I recently planted some tulip bulbs and something is digging them up
every night. Every morning I find them dug up and the bulbs scattered
about but not damaged. What could be causing this and how can I
eliminate this problem?
Not sure about night, but squirrels will dig up bulbs, apparently just for
sport. Ever see the excellent TV commercial for Post-It notes? The squirrels
have them stuck on their walls to help them remember where they hid nuts in
One way to deal with it is to lay chicken wire under the top inch of soil.
The leaves of some bulbs (but not tulips) are skinny enough that if you need
to lift off the wire later in the season, you can just pick it straight up.
For tulips, you'd need to snip bigger holes in the wire. However, tulips
have no problem growing UP through the existing holes.
It's not likely to be chipmunks, groundhogs, or squirrels because they'd
dig in the daytime, & wouldn't leave the bulbs unnibbled, and flying
squirrels which do hunt seeds & whatnot by night can't dig holes.
Tulip bulbs occasionally annoy moles, who rarely or never eat them, but
apparently find something garlic-like about them that is unpleasant. They
will shove them to the surface undamaged as a cleaning exercise in their
tunnels, tunnels which can otherwise go entirely unnoticed since not all
moles reveal any evidence of their presence, & there's almost always only
one mole per territory so easy to remain unnoticed (unless its a
Townsends, the variety that most angers gardeners making scores of large
mole hills). I had an Olympic mole completley undetectable unless I lifted
up one of the largest stepping-stones exposing part of a circuitous
tunnel. That mole industriously shoved gregeii tulip bulbs to the surface
leaving them exposed but unharmed, plus any other bulb would be ejected
from the soil IF it had gone to rot, so it removed for me a rotten smelly
cyclamen tuber & some yucky narcissus bulbs, but didn't bother any of
those that were healthy. The tulips though it just didn't like any of
those in its ground. I just moved the greigeii tulips & the mole was no
problem thereafter, it neatly aerated the soil without harming a thing.
But in another year a mole took a serioius dislike to jack-in-the-pulpit
tubors & shoved quite large ones to the surface; that was the only year I
began to dislike moles a bit, & was glad when the cat got that one (any
vacated territory attracts a new mole to take over so there's always one
present, but the new resident never bothered the jack in the pulpits --
these critters can be very individualistic).
Skunks will dig up bulbs at night, but they're really looking for grubs or
worms, so won't eat the bulbs. Raccoons & even dogs will dig up bulbs then
not very likely want to eat them. A digging carnivore is your most likely
culprit if you used some dead-animal-product to fertilize when planting,
as it's the bonemeal or fishmeal, not the bulbs per se, that fools these
carnivores into believing they smell something tasty in the ground, which
they disappointedly leave behind when it's a nasty tulip bulb instead of
meat. A non-animal organic fertilizer like kelp doesn't usually attract
them. Retroactively ridding the surface of attractive odors, with a layer
of fresh sterile compost, might keep them from detecting the
edible-smelling bone or fishmeal you put in the hole with the bulb, or a
sprinkling of cayene pepper usually deters them, renewed after every rain
for a while, until the scent of meat lessons after a week or two. And in
the future, if you have such industrious carnivors in your area, don't
used animal-based fertilizers for bulbs. Kelp's just as good though
The most comman animal to dig up crocus bulbs are mice. Mice only rarely
eat tulip bulbs which aren't as tasty & in most cases not small enough for
the mice to haul away. If they did manage to dig up tulip bulbs, they
might leave them with barely a nibble because they'd rather have crocuses
(some of which are so tasty even people will eat them). An area with mice
that have learned to dig crocuses can be impossible to establish
spreading, naturalized drifts, though the original parent bulbs can be
placed deeper than the mice can dig, and that might work for tulips too,
most of which would do perfectly well if planted eight to ten inches deep
rather than the commonly recommended five to eight.
The usual recommendation where diggers are concerned is to lay chicken
wire over the surface. That sure wouldn't work in my garden, & it wouldn't
work where an annoyed mole is pushing bulbs to the surface to be rid of
stuff the nuisance-human keeps jabbing into its subterranean territory.
-paghat the ratgirl
"Of what are you afraid, my child?" inquired the kindly teacher.
"Oh, sir! The flowers, they are wild," replied the timid creature.
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