We know tulips for their brilliant cup-like flowers that bloom in the spring. These plants are a sure sign that winter has passed and warm weather is to come. If you see your tulips one day and they’re gone the next, there are a few different animals that may be responsible.
Animals that love eating your tulips include slugs, snails, moles, voles, rabbits, deer, skunks, mice, rats, squirrels, and chipmunks. Some of these critters target the leaves or flowers, while others dig underneath to get at the tender bulbs before the tulips even sprout.
Below, we’ll go over all the animals that can’t pass by a tulip without taking a bite. We’ll also cover what the damage looks like and how to prevent it. Let’s get to it!
Snails and Slugs Love Eating Tulip Leaves
Garden snails and slugs are rarely seen far from gardens, water, or flower beds. These troublesome mollusks slime their way onto tulip plants and anything else they can find.
Slugs are like snails but lack a shell. Both critters are almost exclusively nocturnal feeders. They may come out during the day if it is cloudy and rainy.
The reason they feed at night is that they can dry out during hot sunny days. Snails and slugs need constant moisture and prefer to come out at night when temperatures are cooler and humidity is higher.
You can expect slug damage to start in the spring and last all season until frost hits. This can be problematic for tulips that are just getting established in the springtime.
If you suspect slugs or snails are to blame for tulip damage, check for these signs:
- Ragged holes in leaves: Except for a few select plants like daffodils, slugs and snails target the leaves of plants. According to the University of Maryland, snails and slugs leave ragged holes in leaves.
- Slime trails: Both snails and slugs travel using a foot that secretes mucus to aid in movement. Look for silver streaks on tulip leaves that indicate a snail or slug has been there.
How To Prevent Snails And Slugs From Devouring Tulip Leaves
The only positive aspect of having snails and slugs around your tulips is that they do not target the bulbs. This, at least, means your tulips will sprout before the damage starts!
To keep snails and slugs away from your tulip leaves, you have a couple of different options, ranging from a few modifications to straight-up trapping these slimy pests.
- Eliminate daytime hiding places: Make your yard unattractive to slugs and snails by eliminating their hiding places. Pick up unused flower pots, old boards, unused bricks, unused stones, or anything else they might use to hide. Think of cool, dark, damp places.
- Avoid watering the leaves: When watering your tulips, avoid getting the whole plant wet and aim for just the soil. The wetter the plant, the more attractive it is to snails and slugs.
- Create an unfavorable environment around your tulips: space tulips out so that as much sun and air can reach the plants. Avoid ground covers or mulching under tulips.
- Pick em’ off: If you see the slugs or snails in action munching on your tulip leaves, you can pick them off and dispose of them. Cloudy, rainy days are the best time to do this.
- Use scents they hate: Snails and slugs have an extremely strong sense of smell. Luckily for us, we can confuse their sense of smell with certain scents. Check out the list of smells that snails hate for more info (they work on slugs too!)
- Use traps: When nothing else works, you can fill a small container with beer or a mixture of yeast and water. Bury the container so that the lip is flush with the ground. Snails and slugs will be attracted to the mixture and fall into the trap. Refresh the trap every few days.
- Use a copper barrier: Snails and slugs dislike crawling across copper. Kirecoo’s Copper Foil Tape can be placed around tulip plants to create a barrier that slugs and snails will not cross over.
When using copper tape, it’s important to create a barrier that is at least as wide as a slug’s or snail’s body. 1 inch will do, but 2 inches is better.
I also highly recommend reading our guide on why snails and slugs are in your garden to learn more about some creative ways you can keep them out!
Moles and Voles Target Tulip Bulbs
Moles and voles are both small rodent pests in the landscape. Moles do less damage to plants than voles as they do not target tulips for food.
Voles can be a problem pest of tulips because they love feeding on the roots and bulbs of tulip plants. An article in the Journal of Hort Technology noted that tulips have zero resistance to vole feeding.
