Are squirrels snacking on your tulip bulbs? Or perhaps your bulbs produced foliage, but no flowers last spring.
This post addresses problems commonly associated with spring bulbs.
Q: Squirrels are digging up and eating my tulips bulbs! What can I do?

There are lots of squirrels looking for an easy meal in my backyard every fall. Here is what I have learned to do to prevent squirrels from adding tulips to the dinner menu:

1. Do not place your bulbs on the surface of the ground while you dig the hole to plant them. Squirrels have a good sense of smell. You might as well put up a sign, "Tulips planted here. Please dig." Instead place your tulips in a basket or plastic bucket while you work.

2. Don't make it easy for squirrels to dig up your bulbs. Plant tulips deeply. Forget the little hand trowel and go get a shovel. You are more likely to dig to the proper depth with a shovel. On average tulips should be planted to a depth of 6-8 inches. (As an added bonus tulips planted deeply are more likely to bloom reliably year to year.)

3. After you dig down and place your bulbs, backfill the hole and firm down the soil really well with your foot. Most squirrels will go for food buried just under the surface of the soil. If the little beggars do have the nerve to try to dig for your tulips, at least you've made it hard work for them by planting deeply and compacting the soil. Most squirrels will move on to much easier quarry.

4. Disguise the area where you planted your tulips by covering the surface with mulch or leaves as a final way to hide your buried treasure.

5. I have never resorted to repellents, but if you have squirrels that are determined pests, you may want to try an organic repellent (available at your local nursery). I have also read that red pepper flakes sprinkled on the surface of the soil are a great organic deterrent.

6. If all else fails, plant bulbs that squirrels don't like to eat. Examples include: daffodils, alliums, scilla and hyacinths. (Note: I have had squirrels dig up my daffodils and discard them uneaten on the surface of the soil, so I have learned the hard way to plant my daffodils deeply as well.)

Do you have a great method of deterring squirrels from eating tulips bulbs? Please share in the comment section below!
An example of Species Tulips
Q: Last spring's bulbs produced only foliage with no flowers. Where did I go wrong?

1. Most tulips only bloom reliably for a year or two so you may have done nothing wrong. If you want a longer lifespan from tulip bulbs try Darwin or species tulips. Darwin hybrids not only have big, showy flowers, they are known to bloom from 5 to 7 years. And unlike their more flashy hybrid cousins, species tulips are long lived and will naturalize when planted in a sunny well-drained location.

2. Make sure to double check the light requirements before you plant your bulbs. Tulips, for instance, need full sun. Sunlight feeds the foliage and that energy is stored in the bulb to produce next spring's flower. If your tulips are planted in shade, the bulbs may not have stored sufficient food to make flowers.

3. Deadhead after flowering. If you don't remove spent blooms, tulips will put all their energy into producing seed instead of storing food for next year's flowers.

4. Do not remove foliage after the flowers fade. Allow the foliage to die down naturally so the bulbs will have a chance to store enough nutrients to produce next spring's blooms.
Daffodils from my garden
5. Poor blooms on daffodils may mean that the bulbs have become crowded and need division. Dig up daffodil clumps following spring bloom time, separate individual bulbs and replant them several inches apart.

6. As daffodil bulbs age the "mother" bulb multiplies each year. The mother bulb eventually dies and it sometimes takes the offspring bulbs a few years to reach flowering size. To encourage the young bulbs to mature quickly, apply a granular high potash feed and liquid fertilizer each spring after flowering.
Q: Deer are treating my spring display of bulbs as an all-you-can-eat buffet. What can I do?

Try planting bulbs that don't appeal to deer: grape hyacinth, Siberian Squill, daffodils or alliums.
Siberian Squill or Scilla siberica
Grape Hyacinths
My garden last spring
Q: What should I look for when buying bulbs?

Look for firm bulbs that show no signs of being shrivelled or soft. The larger the bulb the larger the flower- is a good general rule.
Tulip 'Angelique' in my garden
Q: When is it too late to plant bulbs?

1. Ideally, I think it is a good idea to get your bulbs planted in September/October. That being said, I notoriously snap up bulbs on clearance in late October and try to get them into the ground as late as mid-November (my garden is Zone 6).

But when is a bargain not a bargain? Late fall weather is often unpredictable and there have been occasions when the ground has frozen before I could get my clearance bulbs into the ground. I learned to limit my clearance bulb purchases to only those I figure I can plant immediately.
Q: How can I force bulbs for inside the house?

Paperwhites are one of the easiest bulbs to force and do not require a period of chilling.
In recent years, I find that most other types of spring bulbs are readily available in stores and are so darned affordable that I don't go to the bother of forcing them myself. If you do want to try to force your own however, most bulbs can be forced if you refrigerate them for 10-15 weeks in a paper bag. When placing your bulbs in the fridge, make sure your bulbs are not stored near fruit or vegetables which can emit an ethylene gas that is harmful to bulbs.
Can I replant forced bulbs outside in spring?

Most forced bulbs won't bloom again as they have used up all their energy. I have however, had some luck with forced hyacinths purchased in late winter. I remove flowers when they fade and continue to water the foliage. When the weather warms up to above freezing, I move the hyacinth pots outside and let them acclimatize to the outdoor temperatures. Then I remove the bulbs and plant them in the garden. Sometimes they continue to flower.
Do you have any great tips for planting spring bulbs? Please share them in the comment section!
Three Dogs in a Garden
Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!
Frequently asked questions
Have a question about this project?
3 of 4 questions
  • Susan Lowery Susan Lowery on Apr 24, 2016
    Can I did up and divide my bulbs once the leaves have died back, or do I have to wait until fall.

  • Josephine Josephine on Apr 29, 2016
    how do I get rid of the small white grubs if that is what they are in my planter boxes, last year was the first time I seen them, the boxes are 4 yrs old, afraid to add any pesticides as I get fabulous amounts of my veggies?

  • Julesatlanta Julesatlanta on Jul 19, 2017
    When is the best time to plant tulip bulbs. I have a huge variety of bulbs to plant but I've been told spring blooming bulbs should not be planted until early fall. Is that correct?
    Also I have used Super Thrive on many blooming plants. I have found my blooms are much better, if their not blooming this will cause them to bloom. Have you ever used it?

Join the conversation
3 of 77 comments
  • Three Dogs in a Garden Three Dogs in a Garden on Apr 30, 2016
    The white grubs are most likely insect larvae of some kind. It's hard to know which insect without knowing more. I agree with not using pesticides especially if you are growing food. Would it be possible to dump the boxes and remove them with gloves? Your veggie crop would benefit from a soil refresh at any rate. Good luck Josephine!

  • Bcarbon Bcarbon on May 17, 2017
    After the squirrels stole ALL my tulip bulbs for a couple of years and had no flowers for the next flowering season, this is what I did and has worked as a charm since. I bought chicken wire and cover the surface where the bulbs were planted. Since I installed the chicken wire, I not only enjoy the color and the flowers every spring but also the feeling of having outsmarted the squirrels. The most satisfying is to see the little critters trying to dig and then leave frustrated. :0)