Tulips are gorgeous hearty bulb flowers that are very difficult to kill — as long as squirrels don’t dig them up and eat them, anyway. Squirrels love to consume bulbs such as tulips, and these crafty critters will get through almost anything for a good meal. However, there are a few ways to squirrel-proof your tulips and keep them thriving, even if you have garden squirrels.
To stop squirrels from eating your tulips, treat the tulip bulbs with repellents and reapply them regularly, plant the bulbs properly and with squirrel-resistant plants, and incorporate root and surface barriers. Feeding and watering garden squirrels may also keep them out of your tulip patch.
Let’s go through the steps and protect your tulip bulbs from squirrels and other pests together. I’ll give you a complete regimen for squirrel control in your garden and teach you the most effective ways to keep squirrels away from your bulbs so you can get some terrific tulip blooms every year.
1. Pre-Treat Your Bulbs With Squirrel Repellents
Coating your tulip bulbs before you even plant them will go a long way in deterring squirrels, and it will even ward off other pests like mice and deer.
Most effective repellents are heavily scented and usually mimic the scent of another animal’s urine, which will scare off prey animals like squirrels. However, many contain urea and other foul-scented ingredients such as sulfur, vinegar, and garlic oil. These ingredients also have an overly bitter taste, convincing smaller animals to leave the bulbs alone and look for a tastier snack.
If you want something that will work for your tulip bulbs long-term, the experts at the University of Pennsylvania Arboretum — and I — turn to Bobbex Animal Repellent (links to Amazon.com). This all-natural repellent has a foul smell and taste, thanks to the vast list of ingredients, which include urea, garlic, castor oil, cloves, vinegar, and fish oil.
These are all very safe to use on any plant, but they’re effective for deer, squirrels, moles, voles, mice, and chipmunks. Plus, this one comes in a spray bottle for easy reapplication.
The Bobbex repellent also lasts longer than most other squirrel repellents, lasting 10 to 14 days in the rainy season and up to 8 weeks in the wintertime. You’ll just need to spritz the bulb every once in a while, and the squirrels should leave your plants alone.
2. Plant Bulbs in Cages
Cages can help deter digging pests such as squirrels, voles, moles, and mice by providing a protective barrier between your bulb and the animal trying to eat your flowers.
Wire or mesh cages are particularly advantageous because they can withstand extreme weather and sharp-toothed squirrels, mice, and rats. Therefore, I don’t recommend making your cage out of landscaping fabric, plastic, or any other type of textile mesh.
The best products for deterring squirrels should be something like these Gift Express 1 Gallon Wire Speed Baskets (on Amazon). These cages are practically chainmail, and rodents cannot chew through them. So, they’ll offer a more long-term solution for your garden pests, no matter what kind of animal tries to make your bulbs into a snack.
3. Follow Planting Instructions for Tulip Bulbs
Tulip bulbs have planting instructions for several reasons, one of which is pests. If you don’t plant your tulip deep enough or underneath a thick blanket of soil, it will be easy for squirrels to sniff out the bulb and dig it up, ruining your plans for perennial blooms.
So, here’s how to plant your tulips to deter squirrels:
- Only plant tulips in the fall, from September to December.
- Dig a hole that is 6 inches (15.24 cm) deep. However, dig the hole 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm) deep if your soil is sandy.
- Place your bulb in the center of a cage or mesh wire basket.
- Place the bulb with the root plate at the bottom of the hole.
- Fill the hole with soil — not mulch — and pack it down to keep squirrels out.
- Dispose of any leftover paper-like bulb skins in the garbage since the smell of these skins will attract squirrels.
Following these instructions will deter squirrels since packing the soil and digging an adequately deep hole will prevent squirrels from sniffing out the tulips.
4. Add Squirrel-Repellent Bulbs to Your Tulip Patch
Although tulips make a tasty treat for squirrels, some bulbs deter squirrels from even entering your garden. Some of these squirrel-repellent bulbs are poisonous to rodents, while others taste and smell too bitter for squirrels.
Here are some of the best squirrel-repellent bulbs:
- Grape and Wood Hyacinth
- Alliums, onions, and garlic
I’ve already discussed these plants in my article on squirrels and anemone bulbs, so check it out if you want to learn how each of these plants repels squirrels: Do Squirrels Eat Anemone Bulbs
Incorporating these bulbs into your tulip patch is a safe and simple way to ward off squirrels and other rodents. Use them as a border around the tulips, or intersperse them between your tulip bulbs for a gorgeous blanket of color in the spring.
As an additional benefit, these are perennial bulbs. So, they will come back every year with squirrel-repelling, gorgeous blooms.
5. Cover Your Bulbs With Mesh During the Winter
After planting your tulip bulbs, you’ll immediately want to cover them with mesh to keep squirrels from digging them up from the surface.
There are many materials you can use to block out the squirrels, such as:
- Landscaping fabric
- Metal mesh baskets
- Chicken wire
- Synthetic lace fabric like tulle
- A window screen
- A nursery tray
All of these materials will work well, but my favorite method is using an old window screen. The weight of the screen’s frame will keep the material in place on its own, which makes moving and removing it simple. However, if you use a loose fabric or wire mesh, staple it down into the soil with stakes or nails or place a ring of stones or bricks around it.
You can remove this cover once your tulips have developed several mature leaves in the spring, then replace it after pruning back your flowers.
6. Reapply Repellents Regularly
Water will wash away any remaining repellents as your tulips grow, leaving your plants and bulbs vulnerable to squirrel damage. So, to keep the squirrels at bay, you’ll need to reapply repellents frequently, especially after watering the bulbs or after rain.
If you followed my recommendation and got the spray bottle of Bobbex earlier, this will be a piece of cake. Just spritz your bulbs every time you water them or after rain.
If you don’t have a repellent, you can use some other things to make your tulips less appealing to squirrels. Natural squirrel repellents such as chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, or dried peppers will work, but you’ll likely need to reapply them more frequently than a commercial animal repellent.
Some gardeners have shared success stories when using dog and human hair as mulch for their tulip bulbs. The smell of the hair can make squirrels warier about eating the bulbs since they will be worried about a nearby predator. So, empty your brushes and tuck that hair into the soil!
7. Feed Your Garden Squirrels
Squirrels will only eat your tulip bulbs if they are hungry and thirsty, so if you take care of the squirrels during pre-hibernation preparation season in the fall, you might be able to keep them out of your garden beds.
If you don’t want your yard to become a paradise for the squirrels, I recommend limiting your squirrel-feeding times to August through January. These are the months when your tulip bulbs will be most vulnerable, especially during the first year after planting. In addition, this is when squirrels start hoarding food, so it’s the prime time for some missing tulip bulbs.
Lay out suet, seeds, nuts, and plenty of fresh water for your squirrels. Try to place feeders and water as far from your tulips as possible to encourage the squirrels to look for food elsewhere.
Then, once the cold season snaps into effect, you should be fine to remove the feeders since the squirrels will be hibernating.
Repelling squirrels from tulips takes a bit of maintenance, but it is possible. To ward off the squirrels:
- Treat bulbs and the soil with commercial or natural repellents and reapply after rainfall.
- Plant tulips with other squirrel-resistant plants.
- Use mesh root cages and ground covers to protect the bulbs.
- Feed and water the squirrels during the fall season.
If you follow these steps, you should have a healthy plot of brilliant tulips in no time!