Sackcloth and ashes, sorrow and desolation...

leslie6riMarch 19, 2012

So, maybe not THAT bad, but very, very bad. I planted 350 crocus chrysanthus bulbs last Fall --most in a new bed. And the squirrels? ate/stole almost all of them. Of the 50 Crocus tricolor bulbs, TWO came up. And then one was eaten. I had a few patches of assorted crocuses in another bed and we came home last week to find them beheaded and some pulled out of the soil. And then it was hyacinths --bulbs lying on the ground with their tops bitten off. A Heuchera pulled up out of the ground. My beloved Hepaticas had their furry, silvery new stems and tiny unopened buds chomped. Even my wintergreen plants were browsed to the ground. There are holes everywhere and I don't even remember what should be there. Waaaah. And I thought planting shrubs was hard. I'm not sure I have the strength to be a perennial gardener. (They're supposed to be PERENNIAL --it's right there in the name!) Every morning a new horror.

So now I've got pinwheels everywhere. (Thanks to the gardener here who mentioned she has them in her garden. I can't remember who. pixielou? gardenweed? Who uses pinwheels?) That one, tiny remaining Crocus tricolor is now flanked by two giant pinwheels standing guard. I'm really not one for garden do-dads --at least not a dozen spinning pinwheels, but they seem to be helping. And I'm thinking of planting Fritillarias because their bulbs are supposed to smell like foxes and should deter hungry critters. So one Fritillaria for every dozen crocuses?

While I love this early Spring, my garden has become a smorgasbord for all the hungry critters. I'm the only buffet in town.

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ontheteam(5a-6 (S.Eastern, MA))

ohhh nooo nothing to offer but my deep condolences.....

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 11:19AM
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whitegarden(Z5 MA)

I have SO been there! I am sorry. Think of the happy accidents that happen in the garden to balance out the losses and it helps you feel better. Like the 200 hostas I have gotten from the two I was gifted by a friend, like all the plants I have gotten at plant swaps from people on this forum. Somehow that makes me feel better when I have a big loss.

Hope you feel better soon!

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 11:25AM
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spedigrees z4VT

I feel your pain, Leslie. I've given up entirely on crocus, after underground rodents ate several dozen bulbs two years in a row.

Pixielou was the original pinwheel gal, and I imitated her last summer with good results. So pinwheels might be a solution for you. Very sorry for your many losses this spring. :-(

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 11:59AM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

Crocus tommasinianus is said to be less appealing to squirrels and deer than other species. Try C. 'Ruby Giant'


Here is a link that might be useful: C. tommasinianus Ruby Giant

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 11:59AM
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Thanks everyone,

People often don't understand how we wait through the long, dark Winter (not so long and dark this past Winter) anticipating the glory of those first blooms. I knew I could find comfort here.

Steve, I'm growing Crocus t. 'Lilac Beauty' and it was browsed too. In fact, some of my Fall crocus were chomped, pulled out of the ground, and spat out and I thought they were poisonous. (I hope whatever it is has a terribly upset stomach.) The varmint in question doesn't seem to know what it's supposed to eat and is sampling everything. Gaultheria!? Seriously? Hyacinths? Chionodoxa!? Irises!?

I'm going to plant Allium and Fritillaria so the rodents can't smell the tasty bulbs. I'll be using hardware cloth next year after I plant that very same bulb collection yet again.

If anything eats my tiny red-stemed Jeffersonia dubia which is just up out of the ground, it will be the last straw.

One weird thing... I have a small patch of crocuses in the back of the house that haven't been touched. Squirrels and chipmunks are out there all the time because the bird feeders are there. So I'm worrying that a deer or even a w--dc---k (that which may not be named) has found my front gardens. We even talked about putting a motion-sensor camera out there just to learn who the culprit is. But how far do we really want to take it? I'd so love to know what animal it is, though. I lost all my Pulmonaria last year to something that went after them particularly and left everything else alone. Now I have a creature that samples everything. Gardening is hard --emotionally.

