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.
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!
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.
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!