Perennial tulip bulbs that are spent/rotting underground may attract moles, which can cause inadvertent damage to your living tulips through digging and burrowing.
Mole damage typically happens over winter when a blanket of snow protects them from the watchful eyes of predators and they can scurry around free of fear.
Voles, on the other hand, are active year-round and can cause damage day or night. If your tulips are struggling or not sprouting, look for these signs of mole and vole damage:
- Yellowing leaves: Voles like to chew on the roots of tulip plants. This can prevent vital water and nutrients from reaching the rest of the plant, causing yellow leaves and wilt. Moles can burrow into roots by accident, causing damage.
- Dirt mounds: Unlike voles, moles will leave little cone-shaped mounds where they have dug their shallow feeding tunnels. If you notice dirt mounds around your tulips, you’re probably dealing with a mole, not a vole.
- Missing plants: If you planted tulip bulbs the previous year and come spring nothing is sprouting, it may be because a vole ate the bulb.
The best way to tell vole damage from mole damage is to check for mounds. If there’s damage to your tulips but no mounds or surface tunnels, then you’re more than likely dealing with a vole.
Check for dirt mounds around older tulips that may have rotting bulbs underneath. According to North Carolina State University, these old bulbs will attract grubs and insects, which will attract moles.
Moles are omnivores, while voles are herbivores. Moles are typically less of a problem than voles when it comes to damaging tulips and other flowers in the landscape.
How To Stop Moles and Voles From Damaging Your Tulips
If moles or voles (or both!) are tearing up your yard and damaging your tulip, then you can use some of the prevention tips below to keep these pesky rodents away from your plants.
- Use hardware cloth: One way to prevent moles and voles from digging through your tulip roots is to place hardware cloth beneath your tulips. MTB’s Galvanized Hardware Cloth is 36 inches by 25 feet and contains ¼-inch holes, which is a good size to keep moles and voles out.
There is no need to place the hardware cloth above the ground unless you are dealing with other pests. Moles and voles will not target any part of the plant aboveground.
- Use old coffee grounds: The scent of coffee is overpowering to these pesky rodents’ keen sense of smell. Try spreading fresh spent coffee grounds around your tulips to deter moles and voles.
- Use companion plants: Marigold, daffodils, alliums, and fritillarias are all great companion plants to place next to your tulips. Moles and voles don’t seem to like these plants and may stay away from your tulips if they are planted near them.
- Plant tulips in a raised bed: Raised beds will deter moles and voles and keep them away from tulip roots and bulbs.
You can read more about how to get rid of moles in your yard here!
Rabbits Love Eating Your Tulip Leaves
Rabbits seem to be everywhere, hopping around with their fluffy white tails and adorably long ears. Despite their cuteness, rabbits can destroy tulips!
Damage from rabbits can happen all season long. They are active all year and may munch on tulip leaves during the day or night.
To learn more on that, take a look at our guide on where rabbits commonly go during the day!
If rabbits are gnawing on leaves at night, it may be difficult to identify them unless you know what rabbit damage looks like.
- Clean-cut leaves: Rabbits have both upper and lower incisors, meaning that when they chew on leaves, they typically make a clean cut instead of a jagged hole or tear.
- Signs of rabbit presence: Rabbits target mainly the leaves of tulips and no other part of the flower. Since other animals target the leaves, you’ll have to look for clues of a rabbit’s presence such as tracks, scat, or seeing them in the yard during the day.
How To Stop Rabbits From Chewing Your Tulip Leaves
When it comes to repelling rabbits, you won’t have to deal with slimy snails or underground burrowers like moles. However, you will have to deal with a very determined pest!
Rabbit populations are highest when a yard is set against a natural environment, such as a forest or an uncultivated field. Any place that provides rabbits with a hiding place will encourage them to stick around.
To keep rabbits away from your tulips, try employing some tactics below.
