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September gardening

Discouraging Squirrels, Mice from Bulbs


By —— Bio and Archives--September 2, 2013

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Zoologists know it as Sciurus carolinensis. What many a gardener call it upon discovering its depredation of freshly planted bulbs might be ‘you pollinating hybrid’ but is more often unprintable even in such intemperate times as these. Yet there are ways to discourage squirrels from digging up bulbs, as well as the lesser-recognized hazard, that of voles, often incorrectly called field mice.

The simplest solution is to plant those known to repel either by their odour or being plain poisonous to these garden pests. For example, Siberian Squill bulbs (Scilla siberica) are poisonous to squirrels who shun them. All Daffodils and Narcissus are likewise toxic and may even offer some protection to more vulnerable bulbs if planted amongst and circling such. The stately Imperial Fritillaria (F. imperialis) bulbs emit a strange odour that also discourages squirrels and voles and so may protect surrounding bulbs from their attacks. The Snakehead Fritillaria (F. meleagris) is also believed to be poisonous to such pests.

While hybrid tulips offer a notoriously attractive feast for these rodents, for some unknown reason species tulips appear to repel them. Unfortunately those attractive illustrations on the packages don’t reveal the size of the blooms, vastly reduced from what most are familiar with. The same goes for the species Crocus tomasinianus, another on the squirrels’ hate list.
More flaunting are the scented blue Muscari that makes a superb edging for spring displays as does the lesser known Puschkinia and Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica). Even the famed early flowering Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) may be ignored by these freeloaders.

So what about all the other favourites? If you still have space after planting generous quantities of the foregoing then the ultimate answer is to cover the beds with chicken wire. Some enthusiasts cover the planted bulbs with the wire; others merely spread over the bulb bed, removing it in spring when the first foliage appears.

Amongst other solutions that have appeared from time to time are planting in a paper bag to which baking soda has been added or first soaking in a solution of an ounce of Lysol to two quarts water and allowing to dry before planting. A mulch of marble chips has also been recommended.

Finally, while dusting the planted area with either granulated dried blood fertilizer or hot powdered capsicum pepper has been recommended, these are very temporary, requiring to be renewed every few days or after heavy rain. 

Oh yes, did you ever consider Brunswick stew? Its primary ingredient is . . . Sciurus carolinensis.


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Wes Porter -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. Wes has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.


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