Thursday, February 26, 2009

Meet My Arch Enemy

Drat. He’s at it again. Who, you ask? Why, my ARCH ENEMY here in the Suburban Sanctum, of course. Who else?

Is he a deer, you might wonder? No, the deer around here are amazingly well behaved. We’re on the far side of the reservoir from their usual stomping grounds, so they wander our way only once or twice a year. I don’t begrudge them the hosta or two that they nibble from the back bed, where nobody sees them anyway. Last year they de-leafed a couple branches of a doublefile viburnum. Even that didn’t really bother me. (And yes, I know full well how lucky I am! My mom has tried every repellent recipe in the book, but still they munch mercilessly on anything they can reach in her yard.)

Okay, then maybe a rabbit? No, between the coyotes and the hawk, I haven’t even seen a rabbit in years. Groundhog? Negatory on that one too. The big fella that used to hang out here considered my flower beds his own private salad bar. But I sealed up his hidey-hole under my shed…and got a VERY BIG dog. The groundhog wisely decided the gardens were greener (and safer) around the reservoir a ways.

The skunk still comes around. (The coyotes know better than to mess with him…unlike Sam, the VERY BIG but NOT SO BRIGHT Suburban Pup.) Occasionally Mrs. Skunk and her babies overturn a plant while rooting around. But that’s not a bad trade-off for all the grubs they eat.

Well, who is it already? Who has me so spittin’, sputterin’ mad?It’s that blasted squirrel!

Now that the ground has defrosted, he’s been digging around in my gardens again, like he does every year. (Why can’t those coyotes learn to climb trees?) Last summer, as I relaxed in my family room, I glanced out the window just in time to see the dreaded Mr. Squirrel scamper by with a softball-sized lily bulb in his mouth. By the time I got out the back door, he was long gone. And so was my lily.

Earlier that same season, he paraded across the patio with a tulip in his mouth. And I mean the whole tulip! He looked like a mini sideshow weightlifter with a barbell in his mouth, the bulb and roots on one side balanced by the flower on the other. Arrrgggh!

Today I peered out my laundry room window to see if any crocuses were popping up in the south-facing bed. Our 50-degree temps yesterday had melted most of the snow, so I could finally see what’s been going on under there. But what’s this? A huge hole! Right where another one of my oriental lilies used to be!
lily hole
And there were smaller holes nearby. I don’t think he got deep enough to get those lily bulbs, but I’m sure he’ll be back for a second course.
More lily holes
This means war! I have to find a way to stop him. The Suburban Spouse offered to pull out his pellet gun for a little target practice, but that’s not my style. As murderous as my thoughts are towards this varmint right now, I couldn’t do him any harm. I just want him to stay OUT of my flowers!

I’ve already given up on the smaller bulbs. Mr. Squirrel has those for a snack before they’re in the ground ten minutes. The only ones that survive are intermingled with Allium and narcissus. He doesn’t care for those. I’ve learned a few other tricks too, like being careful not to leave bulb husks lying around to attract him. He also has a keen eye and nose for disturbed earth, so when I plant bulbs, I press the soil back in place as firmly as I can, then top with mulch and firm this as well, so it looks like no one was ever there. Sometimes it works...

Being a practical-minded (read “somewhat lazy”) gardener, I’m usually not inclined to try anything more complicated than that. The usual suggestion is to lay chicken wire over the top of the bulbs before putting the soil back into place, but that crosses the line of What-I’m-Willing-to-Mess-With and What-I’m-Not. For most of my plants, it’s survival of the fittest. If they’re tough enough to make it on their own, they get to stay. If not, oh well. (Roses are one exception, though even they get a minimum of coddling.)

But lilies might be worth putting up a fight for. I’m not yet willing to do without these magnificent beauties.
Lilium 'Orange Pixie'
Lilium ‘Orange Pixie’—one that has survived so far!

Maybe a little chicken-wire warfare is in order. Or maybe you have suggestions? Have you found any safe, practical, uncomplicated ways to dissuade squirrels from feasting on your prized bulbs? If so, pass your ideas along fast—the Suburban Spouse’s solution is looking better all the time…


  1. Evil squirrels! Big impact for such little things. Knock on wood I haven't noticed that they bother my plants that much here. However, next door neighbor has tons of feeds they feast at so maybe that's the solution. Give them even easier to get at sources of food! Hope you find a fix ... soon.

  2. I would pay money to see a picture of that weightlifter in action! It should look funny..... if it's not YOUR tulip!

  3. How aggravating! They don't dig much in my yard except to look for their buried peanuts. Last year one kept eating the buds off one of my camellias. I would be very annoyed if he was taking lily bulbs out. The only thing I can think of is the chicken wire that you mentioned. I also know they won't eat anything with cayenne pepper. I wonder if there is something you can do with that to save your bulbs?
    Good luck.

