Squirrels love to dig up bulbs as they search for hidden food sources beneath the soil’s surface, but these pesky little rodents will avoid some plants, such as hyacinths. Squirrels might avoid certain plants for various reasons, but knowing why they stay away from some plants and devastate others will help you keep your garden safe from your neighborhood’s rodents.
Squirrels don’t usually eat hyacinth bulbs since they contain chemicals that are poisonous to mammals. They also avoid grape hyacinths, which belong to the muscari family, though these bulbs are not harmful when ingested.
So, let’s dive into the details and discuss why squirrels might or might not avoid your hyacinth bulbs. I’ll discuss the toxicity of true hyacinths and grape hyacinths, explain why squirrels might still dig up hyacinth bulbs, and tell you about some other squirrel-resistant plants.
Why Don’t Squirrels Eat Hyacinth Bulbs?
Squirrels don’t eat hyacinth bulbs because the bulbs contain several poisonous substances. The two most dangerous of these substances are lycorine and oxalic acid.
Oxalic acid is a chemical found in many household cleaners such as Bar Keepers Friend and other cleansers and polishes. It was an early form of bleach that people often used to remove stains from their garments and teeth.
This chemical is highly toxic to mammals, including humans and squirrels. According to the experts at St. Luke’s Hospital, if you consume oxalic acid, you might experience the following symptoms:
- Abdominal or chest pain
- Throat pain and swelling
- Seizures or tremors
- Loss of consciousness
In addition, hyacinth bulbs contain lycorine, an emetic substance that causes digestive problems. So, as a toxicant, hyacinth bulbs are some of the most dangerous.
For that reason, most experts recommend wearing gloves whenever you plant or handle a hyacinth bulb. If you don’t protect your hands, you’ll likely have irritated, dry, itchy skin wherever you touch the bulb.
Still, if the oxalic acid makes it into your mouth, you might suffer from more severe symptoms.
All personal safety aside, though, hyacinth bulbs can do the same thing to squirrels, burning their mouths, causing inflammation in the digestive tract, or killing the little critters. So, squirrels generally avoid this bulb, which is good news for gardeners.
Do Squirrels Eat Grape Hyacinth Bulbs?
Squirrels don’t usually eat grape hyacinth bulbs. Unlike hyacinths, grape hyacinths are from the family muscari. Grape hyacinth bulbs are not toxic to mammals but have a taste that prevents rodents like squirrels from consuming them.
While grape hyacinths are not toxic, they are not very tasty to wildlife. That’s because these plants contain saponins, bitter-tasting compounds containing sugars connected to an aglycone. Since most grape hyacinth bulbs include enough of these compounds to be unappealingly bitter, squirrels don’t like to consume them.
Squirrels and other garden wildlife, such as deer, generally avoid grape hyacinth bulbs, flowers, leaves, and stems due to their fragrance and taste. This means that they are excellent bulbs for a pest-resistant garden.
However, since grape hyacinths are not toxic to mammals, unlike standard hyacinths, they are not always going to be immune to damage from squirrels and other animals.
In rare cases, deer and squirrels will still consume grape hyacinths or dig them up from the soil, especially during fall when you first plant them.
Will Squirrels Dig Up Hyacinth Bulbs?
Squirrels may dig up hyacinth bulbs despite their toxicity. Squirrels generally keep hoards of food in holes in the ground. Freshly planted bulbs may look and smell like a stockpile of food to a squirrel, causing it to dig up the bulb in search of sustenance.
Squirrels are experts at food storage, and they always keep a backup stash of snacks in a covert spot underground or hidden in some cavity.
However, squirrels are also opportunists and will steal from other squirrels if they come across a hoard. For that reason, squirrels often scour the ground, searching for freshly dug holes that smell like food.
Thus, squirrels are particularly prone to digging up sweet-smelling, non-toxic bulbs such as tulips, crocuses, and lilies. These bulbs smell like food to rodents, and squirrels can eat them without adverse side effects.
However, if a squirrel finds a freshly planted hyacinth bulb, the loose soil in the hole might lead it to believe that there’s a mound of food underground. So, they might dig up bulbs like hyacinth, find that the plant is not edible, and leave it sitting on the soil’s surface. The same is true for grape hyacinths and any other bulb, even if it is toxic to squirrels.
So, you may need to take measures to prevent squirrels from digging up your hyacinths. If you want to learn effective ways to keep the squirrels at bay, you might want to read my other article on how to stop squirrels from digging up tulip bulbs: How To Stop Squirrels From Eating Your Tulips
Other Bulbs That Squirrels Will Not Eat
There are several bulbs plants other than hyacinth and grape hyacinth that squirrels and other wildlife avoid eating. Some of the most popular include:
- Foxtail Lily
- Star of Bethlehem
These bulbs are ideal for people who often have to battle squirrels when growing a garden.
If you want to keep wildlife out of your garden beds, you can plant any of these around the space’s borders. Otherwise, if your squirrel issue is prevalent, you can grow these bulbs interspersed between all your other plants, decreasing the chances that squirrels will invade the area.
For more information about why these other bulbs are squirrel-resistant, you might want to read my other article on squirrels and anemone bulbs, where I detail the toxicity and effects of each of these plants on squirrels: Do Squirrels Eat Anemone Bulbs
Pests of Hyacinth Bulbs
Since hyacinth bulbs are so toxic, very few animals or pets attempt to consume or destroy them. However, there are a few pests to look out for in your hyacinths, which are:
- Bulb Mites. Bulb mites are tiny little bugs that burrow into bulbs and eat them from the inside out. While the mites will eventually kill a hyacinth bulb if you don’t eliminate them, the holes they leave in the bulb are the actual threat since these wounds quickly develop fungal and bacterial infections.
- Bulb Nematodes. Bulb nematodes, also known as eelworms, are tiny worms that eat their way into your bulbs, bringing in infarction and decay. Nematodes are tricky to eliminate, but you can kill them by soaking your bulb in hot water for three hours. Still, removing them from the soil is much more challenging, and in many cases, it’s impossible without drenching the area in bleach.
- Narcissus Fly. These flies generally infest unplanted bulbs, laying their eggs inside any bulb they can find. Then, once the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the bulb from the inside out, eventually consuming the whole thing. Proper storage of your bulbs can prevent an infestation of narcissus flies.
Besides the insect pests of this plant, hyacinths are also prone to developing fungal infections such as botrytis blight and soft rot.
To prevent these infections, you must store your unplanted bulbs in a dry, cool, dark place. Plant your bulbs at least 3 inches (7.62 cm) from each other in well-aerated, loose soil. Giving each bulb plenty of air and space will keep the soil dryer, preventing fungal growth.
However, these three pests and a few fungal diseases are the only things that might harm your hyacinths. It’s rare to find a plant with so few natural enemies, which is part of why this is one of the best bulbs for beginner and low-maintenance gardens.
Squirrels don’t eat hyacinth bulbs because they are poisonous, and they also avoid grape hyacinths due to their bitter flavor and smell. Still, squirrels may dig up hyacinth bulbs while foraging for food, even if they do not consume your plant.
Hyacinths don’t attract many pests, so growing them is very simple. As long as you keep the soil from becoming too wet, prevent mites, flies, and nematodes, and keep the bulbs buried, you’ll have fragrant narcissus flowers popping up every year.