Many animals love tulips (Tulipa spp.) as much as people do, but not in the same way. When, after you've planted your bulbs, they don't come up, you may have a bulb eater in your yard. In the battle for the bulb, knowing the enemy gives you the upper hand.
Mounds of dirt near your planting site make it clear something is digging up your bulbs. Squirrels and chipmunks are notorious for this and eat tulip bulbs as readily as acorns. If you find soil and the hole and also the tulip bulb lying on top of the ground, you most likely have a skunk. Skunks don't eat the bulbs -- which they usually toss aside -- but like to dig around in the soft soil looking for grubs and other insects.
When nothing appears amiss but your tulips simply do not come up, the culprit is more likely a mole, vole or gopher. These smaller, burrowing animals come upon bulbs while tunneling under lawns and in gardens, so the evidence often goes unnoticed. Mice and chipmunks may also unobtrusively steal bulbs where longer grass or leaf litter hides these tiny marauders from view.
Though deer are often listed as tulip bulb eaters, the truth is they eat only the leaves, stems and flowers. The same may be said for rabbits. If your tulips are nibbled above ground, these -- or perhaps a woodchuck -- are the culprits. If only the bulb is gone, it was not eaten by deer or rabbit, but that woodchuck might still have to stand in the line-up with the other bulb eaters.
While you can plant other flowers, if you're determined to have a tulip bed and don't mind some work, the best way to foil diggers is to place a sheet of poultry fencing just under the top layer of soil. For burrowers, bulbs need protection from all sides. Enclose each bulb in a small poultry wire cage, or place several in larger cages before burying them, to keep moles, voles and other burrowers away, while allowing plenty of room for roots and shoots to emerge.
Tulip leaves and flowers require rabbit and deer-proof fences or sensory deterrents, such as scattered human hair, cat feces, urine or soap, in mesh bags hung nearby. If all else fails, try building squirrel feeders or other wildlife food stations to fatten up the critters before they dine on your tulips.
- The National Gardening Association: How-To Project: Planting Tulips
- The National Gardening Association: How-To Project: Avoiding and Solving Common Bulb Problems
- American Wildlife and Plants: A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits; Alexander C. Martin, et. al.
- A.D.R. Bulbs: Dealing With Pesty Garden Critters