Miss Floribunda: Squirrelly thieves invading garden
Dear Miss Floribunda,
Hope springs eternal, even in fall. I have gone ahead and bought crocus, grape hyacinth and Dutch iris bulbs even though I doubt I’ll ever see them bloom, at least not in my own yard or where I planted them. You wrote that the squirrels go in for reforestation but the ones in my yard fancy themselves landscapers. I have seen clumps of crocus in odd spots of my own garden and suspect that some of them have ended up where my neighbors may not have planned to have any.
Please, can you or one of your quirky experts tell me how to discourage squirrels from digging up my bulbs? I enjoy watching them frisk about happily but I really can’t afford to finance their fun.
Going Squirrelly on Gallatin Street
Dear Going Squirrelly,
I feel your pain. Several years ago, I became suspicious when I recognized what could only be the unique Rip Van Winkle daffodil blooming in a neighbor’s yard while the one I had planted didn’t even peek above ground. It was unmistakable: whorls of narrow yellow petals create a tousled “bedhead” look. I asked my neighbor where she had ordered the bulb. My neighbor informed me she hadn’t planted it and that in fact she thought it was ugly. She gave me permission to dig it up. I then firmly resolved to find a solution to squirrel theft. I discarded several repellent ones. Planting moth balls would contaminate the groundwater. Ivan Grozni provided some interesting recipes for squirrel, but I’m squeamish about touching game that might harbor lyme ticks or, if eaten, transfer a form of encephalopathy we might call “Mad Squirrel’s Disease.”
A humane yet effective solution came from my Mexican sister-in-law Picante, married to my brother Meriweather. Picante comes from an area of Sonora too dry to have oaks, but it does have ground squirrels and other desert rodents. She learned to intersperse hot pepper plants in her garden to repel them. Coming to our area, she was delighted to finally enjoy a spring garden full of tulips, flowers she always loved from afar but could not grow at home. Picante inserts a number of very hot peppers in the hole with each bulb. She grows a good supply of peppers because she uses them in her cooking. I prefer to go to a wholesaler for large containers of cayenne pepper in flakes and powder and mix it with the soil in which I plant my bulbs. I sprinkle the surface of the soil copiously with the pepper after planting, and repeat after rains until the ground freezes. I haven’t seen squirrels hopping up and down chattering imprecations but they do seem to leave the peppery spots alone after the briefest of examinations.
Although we both are treating this with a bit of whimsy, I’m sure you know that the squirrels themselves are quite earnest about their activities. They are in a hurry to prepare for winter by amassing acorns, or anything resembling acorns, to eat later. They raid each other’s caches and they dig up our bulbs. Some bulbs we never see again because they are placed in hollows and nests in trees; others we see flowering in surprising places. Because there are quite a few oak trees on Gallatin Street, residents there may well have a larger squirrel population (and problem) than elsewhere in Hyattsville.
Picante claims that peppers work well at bird feeders, too, to keep squirrels away. My contact at the Audubon Society, Jean-Jacques Avocet, is not sure anything can keep squirrels away from bird seed, but said the method was safe for birds. Birds would not taste pepper mixed with their seed and its ingestion would not harm them. In fact in the wild birds are the most efficient propagators of indigenous peppers. Birds don’t digest the seeds and eliminate them in places often propitious for their germination.