Bulbs Gardening Harmful animals

When Squirrels Eat Tulip Flowers

That squirrels should eat a few bulbs and a couple of strawberries might be acceptable. But never EVER should they touch tulip flowers!

By Larry Hodgson

I accept that squirrels eat tulip bulbs. That seems fair game to me.

The animals are trying to store up fat for winter and these strange humans start digging holes and dropping fat juicy bulbs into them. Well, that’s clearly a provocation! I mean, wouldn’t you go after them?

In my mind, we’ve tempted squirrels at a very vulnerable period in their life and we may have to pay a certain price for our deed. So, it’s up to us smart humans to outwit them.

So again, I see bulb predation as fair game.

Flowers are a No-No!

But. . .

That’s not the case when squirrels eat tulip flowers in the spring! Those bulbs worked hard to survive the winter. And probably the gardener worked hard to plant them squirrel-free in the fall. That’s 6 months of effort. Plus squirrels have plenty of other things to eat in the spring: the season of abundance has begun. They don’t need a flower salad! That they should clip off our hard-won tulip flowers and munch away at them in front of our eyes . . . well, that’s adding insult to injury. And it’s just unforgivable!

It has to stop!

A Bad Habit

Note too that not all squirrels eat tulip flowers. Most never do. It appears to be a learned habit. A bad one, like spitting.

Mother squirrel school teacher teaching her babies to eat tulip flowers.
Mother squirrels teach their babies to eat tulip flowers. Ill.: Clipartmax.com & Projectswithkids.com, montage: laidbackgardener.com

Mama squirrel’s role is to teach baby squirrel what to eat. So, tulip flower predation becomes something quite regional. In just this one spot, perhaps in the long-distant past, a squirrel discovered tulip flowers were edible. Then taught her babies to eat them. Then those babies taught their babies . . . and then the cycle just goes on forever.

Yet, two or three blocks away, it never happens. It’s an extremely local thing.

So, it’s up to you, the local gardener, to break that cycle once and for all!

Evil Me

I’m obviously an evil person, because if I were king of the world, I’d have all squirrels that eat tulip flowers caught and made into ragout. It’s an unforgivable crime, and they don’t deserve to live. And I’d have the punishment repeated until every squirrel that eats flowers is gone. Then, peace would reign over the garden again.

However, as things stand, it seems it’s unlikely that I’ll become king of the world any time soon. And I’m one of the majority of gardeners who’s never had any tulips damaged by squirrels. (Not as if I don’t grow plenty!) My local squirrels wreak all sorts of havoc, but wisely for them, they don’t break that one rule that can never be forgiven.

Otherwise? Well, hell hath no fury like a tulip-bereaved gardener!

What to Do?

Trapping squirrels can be complicated . . . and trap and release programs rarely work (read Trap and Release for Squirrel Control Not Such a Good Idea). If you planned ahead, many of the things you did to keep squirrels from eating tulip bulbs in the fall will also protect the flowers in the spring, like interplanting with crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis) and narcissus. But if you’re just discovering the problem in the spring, it’s obviously too late for those approaches.

Also, do remember this problem won’t last long. Few tulips remain in bloom for more than 2 weeks. If so, there is a whole list of animal deterrents that will keep squirrels away for that long. Cat or dog fur, human hair, fabric softener sheets, strongly scented soap, an owl decoy, etc. Read Do Animal Repellents Really Work? for more suggestions.

Stuffed squirrle and spray bottle of repellent.
Animal repellent is probably the fastest and easiest way to keep squirrels away from tulip blooms. Photo: houseofhawthornes.com/

For a fast-and-easy solution, I’d suggest a commercial animal repellent spray. I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Plantskydd, for example.

Just remember that, while animal repellents will keep squirrels away, they don’t smell very good. You’ll want to admire your beautiful tulip blooms from a distance.

Ideally, you’d get together with any neighbors suffering the same problem and work out a neighborhood plan. Given the relatively short life span of most squirrels, you might be able to eliminate the problem in just 4 or 5 years. Maybe sooner. And when that last link is broken, when that mama squirrel doesn’t teach her baby to clip off tulip blooms because she was never taught they were edible, the problem won’t come back. There’ll be no more tulip tussels.

So, save your tulip flowers and do a bit of spraying. You can win this war!

