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What Eats Lily Bulbs?

By Desirae Roy ; Updated September 21, 2017

Nothing can be more devastating to a gardener than seeing his beautiful lilies taken down to the ground after months of glorious anticipation and care of those precious bulbs. Rodents and foragers can quickly become a menace to bulb gardeners, particularly since lily foliage is a special treat to many of them. Even in areas where lilies are not the favored food of choice, in times of lean pickings many animals will turn to bulbs and their shoots for nourishment. Happily, there are ways to deter these would-be thieves from munching away at your prize lily bulbs.


Rabbits are possibly the most destructive rodents that prey upon your defenseless lily bulbs, able to destroy a stand of blooming bulbs in a matter of minutes. Rabbits are more interested in the delicate foliage of the blooming plant. However, if there is no remaining foliage left after the season to provide the bulb with energy, there will be no flower the subsequent season and the bulb may die. The typical hallmarks for a rabbit attack in your lily bed are 45-degree angled cuts at the base of the blooming plant.

Groundhogs and voles

Groundhogs, by virtue of the fact that their traveling is done primarily underground through tunnels they dig across the property, are bound to run into your precious bulb bed at some point in their wanderings. If you have groundhogs, chances are voles (or field mice) are visiting your garden as well. Voles use groundhog tunnels to travel as a convenient and fairly protected method of moving to and fro. The disastrous consequence for you is that your bulbs are sitting ducks, waiting helplessly as foraging underground pests harvest them before you even realize they have been touched.


Deer, like rabbits, enjoy the tender foliage of lilies that emerges in spring and summer, and will nibble the green shoots down to nothing. Destroying the bloom for that season and ruining chances of the bulb creating that life sustaining energy from the fading leaves and spent blooms, your lilies have almost no chance against a deer who samples their tasty new growth.


Fortunately, there are a few preventative measures a thoughtful gardener can take to humanely deter rodents and other foragers from destroying their precious lily bulbs. Purchase specialty cages to plant the bulbs in. These cages, made from wire or mesh, will deter underground visitors from sampling the bulbs during dormancy or while blooming.

Another option is to spray the emerging foliage with a hot pepper spray purchased from a garden specialty store. Not a chemical application or pesticide, this natural spray is only meant to make the foliage taste unappealing to would be foragers. Consider wire cages or fencing around your lily bulb bed. Finally, horticulture expert Lucille Ledger from the University of Illinois Extension suggests burying your lily bulbs a little deeper than you have before and keep the top soil wet to produce a muddy surface, discouraging foragers. Just take care not to water heavily at a deep level or you may encourage bulb rot.


About the Author


Desirae Roy began writing in 2009. After earning certification as an interpreter for the deaf, Roy earned a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education from Eastern Washington University. Part of her general studies included a botany course leading to a passion for the natural world.