How to Keep Squirrels off your spring bulbs

Squirrel in Golders Hill Park. Picture: Copyright of David Godfrey- - All

Squirrel in Golders Hill Park. Picture: Copyright of David Godfrey- - All rights reserved - Credit: Archant

Ruth considers ways to fox the cleverness of grey squirrel and its fondness for tulip and crocus bulbs

Planting bulbs is a minefield with squirrels trying to steal them. Picture PA

Planting bulbs is a minefield with squirrels trying to steal them. Picture PA - Credit: PA

This spring bulb planting-time brings squirrels to mind, but not with unmixed fondness.

I am fond of watching squirrels as they race along the fence-tops and leap into the branches in our rectangle of long thin gardens in Holloway, but not fond of having to defend every newly-planted pot of bulbs with contraptions of wire and doubtful efficacy. Tulip bulbs seem to be the squirrels’ favourite, but they are not above digging up any sort of bulb.

As often as not, this squirrel-digging is to bury rather than to eat food, and no-one could accuse them of laziness. In the spring of 2019, a fox was bringing up her family under the shed. I was not really feeding them but it was clear that they were hungry because any tiny casual offering such as pear-peelings, would be gone in the morning. Occasionally, these included an old but still unbroken egg. Imagine my surprise to find just such an egg, still unbroken, poking up through the soil in a flowerpot far from the shed … squirrel-work?

But how had they managed to carry the egg, and what did they have in mind?

Squirrels are clever, as everyone who tries to stop them from eating bird-food knows. But the ways in which they use their intelligence to adapt to urban life can be, well, inscrutable.

That grey squirrels are here, making a nuisance of themselves in London gardens, is a testament to their adaptability. It is an irony that an animal that has become a serious pest (not least to foresters) should have been brought here on purpose, as a novelty.

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But in the nineteenth century it took repeated efforts, notably on the part of the 9th and 10th Dukes of Bedford, to get these natives of North America to settle and thrive here – a case of be careful what you wish for.

Julie Quinn, whose pretty garden near squirrel-rich Highgate Wood we have featured and who writes a popular blog, “London Cottage Garden”, says her “latest wheeze for the little rotters” is to put grated smelly soap under and on top of the bulbs, the idea being that the smell puts the squirrels off. As she says, “we shall see”.

Roxane Stirling of the Highgate Horticultural Society says her ploy is “to tuck the pots in horticultural fleece overnight and remove it in the morning – so far so good. Alan Dallman has another top tip, he plants his bulb pots and then upends a hanging basket frame on top – he has a lot of redundant hanging baskets.”

Meanwhile, Peter Hulatt of Camden Garden Centre reports that they don’t sell the wire cloches sometimes recommended against squirrels because of the aforementioned cleverness “they always find a way in”.

Crocus bulbs, he added, are the squirrels’ absolute favourite at the Garden Centre.

He predicts a fortune for whoever can invent a squirrel deterrent that really works, short, that is, of a shot gun.


Defy the squirrels and plant spring bulbs – some are bound to succeed and we need them to look forward to,

Enjoy the last of the dahlias, michaelmas daisies, hydrangeas etc. - don’t be in a hurry to tidy up.