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The Joy of Gardening

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Planting Spring Bulbs


Each year when I plant spring bulbs it seems something follows behind me and digs them up, and come spring I have only a few stragglers left. Are there certain bulbs that the critters will leave alone or is there something I can do to keep them away? And what is the best way to plant them to assure that they will all bloom?

Answer

What you are describing is indeed a common dilemma. Surely there is no better way to end a long and dreary winter than being greeted with a splash of color and beauty with those first spring flowers. How often have I wished in the springtime that I had planted some bulbs in the autumn! This makes it even more upsetting for those who had the foresight and did invest the time, energy and resources into planting spring bulbs, to have these not emerge in spring. As much as we love spring bulbs for their beauty, many other creatures love them for their nutritional value. Bulbs are packed with starch making them a great food resource. If you are experiencing bulbs being dug up and removed the culprit is most likely the grey squirrel. Squirrels are abundant in our areas and they have an excellent sense of smell and will detect any freshly planted bulbs. In addition squirrels are observant and curious, meaning they will most likely investigate any freshly dug area. Another possible culprit is the chipmunk. Try planting bulbs deeper than usual; i.e. 9" deep to avoid squirrels and chipmunks digging these up. Also try to 'disguise' any newly dug areas by mulching and removing the papery bulb debris. Be aware that critters too have their favorite foods and crocuses, tulips and lilies are some of their top picks. Selecting distasteful bulbs like snowdrops, daffodils, grape hyacinth or alliums will eliminate the problem altogether. Bulbs can also be eaten from underground by mice, voles, moles and gophers. If it appears bulbs are not being dug up but rather vanishing over winter, try planting bulbs into protective wire cages. There are also numerous repellents on the market, however keeping in mind these will need to be reapplied to be fully effective.

The sooner you can get your bulbs into the ground, the longer they will have to root in successfully. Adding an organic, slow-release bulb fertilizer annually will promote more blooms and help bulbs to multiply. Bulbs, like most other plants, also will thrive best in a humus-rich, loose soil. Always plant bulbs the right way up; i.e. the flower stalk should point upwards and the root plate should face downwards. Some plants like crocuses are not true bulbs but instead corms, and these are generally trickier to distinguish the tops from the bottoms.



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