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Squirrel Proof Your Garden: Proven Strategies To Keep Your Plants Safe

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Squirrels can certainly be an irritating nuisance for gardeners! These curious, agile creatures can find and exploit food sources in our carefully cultivated yards and gardens.

From unearthing freshly planted bulbs to nibbling on ripening produce, squirrels can wreak havoc if left unchecked.

One telltale sign of squirrel activity is the presence of small, shallow holes dug in garden beds. Likewise, discovering partially eaten fruits and vegetables is a surefire indicator that these fluffy-tailed rodents have been busy at work.

Their relentless digging and foraging can be enormously frustrating for gardeners who put so much time and effort into nurturing their plants.

While eliminating squirrels from your outdoor spaces may be challenging, there are several practical strategies you can employ to deter these unwelcome guests.

Understanding their motivations can help you devise effective deterrents. Squirrels are primarily driven by the need to find food and secure safe nesting sites, particularly as they prepare for the winter months.

You can discourage their unwanted presence by making your garden less appealing to squirrels. This might involve using physical barriers, such as fencing or netting, to restrict their access to specific areas.

You can also try incorporating unpleasant scents or textures that squirrels find off-putting. Maintaining a tidy, well-groomed garden can make it less enticing for these opportunistic foragers.

Ultimately, coexisting with squirrels in the garden requires patience, creativity, and a willingness to adapt.

By understanding their behavior and employing a range of deterrent strategies, you can find a balance that allows you to enjoy your outdoor space while minimizing the impact of these dynamic, if sometimes mischievous, creatures.

Adorable Pests or Destructive Foes for Gardeners?

If you love growing your fruits, veggies, and blooms, you might have had some run-ins with the neighborhood squirrels. These crafty animals are notorious among gardeners from coast to coast.

They’re known to snatch geraniums right off your window sills, swipe tomatoes just shy of ripeness, and clear out apple trees as if they’re on a professional gig. These little thieves are particularly brazen around harvest time, often leaving gardeners in despair.

Squirrels ramp up their activity in the late summer and fall, preparing for the colder months ahead.

Unlike some creatures that hibernate, squirrels stay somewhat active all winter, relying heavily on the food they’ve hoarded away. Their instinct to stockpile food is crucial for their survival through the winter.

In North America, the gray squirrel, or Sciurus carolinensis, is the main culprit behind the headaches of gardeners and bird feeders. These gray squirrels cleverly hide their food by burying it around their domain.

Ever wondered how they manage to unearth those bulbs you painstakingly planted? It’s all thanks to their incredibly sharp sense of smell. Their noses might be small, but they’re mighty when sniffing nuts, berries, and even the bulbs under the soil.

Although squirrels are part of the rodent family, which includes mice and rats, they pose a bigger threat to your garden than their rodent relatives. “Squirrels may look cute and playful, but they can wreak havoc on a garden,” notes Joe Felegi, general manager of Critter Control.

“It’s a common misconception that squirrels only eat nuts. Their diet is diverse, including fruits, buds, stems, and even insects.” Like rabbits, squirrels can quickly devastate your garden, turning your affection into annoyance.

Squirrel Proof Your Garden
Credit: Todd Haiman Landscape Design

Signs of Squirrel Presence in Your Garden

In your backyard, the gray squirrel often plays the role of the chief mischief-maker. These creatures are instantly recognizable by their fluffy tails, which keep them warm and help them communicate and maintain their balance. Their coats appear gray, with a lighter gray or white underbelly.

Red squirrels are smaller but even more lively and can be chatty, causing havoc in garden spaces.

