By Melanie Mathieson
The Gardening Guru
This is the time of year when many gardeners are out planting spring flowering bulbs.
Let’s face it, planting bulbs is a time-consuming job that involves a fair degree of effort 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!
If you have a lot of squirrels in your neighbourhood, you may want to consider avoiding planting both tulip and crocus bulbs. These are the absolute favourite fall food of squirrels and raccoons, but also are regularly grazed by deer and rabbits in the spring.
Narcissus (the daffodil family of bulbs) and hyacinths rarely are bothered by animals because the bulbs and foliage contain toxins and probably taste horrible, as well. Other species of bulbs seldom bothered include Scilla, Chionodoxa (Glory-of-the-Snow), Puschkinia (Striped Squill), Anemones, Snowdrops (Galanthus), Allium (Flowering Onion), and Muscari (Grape Hyacinth).
All these small bulbs also are excellent value, relatively inexpensive to begin with, and the plantings actually increase from year to year. As well, they are readily available where you buy other bulbs in the district.
However, if you decide 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 layer 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 one-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. Leave these in place until the ground freezes hard in late fall. Remove for the winter otherwise the bulbs might be trying to push up through the boards in early spring.
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 (also note that the smell of bone meal will attract raccoons so be aware).
Consider feeding the resident squirrel population during the fall as a distraction. Peanuts are a particular favourite. This method is reported to actually work, but you also will have peanuts growing in your garden in the spring!
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. Just remember 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.
A great place to get the cayenne pepper powder or flakes is either at the bulk food store or the dollar store. 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.
Here are a few other squirrel-deterrent tips to keep them from creating havoc in your yard:
Squirrels often reach roofs and attics by running along cables and power lines or leaping from overhanging branches. They may be deterred by keeping all branches at least eight feet from buildings.
It also may help to attach a wide collar of metal six feet from the base of nearby trees (just be sure to loosen the collar occasionally or otherwise attach it so it does not interfere with the tree’s growth).
“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 hardware cloth 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 the squirrels cannot bypass the baffle by leaping directly to the feeder.
Taste repellents, such as “Ropel” or “Hinder,” can be applied to seeds, bulbs, flowers, trees and shrubs, poles and fences, siding, and outdoor furniture, though it is necessary to reapply repellents after rain.