Monday, April 9, 2007

Squirrels eating my tulips in Hoboken, NJ

I have a garden in Hoboken, NJ, where I have planted a couple stands of tulips. Now that they are coming up, I am noticing squirrels (and/or rabbits) eating the foliage. Is there a way to deter them from eating them all to the ground?

This is an issue that I have heard of many times, and the solutions people come up with get more and more creative every year. Here is a list of popular options:

Pepper sprays are used by many, including these two listed in Rodale’s "Great Garden Formulas":
½ oz. Tabasco, 1 pint water, ½ teaspoon dishwashing liquid, 1 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper steeped in 1 quart very hot water, mixed with 1 teaspoon horticultural oil

The first recipe is recommended to spray around your tulips, not necessarily on them. The latter is recommended as a foliar spray. As long as the weather stays dry these sprays usually do the trick. One catch is that sprays need to be reapplied after rain storms. The other factor is that some consider this method to be inhumane to the squirrels.

The advice many publications give is to incorporate bulbs in with your tulip planting that squirrels will not eat, namely Narcissus spp. (daffodils) and Allium spp.. There are miniature Narcissus that can be used subtly while not taking away from the show the tulips put on.

If the squirrels are going after the bulbs before they emerge, try planting your bulbs in “bulb cages”. Information about various shapes and sizes are available online. Along those lines, a good recommendation I read once said to lay down a layer of gravel below the soil above where you planted the tulips. The tulips will be able to push through the gravel but the squirrels are usually deterred from digging through the gravel and give up.

My last thought, and certainly the funniest sounding option I have ever heard of is to use petroleum jelly. In all honesty I have never tried this, but other gardener’s accounts I have read claim that it works well. To deter squirrels and rabbits alike, some have written that putting petroleum jelly (Vaseline, etc.) on the foliage of the plants work very well. It does not affect the look of your plants but the coating is enough of a deterrent that the little critters will stay away.

If anyone else has tips that have worked for them, I would love to hear your stories. Feel free to email me at the address above – Thanks!


  1. According to the woman I advised, the petroleum jelly trick worked! She applied vaseline to her tulip stalks and sure enough they lasted all the way through their bloom without further squirrel damage. We were thrilled and amazed - and will certainly keep this in mind for future springs.

  2. In the fall, to protect the bulbs from being eaten or dug up by hungry squirrels, I soak them in deer repellent before planting. In the spring, to protect the tulips from being nibbled by the deer (my friend calls them rodents with antlers), I then regularly spray them with deer repellent as soon as the bulbs begin to emerge.

  3. Someone at a nursery advised me to spread chicken manure on the ground after planting tulip bulbs. It worked like a charm. The squirrels didn't touch my bulbs. However, they are now eating all my tulip buds...