- Build a fence: The most effective and most expensive way to keep rabbits away is to build a fence. Mesh should have openings 1 inch or smaller and be raised 4 feet off the ground. Bury the fence 6 inches underground to prevent burrowing.
- Clean up the yard: Make your yard unattractive to rabbits. According to the University of California, this means removing brush piles and unused material from the yard, trimming bushes so the bottom is open, and keeping the grass mowed.
- Eliminate hiding places: The space under your porch or shed can harbor rabbits and even rabbit dens. Use boards or wire mesh to block these spaces.
You can also use specific scents that rabbits hate to repel them!
Deer Love Eating Your Tulip Plants
Like rabbits, deer are everywhere. They’re in our yards, crossing the roads, and in our flowerbeds. Tulips rank pretty high on a deer’s list of favorite plants to eat.
According to a bulletin in the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, tulips are typically classified as ‘severely’ damaged by deer. They just loooove to browse tulips!
Deer are most active at dusk and dawn. Most of the damage done to tulips will happen at night, making for a disappointing morning when you see your tulips destroyed.
No part of a tulip is safe from deer – they will eat every part of the plant. Signs of deer damage include:
- Raggedly torn leaves: Deer lack upper incisors, which means when they eat tulip leaves they will leave them raggedly torn with jagged cuts.
- Missing buds: Deer will devour flower buds before they have time to sprout.
- Damaged stems: Look for damage to the stem that is higher than ground level. This indicates a deer rather than a smaller animal, like a skunk or rabbit.
How To Prevent Deer From Eating Your Tulips
If you’ve had problems with deer in the past, don’t wait for damage to appear before taking action. The best time to start deer prevention is as soon as tender shoots start sprouting from the ground.
Try some tactics below. Consider employing more than one to keep deer away for good!
- Use scent deterrents: Deer have a keen sense of smell and will not like any smell that’s too strong. Capsaicin (think cayenne peppers or hot sauce) is very effective at deterring deer when applied often, about once a week.
- Motion activated sprinklers: Deer in suburban environments will quickly become habituated to sounds of traffic and human voices. You’ll need a little more of a kick to scare the deer away, and a motion-activated sprinkler will do the trick.
The Orbit 62100 Yard Enforcer Motion-Activated Sprinkler is an excellent product. You can set it to activate at night only when deer are more active. Or, if you’re leaving for vacation, set it to 24-hour sensing for day-long protection from pesky deer.
Fencing is an option but can get extremely expensive to protect a few ornamental plants. You’re better off trying scent repellents or scare tactics like a motion-activated sprinkler.
There are many natural repellents that will keep deer away if you’d like to learn more!
Skunks Love Eating Tulip Bulbs
You’ve probably smelled more skunks than you’ve seen. Their powerful spray can be smelled by humans over a mile away.
Skunks are elusive and nocturnal. You can expect damage to your tulips to happen most often at night and throughout the entire growing season.
According to the Smithsonian National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, skunks are opportunistic omnivores that mostly feast on insects. About 10-20% of their diet consists of plant material.
If your tulips are damaged and you’ve smelled the telltale signs of a skunk, check for these signs of skunk damage:
- Missing bulbs: Skunks rarely feed on tulip bulbs, but if food is scarce, they will dig them up with their powerful claws and devour them.
- Dug-up bulbs: If you see your bulbs are dug up but not eaten, it is probably a skunk that was searching for grubs and worms around your tulip bulbs.
If the bulb is still intact, you can replant it and the tulip will most likely be fine. Sometime skunks will shred the bulbs while searching. In this case, you can’t replant the bulb and it is most likely a lost cause.
How To Stop Skunks From Digging Up Your Tulip Bulbs
If you’re tired of finding your bulbs dug up and devoured, there are a few tactics you can try to keep these odorous animals out of your yard.
- Companion plants: It’s no surefire way to repel skunks, but combined with other tactics, it can make a difference! Try planting daffodils, crown imperial, and holly near your tulips. You can see more options in our article on what plants keep skunks away.
