Tulip blooms are bitten off but not eaten


Hello Folks: We have lived in this house for many years and some of the many tulips I have planted 25 and 30 years ago are still blooming, as are newer plantings.

For about the past five years a new, very annoying phenomenon has occurred. Some critter (squirrels?- we don’t have chipmunks) is biting off the tulip blooms and just leaving them on the ground.

A couple of questions:
Animals usually do something which benefits them. What benefit does an animal (squirrel?) get from biting the bloom but not eating it?

Secondly, this has only started in about the past five years. What has changed the behaviour of the animal to cause this to happen?

Peter Nazwaski


Thank you for contacting Toronto Master Gardeners.

Deer, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, voles, and groundhogs all like to dine on tulips and are possible culprits.

In your situation, I suspect that squirrels are the pest nipping your flowers.

Research has shown that gray squirrels can quickly learn from watching their peers, particularly if it relates to stealing food.

About five years ago, a squirrel in your neighbourhood evidently learned to nip off tulip flowers, and taught this behaviour to its peers. It seems that this behaviour was transmitted to offspring. I could not find any authoritative reference as to why this happens. It might be part of their foraging routine. Perhaps, the squirrels are seeking water from the plant.

This flower nipping behaviour does not happen everywhere. In my garden in squirrel- and chipmunk-infested Toronto, I have had very few tulip flowers clipped off, and I have many dozens of tulips.

To discourage these creatures from nipping your tulip flowers, you could:

  • Try inter-planting your tulips with plants that rodents dislike, such as alliums. Alliums fall into the same family as onions, garlic and chives, all of which repel rabbits and squirrels. These late spring-early summer bloomers are available in a variety of colours, bloom size and height.
    Another alternative is hyacinths. Their fragrance repels these pests. These spring flowers are available in whites, pinks, purples and grow about 10 inches tall.
  • Plant daffodils and narcissus.
  • Keep a dog in the yard. Dogs keep away many animal pests.