I love my hellebores. Nothing eats them. (So far...)

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 1:59PM
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My sympathies, Leslie. One strategy is to just go with the flow and only plant poisonous or strong-flavored plants like daffodils and alliums which don't get eaten. Or alternatively you can fight the critters and try things that are aversive to protect bulbs that are naturally more appealing. There are commercial sprays (relatively expensive, but the few times I have needed them, have worked) for discouraging deer (and other mammals like voles, squirrels rabbits, etc, I assume) or make your own with things like hot pepper, garlic, eggs, and a bit of soap or milk to make it stick, and then reapply after rain. Milorganite (read up on it before deciding to use) is supposed to discourage herbivorous critters.

To prevent the bulbs to from being dug up you can plant in hardware cloth containers as you've mentioned (or I've used nylon onion bags for crocus and other fine-foliaged bulbs) or surround them with chicken grit as you plant. Chicken wire over the whole surface of the bed may work if you have a smaller area and digging is from the surface down rather than from tunnels. A bit of hot pepper in the hole may help or mixing your more edible bulbs with daffs or another one of the inedible ones.

Good luck with your efforts.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 3:35PM
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Hi Barb,

Ha, Milorganite, I'm sure it's fine but I don't think I'll go that route. --Just the idea of it... We're hoping to get a dog soon, so we'll let him take care of that! I sprinkled (poured) cayenne pepper during last year's Pulmonaria massacre but read something about it blinding little rodents if it gets in their eyes. I'll have to look up a recipe with soap or milk so the pepper sticks. Thanks. And we thought we might try some coyote urine --why not?

I did a lot of things wrong --like planting many of the bulbs in a freshly dug bed. Didn't realize that squirrels are attracted to freshly turned soil. I should have put chicken wire or hardware cloth over them. And the marauder who is eating everything may not come every year. I didn't have this much trouble last year.

The pinwheels are working so far. I noticed the few remaining crocuses are still there this morning. So there is hope. Smile.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2012 at 7:23AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Oh, Leslie, so sorry to hear that! You are so right - we plant and wait for those first blooms and it's frustrating and disappointing when they don't appear. I can't offer much other help than what has been listed above, but I do commiserate with you and wish you better luck in the future.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2012 at 8:25PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Terrible story! Have had smaller losses, nothing on that scale and can only imagine how discouraging that is. I did have two seasons of a woodchuck and remember vividly what an unpleasant season they were. I've had my trouble with squirrels. I also did not know they were attracted to newly turned soil and I potted up new iris that were mailed bare root and left the pots against the fence in the shade, to find them all eaten by the squirrels but one. Had the same experience with them eating the crocus but I had only planted 25.

So the next season, instead of making hardware cloth boxes, and burying the bulbs in them, which seemed like a lot of work to me, I bought the hardware cloth and cut it into square pieces to simply place over where I planted the new bulbs. That worked great and as soon as the bulbs started to show
in the spring I took up the cloth and they have not been disturbed since then.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 3:34AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I also meant to post a link to a product that might help...

A motion activated sprinkler that is on sale at Johnny's right now.

Here is a link that might be useful: A motion activated sprinkler

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 4:10AM
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I feel your pain - so sad to go to all that work and then have some noxious rodent wreck it.

Using wire to protect crocus bulbs when planting may be a waste of time. At least in my garden, the crocus come up and bloom, and within hours are knocked over and decapitated. The petals still look lovely, for about an hour, LOL. I won't bother planting any more, since none of the other minor bulbs are molested - at least not on that scale.