- Eliminate food sources: Secure garbage cans, pick up fallen fruit, clean up fallen birdseed, feed pets indoors, and keep the grass mowed (to eliminate lawn insects that skunks feed on). You can use specific scents that skunks hate to mask these potential attractants.
- Eliminate potential den sites: The less attractive your yard is to a skunk, the less likely it is to scamper into your yard and dig up tulip bulbs. Seal the spaces under porches, decks, and sheds so that skunks can’t use them for dens. (Use mesh with no larger than ¼-inch holes).
Skunks are timid animals that can be easily scared away if they are seen. Yelling, clapping your hands, or using a noisemaker will likely scare them off, but it will not keep them away for long if they are finding food, water, or shelter in your yard.
Mice & Rats Target Underground Tulip Bulbs
There’s nothing worse than planting tulips in the fall, eagerly waiting through winter, and then finding nothing growing in the spring.
Two of the likely culprits for your heartbreak are mice and rats. These two rodents will feast on tulip bulbs by either digging them up and storing them for winter or simply eating them right there.
Damage to tulips from rats and mice will likely occur in fall and early winter when they are storing food away. Tulips aren’t a favored food of rats, but when food is scarce, they will take advantage of the free underground food source.
Look for these signs of rat and mouse damage to be sure you’re dealing with these troublesome rodents:
- No growth: If you planted your bulbs in the fall and see no growth in the spring, it may be because a mouse or rat has dug up the bulb and eaten it or cached it away somewhere for later use.
- Other signs: Mouse or rat droppings in and around the house are a sign that you have these rodents around your yard. Chewed wires or wood are another sign of mice and rats.
How To Keep Mice And Rats Away From Your Tulips
Mice and rats target the underground portions of tulips. Specifically, they go after the bulbs. Unless you are dealing with other pests, you don’t need to protect the leaves, stems, or flowers from rats and mice.
- Use hardware cloth: Use hardware cloth such as the one mentioned for moles and voles. ¼-inch is a good size to keep out mice and rats. Use the cloth to create an underground fence around the bulbs (luckily, mice and rats can’t chew through stainless steel mesh.)
- Eliminate hiding places: The fewer places rats and mice have to hide in your yard, the less likely they are to stick around. This means:
- Clean up brush piles
- Stack wood neatly
- Seal all entryways into your house such as where electrical lines run from outside to inside, broken screens on windows, or damaged roofing tiles
- Keep bushes trimmed so that the space underneath is open
- Use scent deterrents: When applied often, scent deterrents can be effective at repelling mice and rats. Scents such as peppermint, mint, clove, and cayenne pepper are either too strong or distasteful to those pesky rodents.
Hardware cloth is going to be the most effective deterrent during the winter when mice and rats are more likely to disturb your tulip bulbs.
When food is plentiful in late spring through summer, rats and mice are far less likely to go after tulip bulbs.
You can read more about the things that attract mice to your home here if you’d like! It will give some great tips on how to eliminate attractants so that mice (and rats) will keep away from your yard.
Squirrels Love Eating Tulip Bulbs and Flowers
Squirrels can be cute to see hopping around your yard holding acorns in their little paws. But when these bushy-tailed critters go after your tulips, it’s downright annoying.
Both bulbs and flowers are in danger from squirrels. You can expect squirrel damage to happen during the day, which makes it a little easier to identify the culprit behind the damage.
Bulb damage typically happens in the fall when squirrels are digging holes to cache their nuts. Flower damage will occur during the growing season when tulips are bursting with color.
Look for these signs of squirrel damage to your tulips:
- Missing flowers: In the spring (when your tulips are looking their best), squirrels will clip flowers from the stalk and devour them. Squirrels are the only critter on our list that targets the flowers.
- No growth: As with skunks, mice, rats, and voles, squirrels will eat tulip bulbs, leaving nothing to grow once spring arrives.