  4. Hi, Gardeness--Hmmm. A squirrel-banquet distraction. That's worth thinking about. I wonder if I can get MY neighbors to oblige! :)I'm glad the squirrels leave your gardens alone! Be thankful for small blessings! :)

    You're right, Tatyana--it was very funny looking. (Wish I could have gotten a photo.) And don't tell anybody, but I think I did laugh. As long as he doesn't eat any more...

    Hi, Catherine--Cayenne pepper! That's a great idea. And easy on the physical labor, too. :) I think I'll run out right now and try that. I hope your camellia buds survive this year.

  5. I also have big problems with the bushy-tailed rats. To stop them from clipping off flowers, I use a spray-on critter repellent, such as Liquid Fence or Deer Off. The repellent must be applied to newly grown/budded parts of the plant. I've been able to grow Tulips, Crocuses and Lilies by doing this. If I miss spraying, they clip them off. To stop them digging up things I just planted, I use chickenwire until the ground hardens up. The stupid beasts have actually dug up a sapling tree in their peanut planting ventures.

  6. Oops! I totally forgot to say welcome to Chicago area garden blogging! I also blog from the Northwest suburbs. Were you aware that Garden Bloggers' Spring Fling is being held in Chicago this year (May 29-31)? The Spring Fling website is here: Chicago Gardeners, please check it out. I hope you can join us!

  7. Hi, Mr. McGregor's Daughter--"Bushy-tailed rats"? "Stupid beasts"? I think I've hit a nerve! I'm glad it's not just me. Thanks for the ideas on saving my bulbs & blooms--and thanks for the welcome! I've been reading about the Fling--on your blog, as well as Mr. BrownThumb and others. I'm thinking about it. It sounds wonderful, if I can get up the nerve! As a new blogger, it's still a little bit intimidating...

  8. Learn to love Narcissus in all its wonderful forms?

    It took me a couple of years to realize why my crocuses just weren't coming up anymore.... But I think that with tulips and ($$$) lilies you might want to consider planting the bulbs inside wire mesh boxes.

    Greetings to you on the lake, from the Sierra Nevada foothills!

  9. Hi, Daffodil Planter--You might be right about the mesh boxes. I buy most of my lilies at clearance prices, fortunately, but they're still expensive squirrel chow! I wish I'd seen your post on the "Dinner Date" with mule deer before I wrote this. I would have linked you! Thanks forthe ideas.

  10. I also hate squirrels. They get into our bird feeders and eat all the seed. My arch enemies in the garden are chipmunks. GRRRR. Several years ago I planted 200 crocus bulbs and they dug up and ate all but one of them.

  11. Hi Donna, The squirrels are getting bolder down here in Nashville...I caught one hanging upside down from the suet feeder! About Spring Fling...if I may add to the discussion~Last year after blogging just a few short weeks I went to SP and it was a blast...I met and made very good friends...I hope you give yourself permission to jump right in. gail

  12. Chiot's Run--199 crocus bulbs to the chipmunks! That's a definite GRRRR. I hope you've had better luck since then. I enjoyed a quick peek at your website--especially the quote about coniferous plants. I'm glad you decided to rethink your position on them. There are so many truly interesting varieties these days--much more exciting than what they usually plunk onto new home sites and gas station parkways. Enjoy the hunt for the right ones for you!

  13. Hi, Gail--Thanks for the encouraging words about Spring Fling. It's sounding better and better all the time. Maybe I'll see you there...

  14. Happy to have found your blog. I am a Midwest Garden Gal too! I am in Ohio... and I can't wait to get out in the dirt.

    We don't get many squirls in my gardens because I have farm cats who like to 'play' with them.

    Happy Bloom Tuesday!

  15. Hi, Bren--Glad you introduced yourself! Always nice to meet another Midwest gardener. It's nice that you have the cats to run "squirrel interference" for you. The squirrels just laugh at my non-tree-climbing dog. Happy Bloom Tuesday to you too!

  16. Donna, I would be SO TICKED! Lilies! I'm not sure if its our cats that keep the squirrels mostly behaved, or whether the fact that we put ears of corn out for them (far away from the gardens) in addition to having so many oak trees that produce lots of acorns, but they aren't a problem for us. The worst thing we have to deal with is the rabbits chomping the branches off things over the winter. Once nice weather hits, the cats keep those away, too.

  17. Hi, Kylee--Cats and acorns: two things I wish we had here. But my husband's allergic to the cats, and since the coyotes came around, none of my neighbors let their cats outside any more. The nearest oak trees are in the forest preserves about half a mile from here. The trees in our neighborhood are 30-year-old "suburb specials"--not an oak among them. Oh, well...I'm glad they are both working well for you! Won't be long till your kitties can be out scampering around.


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