulips in a container is to use a large pot or box with drainage holes. Fill that container with new, fresh potting mix. If you use old mix where annuals grew in the past summer, the drainage won’t be good and the bulbs are likely to rot. Note that this box is not only on a porch, but is elevated on a wire basket for good display and for being out-of-critter range.
The liquid Plantskydd is the most long-lasting deer and rabbit repellant there is.

Last year something dug up all the bulbs I planted the night after I put them in the ground.

The best way to avoid having the squirrels, voles, or skunks dig your bulbs is to water them in really well right after you’ve planted them. Critters sense disturbed soil, and they are likely to poke around to see what might be down in that loosened earth. Watering the area very well to settle things in is the best way to avoid having your bulbs dug up. Another way to keep squirrels away is to scatter cayenne pepper on top of the soil after you’ve watered the area.

The time I planted tulips, something snapped their tops off and left the flowers on the ground. Infuriating!

Tulip vandals! If the flowers aren’t eaten, this is usually the work of squirrels, who break off the flower so that they can lap at the water that is drawn up the stem. Since plant juices are usually high in sugar, we can imagine that the squirrels are creating their own personal soda-fountain. Shaking cayenne pepper over the opening tulip bulbs can help keep the Tulip Terrorists away.

Wood hyacinths come in pink, blue and white. The critters leave them alone, and they are one of the spring-flowering bulbs that spread and thrive in shady gardens.
There are many varieties of allium bulbs, and these are perfect for planting in between perennials for May and June flowers. Allium also make good cut flowers.
Critters digging up your bulbs? Did something cut off your tulip flowers, or are the bunnies and deer eating them? We have answers.
When fertilizing bulbs, scatter the organic Bulb-tone over the entire area where you’re planting. Do not just put fertilizer in the bottom of the hole. In the future, scatter Bulb-tone around established bulbs in April.

For a report on research about the depth for planting bulbs, see this from Cornell University.

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1 Comment

  1. Robin Fryer on September 30, 2022 at 9:48 am

    Great article! Thanks!

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