Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

A Bulb to Keep Squirrels at Bay

octobre 1

Squirrels are cute… when they’re not munching on your freshly planted spring flowering bulbs! To keep them at bay, plant bulbs of crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis) nearby. Its musky smell seems to either displease squirrels or confuse them, preventing them from finding the bulbs of tulips and crocus they love so much. And a crown imperial in bloom is simply spectacular!

The bulb of the crown imperial is a strange-looking, stinky thing, beige and obese, without the usual papery tunic that covers other bulbs. There is a basal plate at the bottom from which the roots will sprout, but no point at the top unlike tulip or narcissus bulbs. In fact, the top is actually indented. And that is a clue as to how to plant it. In a rainy climate, plant the bulb on its side, otherwise the depression in the top of the bulb can fill with water and cause rot.

This is not a cheap bulb nor is it all that easy to grow. You can’t just throw it in the ground and cover it with soil like you can with narcissus and tulips. The secret to success is to supply it with with full sun and perfect drainage. That is why it does better in sandy soil, on a slope or in a raised bed. It does not do well in heavy clay soils, as they usually remain to moist for its taste. Also, plant it deeper than most other bulbs, at a depth of about 10 inches (25 cm). In cold climates (zones 4 and 5), cover the planting spot with a deep mulch of chopped leaves.

Note that the nasty but very pretty lily leaf beetle – a bright red beetle –  likes fritillaries, but does little damage to the crown imperial, because the plant blooms so in early spring (it’s the first to bloom of the tall spring bulbs), before the beetle begins to eat. So when it does start munching on the plant’s foliage, the crown imperial is already yellowing as it prepares for its summer dormancy. If it wants to digest dying leaves, just let it!

Well treated, a crown imperial can grow for decades in hardiness zones 4 to 9 and therefore keep squirrels away for a long time.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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