Around the Garden

Keeping Squirrels Out Of The Bulbs

Since having joined the committee for the Spring Garden Tour in support of the Canadian Cancer Society a couple of years ago, I have been in awe of the lovely Spring gardens we find for the tour.  In fact, I was so inspired this year that I vowed to load up my garden with Spring bulbs.  It has been a long wait to get to plant them, but I stuck 150 or so bulbs into the garden this week.

In the months I’ve had to plan the addition of the bulbs, I’ve had plenty of time to research how to protect the bulbs from marauding squirrels!  Our yard is home to black, grey and those feisty little red squirrels, all of whom are digging holes anywhere and everywhere to stockpile their food.  I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them disrupt my newly planted bulbs after all the effort it took to get them in the ground!
With Google as my friend, here is some of what I learned about protecting bulbs from squirrels.

  1. Plant bulbs that squirrels don’t like.  There are a number of spring bulbs such as alliums, daffodils, hyacinths and muscari that squirrels do not like to eat.  Sometimes mixing a few of these into a bed of tulips will do the trick.  I did plant a few groupings of daffodils and muscari but, to me, the Spring     garden is all about tulips and I didn’t want to mix them together.
  1. Hide the evidence.  You know the dry casings that slough off the bulbs during planting?  Pick up all those bits so the squirrels don’t find them.  Cover the smell and hide the site of your bulbs by applying a layer of leaves or mulch.
  1. Use a physical deterrent like mesh or chicken wire.  There are two methods here.  You can either bury a layer of chicken wire over top of the bulbs where it will remain and the bulbs will grow up through it.  Or you can lay the chicken wire on the surface of the ground held down by rocks or bricks and remove it once the ground has frozen solid.
  1. Apply a repellent.  Aside from the commercially blended animal repellents, some gardeners use bone meal or blood meal.   Red or cayenne pepper can also be used as a deterrent however that is an awfully inhumane alternative as the pepper physically burns the squirrels.  I would never do this.
In the end, I decided to hedge my bets and use a combination of the above.  I buried mesh atop the bulbs.  I applied bone meal liberally.  And I covered the planting sites with cedar mulch.  I had the dogs on patrol while I was planting so the squirrels didn’t get close enough to realize what I was doing.  So far, the plantings have been safe from the squirrels.
Ironically, however, my dogs have become a problem!  The dogs are very much attracted to the smell of the bone meal and keep trying to eat it.  Google time again.  Ingesting large quantities of bone meal can cause a serious bowel blockage in dogs.  So far, I’ve prevented the dogs from consuming much of the bone meal and they aren’t showing any signs of illness, but I doubt I would apply bone meal next time.  Hopefully there won’t be a next time anyway if the squirrels leave these bulbs well enough alone.
Happy bulb planting and good luck with the squirrels!

Spring is springing soon! Time to clean up the garden.

Now that we have some warmer days and longer daylight hours, it is time to get started on yard and garden clean up.  Here are nine ways to get a head start on a healthy lawn and garden.

  1. If you didn’t pull them up last fall, pull out dead annuals and stick them in the compost.
  2. Pick up twigs and branches that have broken off of shrubs and trees over the winter.  Early spring is also a good time to prune shrubs.  Remove burlap wrap and cut back the dead wood to encourage new growth.  If the shrub is a spring bloomer, like forsythia, wait until after it flowers before pruning it.
  3. Clean up dead foliage from last year’s perennials.  Some of you may have done this in the fall already – I prefer to leave the dead foliage over the winter to help insulate roots from winter damage.  That said, it’s important to clean up the dead foliage (and any fallen leaves you missed last autumn) promptly in early spring to avoid damaging new growth.  Shear back perennials to 4 or 5 inches.  Thin out climbers by cutting out thick woody stems and leaving the thinner greener stems to grow.
  4. Carefully rake around plants in the garden to tease away the dead foliage.  Rake the lawn to remove twigs, pinecones and dead leaves.
  5. Think about whether to divide and transplant summer flowering perennials like hostas and daylilies.  Once the ground thaws, dig up and divide the root ball into clumps making sure to leave at least three solid stems in each clump.   Move the clumps to bare spots in the garden and plant them there.
  6. Early spring is a good time to fertilize.  Following the package directions for the correct amounts, spread a pelletized fertilizer around plants on the soil surface so the April showers can water it down to the roots.  Wait to fertilize bulbs until after they flower.
  7. Because my dogs run all over the frozen garden beds in winter, I have to take steps to protect newly emerging plants from getting trampled.  I use a series of sturdy stakes and rope to mark off sections of the garden as out of bounds to romping dogs.  Although the dogs could easily go over or under the rope if they wanted to, this method is enough to dissuade them.  Once the perennials are of sufficient size to be seen by the dogs, I pull out the stakes and take down the rope and the dogs know to take the proper path through the garden beds.
  8. Time to look at the lawn and see what it needs.  An application of fertilizer would be a good idea so that the spring rain can water it in.  Do you need to seed some bare spots?  Its safe to seed once the forsythia starts to bloom.  I swear by a good spring top dressing to increase lawn health.  The top dressing I use is a combination of peat moss, vermiculite and grass seed to lighten up my heavy soil.  After I rake the lawn clean, I spread the top dressing evenly with the rake and then nature does the rest.  Within a couple of weeks, the grass has grown and the top dressing has disappeared. 
  9. Before the garden really starts to take off, deal with maintenance of landscaping.   Edge garden beds.  Tidy up paths.  Level out any pavers that have heaved up over the winter.  Touch up wooden surfaces with paint and clean the deck. 
Pretty soon we’ll feel the warmth of the sun, smell the fresh earth and see the welcome sight of plants pushing up through the ground.  I can’t wait!