Will our squirrels eat gladiolus buds?

(Question)

There are many squirrels on my apartment building’s grounds here in downtown Toronto. They have eaten easter lillies before they even got a chance to bloom. I planted some gladiolus bulbs recently (apparently white with red centres).  They’re coming up now – will those darn squirrels eat the gladiolus buds before they get a chance to bloom? I’m wondering if I should even bother staking them.

(Answer)

Squirrels do indeed love gladiolus. At least you can’t fault the little fellows for their taste in flowers! They are best known for eating glad bulbs, but can also munch on the buds and flowers.  We have no way of knowing if your neighbourhood squirrels will eat the buds/flowers, so I suggest that you be an optimist and go ahead and stake the plants.

Although it is late in the season (July 1), you could still plant chives, which might help repel the squirrels from the plants (squirrels don’t like the smell of onion).  As well, sprinkle blood meal around the plants (squirrels hate that smell, too).  Stuff human/cat/dog hair (e.g., from your vacuum, the hair salon or a pet store) into nylon stockings and hang a few of these “baggies” near the plants – the squirrels will “smell” predators and stay away.  Keep the plants deadheaded and the area clean.

Most gardening literature focuses on protecting the bulbs, and these strategies are useful to review here.  This should start at or before planting, for example, by dipping the bulbs in solutions that make them unpalatable to squirrels and other critters (ask your local gardening centre about these products). To stop squirrels from digging up bulbs, cover the area with chicken wire or hardware cloth, then cover that area with soil.  The plants will grow through the mesh, and the bulbs are protected.  Planting bulbs up to 50% deeper than usual and making sure the soil above the bulbs is well-firmed might also prevent squirrels from detecting the bulbs.  Another suggestion is to use a mulch that smells strong (e.g., cedar, compost) in the planted area, so the squirrels can’t smell the luscious bulbs underneath.  As noted above, sprinkling blood meal around the planted areas should keep squirrels away.

Animal deterrent sprays and solutions and devices that frighten animals are not likely to protect plants on a long-term basis (and may be harmful or cruel).  Some references suggest feeding squirrels peanuts or corn in designated feeders (so they will be too full to think about eating bulbs).  I don’t think this would deter them – rather, it would likely attract more squirrels to the garden for a multi-course feast!

Likely the best strategy is to plant other bulbs and plants that squirrels (and other garden foragers) do not find appetizing – either instead of the tasty bulbs, or very close to them.  By siting these other plants next to the gladiolus (or other plants the squirrels love), the creatures may be persuaded to dine elsewhere, where they won’t get a whiff of (for example) allium (which smells like onions).

You will find more detailed information about dealing with squirrels in an earlier post on this website “How do we keep squirrels from eating our tulip bulbs?”  .  The Royal Horticultural Society, in its “Squirrels” article, also provides helpful information.

Good luck in preserving those lovely flowers for all to enjoy! (…except the squirrels…)