If you're thinking of a dog, I can highly recommend standard poodles for vole control. We found 3 vole corpses on the patio this morning. We had been wondering what was keeping our dog Sophie occupied for so long out in the yard, and finally saw her acting like she had a new squeaky toy. Their nest was not far away, in a mixed bed, and she'd excavated it very tidily - no damage to the garden at all. A little gruesome, yes, but I was really happy that she'd at least made a dent in the vole population.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 12:39PM
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Very sad and sorry to read your post Leslie. I'm also plagued with squirrels, chipmunks, WCs, bunnies, slugs, et al ad nauseum and they inflict a fair amount of damage every spring, the destructive little varmints. I think it'd be a lot worse if the seed & suet feeders didn't spill a little sustenance to keep them away from spring bulb flowers and foliage. Crocus, puschkinia and grape hyacinth have naturalized in my front lawn over the years so I wouldn't know if they were feeding on them--there are literally thousands every spring. I've got crown imperials as well and they stink like skunk--even the flowers & foliage--which may be a natural deterrent. The stench can be smelled as much as 8 ft. away from the plants.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 1:52PM
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terrene(5b MA)

I can sympathize. Lately, it has been the blasted voles. With the deep snow cover last winter, the voles became over-populated and over the course of the past year they've wreaked havoc in my gardens. The cat pretty much got them under control except for the very front garden near the sidewalk. I don't let her go up there because it's too close to the road. I discovered more carnage this Spring. Most of the pretty Crocus, Hyacinth, etc were eaten. The Aster September Ruby, all the Sedum Matrona, one of my Phlox Nora Leigh, Eupatorium Chocolate, etc. mostly eaten. They even chewed off half the root system on the Buddleia 'Black Knight' so that half the stalks literally blew out of the ground. All of these well-established perennials for years. :(

Between the vole(s) and the machinery from the tree crew that ran over the corner of the garden, my front garden needs to be "revitalized" this year. Oh well, see it as an opportunity to plant some new things.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 10:34PM
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Wow! Thank you everyone! Misery is supposed to love company, but I feel terrible for everyone's losses. (terrene, you lost so much!) --But what excellent company!

For me, the pinwheels are working. I'm so glad pixielou mentioned them; I'd never have thought of it. Every morning I check the few remaining crocuses and they're all still there. And the hepaticas seem to be unfazed even though they were nibbled. I decided against coyote urine which might make our male cat nervous, but thought maybe if I sprayed fox urine ON the pinwheels it would be a double deterrent. Ha, obsession?

gardenweed, I doubt the squirrels ate all of the crocus bulbs. I'm hoping they buried some in the lawn and they'll naturalize. And hope they don't pop up in my neighbor's lawn.

digginthedirt, my husband really wants a black Lab (so he 'can wear black and not look like he's covered in fur'). Honestly, I haven't noticed any voles. But the cat left us many, many dead chipmunks last year. Maybe he dispatches the voles too.

Milorganite, predator urine, skunky plants you can smell from 8 feet away... or pinwheels. I'm really starting to love those pinwheels.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 11:43AM
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terrene(5b MA)

Oh yes, my cat does a good job on the voles and chipmunks, also mice, moles, and baby bunnies. Honestly I cannot imagine what kind of rodent infestation would exist without her, both inside and out! Also, dogs are very good for deterring pests and some are good at catching rodents.

I'm planning to get a bag of milorganite as soon as I come across it for the rabbits and deer, which are not too bad but target certain choice plants, like the rabbits ALWAYS find my Liatris seedlings and munch them down.

Personally I would not buy predator urine because I have heard that there is some animal cruelty involved in collecting the specimens (not unlike mares' urine for hormone replacement therapy). You can also try male human urine - I heard that hunter's pee into a bottle because they do not want to leave their scent anywhere in the woods where they are hunting.

Cool on the pinwheels! They're not the most aesthetic things to have in the garden, but if they work, then they probably start to look better and better. :)

    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 5:34PM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

It would be really helpful to know what critter(s) you are dealing with. Have you considered setting a trap? This one comes highly recommended. Pinwheels might stop squirrels for a while, but they won't stop voles.


