Gardening: Daffodils and mothballs are your only hope against hungry squirrels

For the News-DemocratNovember 15, 2013 

Q. We have enormous quantities of squirrels around our property. That is not too surprising because although we have no pecan trees, just about everyone else in our neighborhood has at least one pecan tree and most have two or three.

We are inundated with squirrels all year. They dig up baby plants to plant pecans so we have to be on the outlook for pecan seedlings in our garden. They chew up our tomatoes. We were told they get tomatoes because they are thirsty, so we put dishes of water. Makes no difference!

The thing that annoys me most is that they chew up our tulip bulbs. One year I planted 100 tulip bulbs, expecting a beautiful spring display of color. I had only about a dozen blooms. The squirrels had dug up the bulbs. Is there any way I can have tulips? Is there any way I can defeat squirrels?

-- K.B., of Smithton

A. Squirrels are a big problem where there is a variety of food sources. Nuts rank up there pretty high on the food list. There are about 76 different species of plants eaten by squirrels, and the tomato is on this list. Unfortunately, you do not live an area with just elm, maple and willows. You would never find a squirrel living in this type of wooded area. Squirrels change their diet throughout the year, depending upon what foods are available. Your tulips come on the menu in late winter and early spring when most of the regular foods are scarce. They even eat non-poisonous mushrooms, and will eat larval insects in the soil when things get rough.

I can't help you with the squirrels bothering your tulips, but scientific studies have shown that squirrels and many other mammals will leave daffodils alone. I can personally attest to this. We plant only daffodils bulbs, and we have not had any trouble with squirrels bothering the daffodils for six years straight. The squirrels are running and eating hickory nuts.

Mothballs work for a while to deter squirrels in planting beds.

Q. I also have a hoya plant of respectable age. This year for the first time, it bloomed. There were just three blossoms, but it had not bloomed for about 25 years. It was a thing of wonder for me. Now I wonder if I should just let the blossom stems be or should I remove them? I'm leaning toward not touching them.

Is there anything I could do to encourage more blooms? I realize there are many kinds of hoyas and I am not sure what kind mine is. I don't overwater it and I have repotted it only twice in all these years. Do you think it will ever bloom again?

-- K.B., of Smithton

A. You are correct in not bothering the hoya flower stems after they have finished blooming. Just let them fall off when they want to.

There are two requirements to bring hoya plants back into flower, and it depends mainly how you treat these plants during the winter months. First, keep the air temperature cool from 50 to 55 degrees all winter. Water the hoya sparingly during the winter months. The plants will reward you with blooms again in spring when you place them in a warm area and water them liberally. But make sure the water can drain out the bottom of the container so the roots do not rot.

If you are going to repot the hoya, do it in early spring. You can also mist water on the leaves to raise the humidity.

You did not mention any fragrance from the waxy flowers. You will notice this usually early in the morning when the plant is in bloom. Over time, there should be larger floral displays and many different flower sprays.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Pat Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427. Or email to pkuhl@bnd.com

Do it now

FALL LEAVES: Start raking leaves as they are falling rapidly. Mulch them instead of burning them.They make a wonderful compost if you constantly turn the pile every two weeks and sprinkle some nitrogen fertilizer over the pile to help the decay begin.

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