How to Protect Flowering Bulbs from Pests

Flowering bulbs are tough plants and often provide years of outstanding garden service with truly a minimum of trouble from pests and diseases. Even if you do run into little problems, you can usually handle them easily with a variety of methods. When protecting your bulbs against pesky bugs, you have several options:

  • Enlist the good guys, beneficial insects. Lots of garden critters that hang around actually prey upon the bad bugs that harm plants. In a garden with a variety of plants and no pesticides, good and bad bugs co-exist in a natural balance. If the bad guys get a bit out of hand, you can bring in these reinforcements:

    • Green lacewings: Buy lacewings eggs and larvae to spread throughout your garden. The larvae consume aphids voraciously, sometimes carrying the remains of their victims on their backs. The adult lacewings feed on nectar and pollen.

    • Lady beetles or lady bugs: These familiar bugs feed on aphids, mites, and thrips. You can buy mesh bags with hundreds of lady beetles and release them with the hope that they stick around.

    • Parasitic nematodes: These microscopic worms handle some soil pests, burrowing insects, and grubs.

    • Praying mantises: These giants of the good bug army do serious damage to aphids, caterpillars, leaf hoppers, and the like. You can buy a cocoon-like sack with praying mantis eggs inside, but you have no guarantee that the mantises will remain in your garden.

  • Call up the organic cavalry. If problems persist after prevention and signing on the good bug infantry, your next step is safe, organic, biodegradable controls. These methods include botanical insecticides (made from plants themselves), insecticidal soaps, and certain natural bacteria that are harmful only to the larvae of certain bugs.

  • Engage in chemical warfare. If none of the previous methods work, your last line of defense is synthetic or chemical controls in the form of insecticides and fungicides.

    Safety is a priority, and maintaining ecological balance is a worthy goal, so pest prevention and nontoxic controls are always your best bet. Use harsh chemical methods only as a last resort — sparingly, prudently, and carefully. Follow instructions and safety precautions on product labels exactly.

Tasty treats that they are, your favorite bulbs may turn otherwise law-abiding animals into serious criminals. Beware the mice, rabbits, voles, woodchucks, and deer that unearth and munch bulbs or crunch foliage and flowers.

Here’s a tactic or two to try when battling bulb-munching animals:

  • Sprinkle a few mothballs (not the flake type) around the base of plants and young trees and shrubs to repel rabbits.

  • Plant poisonous bulbs, such as daffodils, fritillarias, snowflakes, snowdrops, or colchicums. Not only will animals leave them alone, but these bulbs may also protect neighboring bulbs.

  • To stop deer from eating bulbs, some people place bars of deodorant soap (but not cocoa-based soap) around the garden, or sprinkle baby powder. Commercial deer repellent sprays are available. Dogs, if contained, can bark deer away, although neighbors may not appreciate the noise. Vigilant dogs and cats can thwart rodents, including rats, mice, gophers, and voles.

  • Plant bulbs in a wire mesh cage to stop deer and rodents. Line the planting hole for a group of bulbs with chicken wire. To hinder mice, use hardware cloth over the bed and remove it when shoots poke out of the ground. Remember that deer don’t seem to go in for calla lilies, daffodils, and irises.

  • Use traps, baits, or electronic controls to foil rodents, but you have to consider how much the method will cost (in dollars, trouble, and toxins) to win the war.

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