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Critter-Proof Bulbs

by Christian Harper, Horticulturist

Do your attempts to add spring beauty to your garden with bulbs seem more like a nutritional supplement program for the neighborhood squirrels? Not only squirrels, but also various other critters stand poised to decimate your plantings this fall, or even more disheartening, next spring when they emerge from their winter's sleep. Instead of looking for chemical solutions, here are a few easy, non-toxic ways to safeguard your bulb display.

If you've had chronic problems with rodents, rabbits, or deer, stick with bulbs that are unpalatable to them. Daffodils - their bulbs, leaves, and flowers - are poisonous to animals and will generally be avoided without so much as a nibble. Similarly, alliums, being a member of the onion family, seem to repel most animals with their strong odor. I've rarely seen damage to either of the beautiful blue bulbs of early spring, Siberian squill (Scilla) or glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa). Other bulbs that seem resistant to animal munching are snowdrops (Galanthus), fritillaries (Fritillaria), and Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica).

Tulips and crocus, on the other hand, seem to be favorites, susceptible when first planted to squirrels and chipmunks and at bloom time to rabbits and deer. Planting your bulbs deep - six to eight inches for larger bulbs and four to six inches for smaller bulbs, can minimize planting time problems. Most rodents won't dig more than a few inches before they give up.

Another tactic that's worked wonders at Olbrich is a liberal sprinkling of the lawn fertilizer Milorganite scattered over the planting site. This granular product is made from processed sewage sludge and its funky odor is unappreciated by animals. A re-application in spring can help with rabbits, but sometimes temporary fencing is the only surefire protection.

As with many plants, we suggest that you plant bulbs abundantly, since Mother Nature often demands that you share!

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Olbrich Botanical Gardens is operated as a public-private partnership between the City of Madison Parks Division and the Olbrich Botanical Society.
Olbrich Botanical Gardens | 3330 Atwood Avenue, Madison, WI 53704. | Phone: (608)246-4550 | Fax: (608)246-4719