Tulip Bulbs Disappear Over Winter - Knowledgebase Question

Inwood, WV
Avatar for shartle
Question by shartle
February 27, 1998
Every year many of my tulip bulbs disappear over winter. I live in an area that has both squirrel and ground moles. How do I get rid of the moles and deter the squirrels?

Answer from NGA
February 27, 1998
Someone is eating your bulbs!!! Sounds like those rascally rodents! If it's any consolation, you've got pretty nice soil, with lots of organic matter and beneficial insects. Moles know where the best meals are! There are many ways to try to getrid of moles, from deterrents to lethal traps.
Moles feed on grubs and earthworms living in your lawn or garden. The damage they do is to plant roots while they are tunneling. Your first consideration should be to control the grub population in your lawn (have you considered beneficial nematodes or milky spore?) and determine how serious a problem the moles are. (Some gardeners consider moles beneficial because they are such good insectivores.) If you have a major problem with them, your first task in
treating moles is to determine which of their runways are active. Moles make a whole network of tunnels when they take up residence in a yard. Some tunnels lead to nesting areas, some to "toilet facilities", and some lead nowhere at all. Take a stiff and slender metal rod (even an old coathanger will work), and begin probing the soil. When the wire gives, you've found a tunnel. Mark the area and probe some more. You'll eventually be able to tell the length and direction of the tunnels and can figure out which are main runs and which are short runs. Some methods of treatment are flushing with water (best done in the spring), or protecting your garden by burying a fencing of small mesh, tightly woven hardware cloth, or a low cement wall. Moles hate the smell of castor oil beans, and Gardener's Supply Catalog has a repellent out with castor oil as an ingredient that I have heard good reviews about. You can reach them at 1-800-863-1700 or visit their website at www.gardeners.com
If you decide to use traps, you can either live trap (and release the pests far away from any neighbor!) Or use a lethal trap--scissors-type traps work most efficiently. Dig the soil out of a small section of the main run and place the trap across the tunnel. Carefully cover with sod or soil to exclude any light and then just wait. If you've placed your trap in an active main run, you'll catch a mole. Continue to set the trap until you don't catch any more moles. Regarding the squirrels, try laying chicken wire on top of the bulb bed and bending the ends down into the ground so the edges of the wire go into the ground a few inches. You could also construct a little box made out of chicken wire, place the bulbs in that, and bury the whole deal. This discourages the squirrels from digging and the bulbs do not have a problem growing through the mesh of the chicken wire. You can also discourage squirrels with cayenne pepper, capsaicin sprays (hot pepper oil sprays), and products such as "Ropel".

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