Garden writer and blogger, author of more than 60 gardening books, the laidback gardener, Larry Hodgson, lives and gardens in Quebec City, Canada. The Laidback Gardener blog offers more than 2,500 articles to passionate home gardeners, always with the goal of demystifying gardening and making it easier for even novice gardeners. If you have a gardening question, enter it in Search: the answer is probably already there!

21 comments on “When Squirrels Eat Tulip Flowers

  1. I planted tulip bulbs in the garden when I first moved into my house. I never got to see the blooms. They would get chewed to the ground by some critter leaves and all. I planted daffodils and was resigned to the fact that I am not fated to enjoy tulips in my garden. Then last year I planted some tulip bulbs that I bought at clearance from the grocery store ( at 50 cents for a handful I guessed I could give it a go). I tried sprinkling cayenne pepper powder and it worked but the spring rains wash it away and it has to be applied over again.
    This year I sprinkled asafoetida and bingo I had no casualties and a bumper bloom?. I am not sure if it was the asafoetida that did the trick. But that’s all I did.

    I mixed half teaspoon in about 8oz of water and poured it into one of those dollar store ketchup/ mustard bottles and squirted the mix all around the patch. Even if the rain washes it away the critter can still smell it and humans cannot.
    I hope this did it.
    Hope it works for you!

  2. I sprinkled red hot pepper flakes this year, wanted to actually see my tulips for once.
    Now to figure put how to protect my apples and cherries

  3. Squirrels get a bad wrap on these things. Researchers reported in the last couple of years that squirrels forget where they have hidden up to 80% of the nuts the gather and store. You can grow tulips? Count your blessings because in warm and humid central Texas, most years we get these cute little cups of greenery…only for the blooms to never to even form. But back to this memory thing…it is rough waking up and every day is a new life. And the author is proposing gathering others together for a conspiracy? The world….

  4. The big issue in our yard are the deer, tulips are sweet and the deer eat them like candy.

  5. Lisa Bartorillo

    I found that dried blood keep the rats with fluffy tails as well as the rest of the flower thieves that come along and munch on my summer to fall flowers far away. It’s also a good fertilizer. I tried the other deterrents but they didn’t seem to work for me. The only thing though is that it may need to be put on the soil after a heavy rain or if you see some nibbles on your blooms. But I think it’s worth the extra effort considering the time we put in and the anticipation of seeing our tulips and others in full bloom. I hope this along with your terrific information and advice will help.

  6. Jean Kincaid Ross

    This year I did 3 things. I mixed sharp gravel in the soil when I planted. I sprinkled Cayenne pepper liberally around the plantings – did this a few times. And I put up a bird feeder on my porch to entertain my 3 indoor cats. Included lots of squirrel-friendly stuff like raisins, vegetable parings, old bread. The squirrels were so well-fed that they never bothered with the tulips.

  7. I have heard that if you soak your bulbs, corms, tubers, etc in Plantskyd before you plant them they will be left alone. Spraying any repellent on the flowers themselves kind of dissolves them. What’s fun to watch is a motion activated sprinkler. Just sit back and watch the little beggars get blasted. It’s great entertainment!

  8. I do not mind sharing a few stone fruits with them, but some of them chew on many fruits, rather than just taking what they can eat! It is so infuriating.

  9. Jessica Crawford

    My squirrels just nip the flower off and drop it. I am told they are going after the juices in the stem. Hell hath no fury like the tulip gardener who has lost her blooms!

  10. Russ Clark

    Yesterday I counted over 10 tulips just ready to open but missing their flower heads. Late in the day, I saw a furry grey thing eating the flower buds of my magnolia. This happens every year. Next week, I will be planting my young delicious tomato plants and expect several to be nipped off at the ground. I have had to cover the ground of my dahlia tubers to prevent their disappearance. This happens every year. Like the previous US president I refuse to use their name but refer to them as arboreal rats. They cannot be elected out my community and I don’t expect them to go away but I have never given up on trying to eradicate them, unfortunately to no avail.
    Russ

  11. I sometimes feel we are overrun with squirrels, and last year I decided that was “it” for the annual display of mangled tulips – out they came. This spring I will remove the ones I missed last year. I will celebrate spring with things that our squirrels leave alone: daffodils, Hellebores, Trilliums and some other things I am introducing to our “squirrel trial garden”.

  12. Vivian

    This post gave me a good laugh this morning. We have plenty of squirrels scurrying around, but they don’t eat our tulip flowers. Hubby puts peanuts out for them to munch!!

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