Avoiding Trouble with Critters and Fall-Planted Bulbs

It’s a rite of the season — every year, we northern gardeners plant bulbs in fall. It’s a sign of hope, a joyful ritual and a satisfying chore. But then spring comes and your beautifully planned swaths of color look like splotches on the landscape. What happened?

Most likely, your luscious fall-planted bulbs provided a midwinter snack for local voles or squirrels. While disappointing, there are ways to avoid having critters devour your bulbs and all of them are best done at planting time.

Here are 5 ways to deny critters your beautiful bulbs:

allium fall planted bulbs

Allium are striking in the garden and are rarely molested by voles or squirrels.

1) Pick the bulbs they do not like.  Like picky eaters, voles, rodents have preferences among fall-planted bulbs. Tulips — they really like them. Delish! Bulbs they definitely do not like include daffodils, allium, snowdrops and Siberian squill. I’ve never had problems with rodents eating crocus either. So, unless you really, really have to have tulips, consider these other bulb options

2) Cage the bulbs. If you just have to have tulips, plant them in wire cages. You can make the cages using chicken wire or hardware clothe. Form a cage larger than the bulb and plant the bulb with the cage surrounding it. (For a demonstration on how to do this, check out this helpful video.) If you know your rogue diner is a squirrel or other digger (as opposed to a burrowing pest), you can apply a layer of hardware cloth above the bulb planting area and then cover it with mulch. The video demonstrates that process, too.

3) Mix gravel or something gritty into the soil around the bulbs. Many burrowing and digging rodents don’t like the feel of scratchy material beneath their feet. Adding about 10 percent gravel or other shards to the planting hole and the soil around it may make your bulbs less appetizing.

tulip fall planted bulbs

Planted between a garage foundation and a sidewalk these tulips thrived for years.

4) Plant near a barrier. According to the folks at Longfield Gardens, voles are less likely to dig in areas near barriers—the house foundation, a walkway, sidewalk or driveway. So, consider adding some bulb beauty to those less attractive locations.

5) Don’t plant bulbs near bird feeders. Here’s another great tip from Longfield Gardens. Burrowing critters like the easy pickings found near bird feeders; dropped seed and seed casings are easy to grab there. Don’t tempt them further by putting your fall-planted bulbs in the same location. Instead, plant the bulbs in a garden bed in a different part of your landscape—preferably one that can be viewed easily from an indoor window so you can see your lovely bulbs emerge in spring.

tulip bed with gaps in it

Something got into the tulip bulbs!


  1. Wayne Jennings on October 10, 2018 at 3:02 am

    Put chicken wire over the newly planted bulb area and cover with dirt. Take up the chicken wire when the bulbs start to emerge but don’t wait too long!

  2. vicki kacalek on November 14, 2018 at 8:56 pm

    I planted 600 daffodils and some critters ate them all. I have mice, and voles for sure we rarely see a squirrel in our development. I’ve just given up on bulbs all together

    • Mary Lahr Schier on November 15, 2018 at 2:34 pm

      That is so disappointing! Voles can be very destructive.

  3. […] are the images you see in garden books and on Instagram. Showy seasonal displays, such as bulbs in spring, roses in early summer, and coneflowers and asters as the season wanes, are examples of vignettes. […]

  4. […] types of boulevards and is free to download.  Since this garden is out-front, consider adding some spring bulbs or spring ephemerals to extend the season of […]

Leave a Comment