How To Deter Squirrels From Your Tulips
Squirrels can be difficult to get rid of. Trapping is not effective since another squirrel will simply move in to take its place. Fencing is also difficult since squirrels are excellent climbers and diggers.
The best strategy is to protect your tulips and make your yard less habitable for squirrels.
- Use chicken wire: Laying down chicken wire over your tulip bulbs will prevent squirrels from digging them up in late fall and early spring.
- Use cayenne pepper: According to the University of Washington, you can use cayenne pepper flakes and sow them into the soil when you plant your tulip bulbs. The smell and taste of the capsaicin are too much for a squirrel’s sensitive nose. You can read more about repelling squirrels with hot pepper here!
- Use companion plants: crown imperial and daffodils can be planted near tulips to help deter squirrels. Similar to scent deterrents, it’s not a surefire way to keep them away, but squirrels do not like the scent or taste of crown imperial and daffodils.
Squirrels are much more likely to eat tulip bulbs than flowers. If you have to pick your battles, go for protecting your bulbs over your flowers.
Chipmunks Love Eating Tulip Bulbs
Chipmunks are familiar animals that are often seen during the day, scurrying around old logs or disappearing into rock crevices.
These fast-moving critters will target your tulip bulbs, as they are one of a chipmunk’s favorite food. Chipmunks damage is most likely to happen during the day in the fall when they are trying to fatten up for winter.
Look for some of these signs to confirm you’re dealing with a chipmunk.
- No growth: If chipmunks eat tulip bulbs in the fall, you won’t see any growth in the spring. This is a symptom of many critters, so look for other clues of a chipmunk’s presence.
- Tunnels: Chipmunk tunnels are usually built into slopes to keep them dry after rain. You will rarely see openings on flat ground if it is a chipmunk.
The most obvious sign that chipmunks are damaging your tulips is if you see the little critters running around. They remain in their burrows at night, so are easily seen during the day.
How To Keep Chipmunks Away From Your Tulips
To keep those pesky chipmunks far from your tulips, you can employ many of the same techniques as squirrels, mice, rats, voles, and moles. The trick is to deter them from beneath the soil.
Check out our full list of chipmunk repellents for some in-depth options! For now:
- Protect the bulb: Use hardware cloth buried beneath the soil and around the tulip bulb to protect it from chipmunks. Place a layer on top of the soil as well to prevent digging.
- Modify your yard: Remove brush piles, trim bushes, keep the grass mowed, clean up birdseed, and remove any place that might hide a chipmunk from a predator.
- Companion plants: Daffodils seem to be extremely unpleasant to smell and taste for chipmunks. Try planting daffodils with your tulips to keep chipmunks away.
That’s All For Now!
There are plenty of things to try if you find your tulips are being damaged, but the first step is to identify which critter is doing the damage.
Now, for a quick recap.
The 11 animals that LOVE eating your tulips include:
Each pest enjoys a distinct part of the plant and will require different deterrent techniques. With enough time and patience, your tulips will bloom in the spring, and stay safe all season!
If your yard and flowerbeds are experiencing extreme damage, you can always consult a professional by using our nationwide pest control finder to locate a professional near you.
Curtis, P. D., Curtis, G. B., & Miller, W. B. (2009). Relative Resistance of Ornamental Flowering Bulbs to Feeding Damage by Voles. Hort Technology, 19(3), 499-503.
Impact of farm management practices on house mouse populations and crops in an irrigated farming system. (2003). In G. R. Singleton (Ed.), Rats, Mice and People: Rodent Biology and Management (pp. 331-342). Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.
Pests and Diseases of Outdoor Bulbs and Corms. (2008). In D. V. Alford (Ed.), Pest and Disease Management Handbook (pp. 542-599). Wiley.
Ward, J. S. (2000). Limiting deer browse damage to landscape plants [Bulletin]. In Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (Issue 968). New Haven.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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