The new 2015 crop of fall-planted bulbs for spring-blooming beauty is popping up at specialty on-line shops and in displays at local garden centers.
For urban gardeners, the delight of choosing tempting tulips, fresh-faced daffodils and other exquisite eye-candy flowers comes with a warning: neighborhood squirrels will be watching your every move, waiting to dig in and help themselves to the bounty you plant, then scattering half-eaten bulb pieces across the landscape.
The good news: you can plan now to avoid frustration.
Although there are no 100 percent surefire guarantees that bulb-chomping rodents will be thwarted every time, there are some steps you can take to minimize damage. Here are some ideas:
For starters, "Plant bulbs that taste bad. Choose the ones that deer and rodents consider 'last choice' on the menu," Tim Schipper of Colorblends advises. Schipper's family has been in the bulb business since Schipper & Company was founded in the Netherlands in 1912.
Instead of planting irresistibly tasty bulbs like tulip and crocus, he advises using unpalatable beauties.
"Keep things simple. Plant flower bulbs that you'll love but animals won't," says Schipper. Plant daffodils. Choose any variety, small- or large-flowering, yellow, white, orange, peachy pink or bi-colors. Deer and rodents won't eat them. The same is true for white snowdrops and snowflakes. He considers those bulbs to be deer- and rodent-proof.
"All three of these bulbs contain lycorine, a bitter alkaloid that's toxic when eaten. Animals know to steer clear of them."
Other bulbs Schipper recommends include many coveted blue and purple spring bloomers such as alliums, starflowers, glory-of-the-snow and blue squill. These bulbs are considered deer and rodent resistant in varying degrees, because they taste bad enough that animals usually avoid them.
"If deer and rodents are starving, and there are few edible alternatives, they'll eat almost anything," says Schipper. "Alliums and starflowers, for instance, are not bothered by deer and, usually, not by rodents. But voles will go after them when food is scarce."
Animal disruptions have become a large enough problem in populated areas that a special effort has been made in many bulb catalogs to identify chomp-resistant choices.
Cover up, clean up and use wire barriers
Bulbs can be protected from digging rodents by covering or boxing in the bulbs with metal screening. Chicken wire works well. A one-inch mesh will allow sprouts to grow through in the spring. Plant the bulbs in clusters at a depth about three times their diameter, then lay the screening on top of the soil. Squirrels will explore disturbed soil in the fall, so be sure to clean up any above-ground bulb debris and camouflage the disturbed site by covering it with leaves.
Cultivate naturalized beds
In addition to being critter-proof, these bulbs are a good investment, as they will multiply and naturalize, returning to bloom for many years.
"If planted in a sunny location where the soil drains well, the same bulbs that animals tend to avoid will usually settle in, make a home and maybe start a bulb family," Schipper says.
To encourage bulbs to naturalize, allow the foliage to die back for approximately eight weeks after bloom, so the bulb can store energy and you can look forward to next year's blooms.
Have a look at these bulb sources for inspiration and some in-depth information:
■ Colorblends.com. Part of Schipper & Company, a family-owned bulb producer and supplier since 1912, Colorblends sells top-quality bulbs at wholesale prices to landscape professionals as well as home gardeners; $50 minimum order.
■ Brentandbeckysbulbs.com. Brent and Becky Heath's family business rests on their fantastic reputation for producing a wide variety of bulbs on their generational farm. Check out their Pest Proof Bulbs section.
■ Oldhousegardens.com. Searching out and sourcing heirloom bulbs is an Old House Gardens specialty. The catalog carries an abundance of historical background. Found in the crocus section, C. tommasinianus, TOMMIES, 1847 which is said to be the most rodent-resistant crocus; found in the newsletter, growing bulbs in containers over winter, at Oldhousegardens.com/BulbsInPots#ForSpring.
■ Whiteflowerfarm.com. White Flower Farm's "deer resistant" search tag will lead you to many specialty bulbs.
■ Easytogrowbulbs.com Search the "Critter resistant bulbs and plants" tag.