Flower Bulb Growing Tips | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Protect Bulbs from Rodents and Fixes to Other Bulb Problems

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Find out how to protect bulbs from pests and the answers to other common bulb problems to keep your flowers blooming year after year!

Tips on Planting Bulbs

  1. Buy the right varieties for your area’s USDA Climate Zone. For reference, see our bulbs charts:
  2. Use top-quality bulbs. All bulbs are NOT the same. Check bulbs before buying or planting: Ensure they’re firm and free of corky lesions, mold, and soft spots. Otherwise, your bulb may have a viral disease before you even get home!
  3. Don’t plant your bulbs where you always see standing water in early spring. They like well-drained sites.
  4. Don’t plant in the soil where disease has been a problem.
  5. Make sure your bulbs get full sun. Bulbs need at least a half a day of sun in spring, while the bulb leaves are green. Midday and afternoon shade are needed in hot climates.
  6. Turn the soil over to a depth of about eight to ten inches. Add enough compost to make it loose and crumbly.
  7. Very important: Plant at the proper depth!! Generally, Plant daffodils, fritillarias, hyacinths, and tulips, plant six to eight inches deep. Plant crocuses, snowdrops, Spanish bluebells, and other small bulbs 3 to 4 inches deep. 

See our individual Bulb Growing Guides for more planting information.


Protect Bulbs from Rodents

Mice are the most common rodents to eat flower bulbs, but squirrels, chipmunks, and voles also enjoy these tasty snacks. (Note: Moles do not eat bulbs, though their tunnels may disturb plantings.)

The easiest solution is to plant “stinky” bulbs that rodents dislike, such as daffodils, allium, and snowdrops. Avoid tulips and crocus as well as gladioli. You could also try interplanting.

Otherwise, the solutions are either barriers or repellents: 

  1. Regarding barriers, use chicken wire to construct a cage where you can place your flower bulbs. If you are planting many bulbs at one time, you can lay down a wide wire mesh, such as chicken wire, directly on top of the bed, extending the surface about 3 feet from the plantings, then stake it down.
  2. Another barrier is sharp-edged gravel, which you can lay below and above your bulbs when you plant. Kitty litter is another option.
  3. Some gardeners claim that planting a bit deeper makes it harder for digging pests to find tulip bulbs. Also, always remove all debris, such as dried bulb casings, to avoid pests.
  4. The most common repellent is blood meal, which repels rodents. Sprinkle around bulbs.
  5. Spread animal urine around the garden (which can be bought at a plant store); human or animal hair works, too (visit a barber!).
  6. Powdered or liquid chili pepper is another natural deterrent, though it needs to be replaced periodically and after rain.

Image: Squirrel eating purple crocus flower. Credit: James Hudson/Shutterstock

Tips on Bulb Plant Care

  1. Always water your bulbs after planting to jump-start root growth.
  2. Keep bulbs mulched to conserve soil moisture and maintain a cool soil temperature. But hold off on mulching until the ground is cold or frozen. Piling on mulch too soon provides nesting areas for pests to overwinter.
  3. Fertilize at planting and during the spring growth period. Specifically, add a balanced natural organic fertilizer in the spring when the bulbs first appear and again after blooming. We don’t think adding fertilizer to the bulbs as you plant them (though some gardeners do) is necessary, but y ou need to help them recharge their food banks after they have bloomed.
  4. Cut off the spent flower heads after your bulbs bloom, but don’t cut off the foliage. The leaves help provide nutrients to what will become the next season’s bulbs.

Specific Bulb Problems and Solutions

  1. Are bulbs being dug up? You can usually thank squirrels or chipmunks. They especially love eating the crocus, hyacinth, and tulip bulbs. As discussed above, before planting, place hardware cloth, chicken wire, or another protective barrier over the soil, and secure it in place.
  2. Bulbs simply disappearing and never emerging? Chipmunks, voles, gophers, and mice eat them, especially the crocus and tulip bulbs—plant in a chicken wire cage or plant daffodils and allium, which animals find inedible.
  3. Are they emerging even though winter isn’t over? This is normal and due to a warm spell. As long as there isn’t a blossom, they’ll probably be fine. Be sure to mulch your beds.
  4. Are the bulbs’ leaves or buds or blossoms being eaten? You can once again thank squirrels and chipmunks but also deer and rabbits. The best solution is to plant daffodils. However, you could also use animal repellents.
  5. Just leaves, no flower bloom?  The usual reason is the lack of chill hours. In warm climates, choose varieties with low chilling requirements, and chill bulbs before planting. Another reason is pulling the leaves before they fade completely. 
  6. Fewer blossoms or smaller flowers than last year? Bulbs will decline if they experience overcrowding, poor soil fertility, or increasing shade. If overcrowded, dig and divide the bulbs as the foliage begins to die. Lift the entire clump and pull apart the bulbs that separate easily. (Never cut the bulbs.) Then, replant to a new location.

A lack of bloom often speaks to a lack of soil fertility. When plants are growing in the spring, spread an inch of compost. Or apply a low-nitrogen bulb fertilizer. You’ll get bigger, better blooms!

What to Do With Bulbs After They Bloom

Rule #1: After bulbs flower, NEVER cut their green leaves to the ground. Leave the leaves to photosynthesize and feed the rest of the plant for next year’s bloom. Wait until the leaves are yellow and fall back naturally. See our article on what to do with flower bulbs after they are done blooming.

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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