Here is a link that might be useful: Big Snap E

    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 9:11PM
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What a terrible story! I know how much work we all put into our gardens and for me, the payoff comes when those first spring bulbs start creeping through the soil. My sympathies!

A couple of years ago, a new trend emerged on our street. At least three homes surrounding ours began buying 3lb bags of peanuts on a fairly regular basis for the neighborhood squirrels. For a while, it drove me nuts. The squirrel population seemed to multiply exponentially, they became brazen and I swear they enjoyed taunting us and our three large dogs. The thing that bugged me the most, however, was that it seemed like those squirrels decided to choose only my flower gardens as the ideal burying site for their nuts. That first summer, I could have filled a small wheelbarrow with all of the peanuts I found. Of course, I felt guilty every time I would dig up a nut (I developed an affinity for Oscar, the chubby brown one with the white paws), so I'd just put it back in the ground where I found it.

Why am I telling this rambling story? I have not lost a single plant since the neighbors started handing out peanuts. Not one of my plants has been eaten, dug up, uprooted, nibbled, and none of my spring bulbs disappear. The squirrels must be so satisfied with all those nuts they store in our flower beds, that they leave the flowers unscathed!

Hey, it's worth a shot!

    Bookmark   March 26, 2012 at 10:07AM
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Hi steve and terrene,

I think the culprit is a deer. What I thought were hyacinths --but may have been Ornithogalum nutans, were pulled right out of the ground. I've been looking at motion-sensor cameras because I just want to see what goes on out there when I'm not looking. There are some amazingly cheap ones, and I don't need great photos just to see if I'm dealing with a deer or a bunny. I'll look at the link for the Big Snap E --in case I want to trap whatever it is (and it turns out not to be a deer!)

The squirrels spend their time hanging upside-down on my bird feeders --eating their way through their days. I can't imagine they could eat any more, but it's worth a try to provide some peanuts. But now I'm also intrigued by the idea of male human urine. Maybe I could talk my husband into...

Next year I will cover tasty bulbs with hardware cloth until the ground freezes solid. I can't really blame the squirrels for doing what comes naturally. Sigh, it's all a learning experience, right?

    Bookmark   March 26, 2012 at 11:00AM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

Deer can be difficult to deal with. Repellants are OK, I use Bobex (made in New England), but they have to be reapplied as new growth appears. The best thing would be a fence, but if that's not in your budget, try one of these.

That's Kirby (the Lab) and Bianca the Bunny Hunter (the Weim). Helps keep the critters out of the yard. They only thing they don't help with is voles. That's what Big Snap-E is for.


    Bookmark   March 26, 2012 at 1:44PM
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Awww, what a couple of cutie pies! They look very content in that picture.
I have a black lab named Maddy. She does a great job of keeping the squirrels out as well as the neighborhood cats who thought that the yard was their personal litter box when we moved in. I love cats, but I don't want to come across their leavings when I'm digging.
I had a problem spot in my front bed, evidence of digging. I can't be sure who the culprit was. The solution was a nice thorny rose. Haven't had any signs of digging since I put it in.
I haven't lost bulbs to the degree a lot of you have, but I do have a lot of people who keep bird feeders, including myself, so I imagine the squirrels get all they need that way.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2012 at 3:34PM
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GaelicGardener(z6 RI)

Think about how few acorns we had this year. The poor babies (this includes the deer) were hungry. Sorry for your loss, but think about how many bellies you kept full!

    Bookmark   March 26, 2012 at 6:28PM
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Aaaaaargh, gaelicgardener (nice name!),

I give them all black oil sunflower seed, suet (in multiple flavors!) and all our leftover bread. I'm happy to feed them but NOT MY FLOWERS. Especially deer; they eat too much. I'm still waiting for the day when I get to see my Hosta 'Guacamole' in bloom --and not in a deer's belly. Maybe the pinwheels will work...


I thought I posted a response yesterday, but... Love your dogs! They are the best solution. Can't wait to add one to the family...

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 11:16AM
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