If you notice certain disruptions in your garden, there’s a good chance squirrels are treating it like their personal snack bar. Here are some common signs of their presence:

  • Tiny holes scattered across your flower beds
  • Plants that seem to vanish without a trace
  • Fruits and vegetables showing telltale nibble marks
  • Bulbs that look disturbed or damaged
  • Flowers that appear nibbled
  • Birdseed that mysteriously disappears

Spotting Squirrel Damage:

  • If you find your spring bulbs missing or nibbled, it’s likely squirrels, chipmunks, or even groundhogs are to blame. These critters feast on the bulbs and might use the holes to stash away their nut findings.
  • Noticing bites on softer fruits like squash in your vegetable patch? That’s usually a squirrel’s doing. They often take just one bite and leave the rest.
  • Just as your fruits are perfectly ripe, squirrels might snatch them away completely—watch out for missing squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and melons.
  • Squirrels have a penchant for digging up seeds and young plants, particularly in newly sown beds. Their digging results in shallow, small holes.
  • They don’t spare your flower pots either. In search of insects or buried treasures, squirrels and chipmunks might dig through the pots, sometimes uprooting plants. They also seek out moist soil, especially during dry spells.
  • It’s not just your plants that attract squirrels but also your bird feeders. A quick disappearance of bird food or seeds scattered under the feeder could indicate a squirrel issue.

Making Your Yard Less Appealing to Squirrels

To keep squirrels away, start by making your yard less appealing to them. If your outdoor space has abundant food sources, it becomes a hotspot for these critters.

Ensure trash bins are securely closed, and avoid leaving out food remnants or compost. Birdseed is a particular attraction, so store it inside or in sturdy containers away from their reach.

Squirrels are fond of many garden favorites such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and berries, and they won’t hesitate to eat your tulips—bulbs and all.

However, certain plants are less appealing due to their strong scents or flavors. Consider planting alliums like onions and garlic, along with daffodils, geraniums, hyacinths, lily-of-the-valley, and marigolds, which squirrels dislike.

Adding these to your garden beds or hanging baskets can help deter them. Additionally, growing hot peppers can also discourage their visits.

Trapping and relocating squirrels is generally ineffective and can be illegal. Due to their high population, removing one often creates an opportunity for another.

Additionally, you risk separating mothers from their dependent young. Instead of relocation, focus on preventive measures.

During dry spells, squirrels might take juicy vegetables like tomatoes or cucumbers to quench their thirst. Placing a water source nearby, like a birdbath, may reduce their raids on your produce.

Unfortunately, planting extra vegetables as a decoy seldom works; squirrels will likely consume everything and invite more to join them.

If your yard is a gathering place for nuts and acorns, consider cleaning these up or relocating them to deter squirrels.

Removing fallen fruits and vegetables after the harvest can also help tidy your garden. Ensure no other potential food sources, such as leftover pet food or dropped nuts, are left out.

Despite the challenges, don’t abandon your bird-feeding efforts. Opt for less appealing seeds like safflower or those treated with cayenne pepper, which are fine for birds but deter squirrels. Even bird feeders claimed to be squirrel-proof are not always effective.

As Erin Kinley from Penn State Extension notes, “No bird feeder is completely squirrel-proof. Squirrels are clever and persistent; they might figure out how to access even the most secure feeders eventually.”

If you prefer to keep your feeder, try using seeds coated with capsaicin, which repels squirrels without affecting birds. This spicy treatment can be an effective deterrent, at least temporarily.

Effective Physical Barriers for Squirrels Control

Physical barriers are a great way to handle pests, especially if you select the appropriate materials.

Squirrels and various rodents have a knack for squeezing through tiny openings, making it crucial to use fencing or netting with very small gaps. Opt for products specifically designed to keep out squirrels or rats.

To safeguard a vegetable garden, you might install a wire fence extending at least 6 inches below the surface to prevent burrowing attempts.

It’s important to choose wire specifically designed for small rodents, as typical chicken wire might have gaps large enough for squirrels to pass through.

Effective Physical Barriers for Squirrels Control
Credit: Hobby Farms

Another practical approach is to line the base of your garden beds or pots with quarter-inch hardware cloth. Covering pots with netting or similar materials helps protect them, while sprinkling gravel or stones around plants can deter digging.

Consider using row covers or bird netting over your garden. These covers, particularly the heavier types, are ideal for different seasons and offer substantial protection.

For a slightly unconventional but effective method, try covering your vegetable pots with aluminum foil, making sure to poke holes for water drainage. The foil’s shiny surface often deters squirrels.

Simple solutions, such as netting, fencing, or even burlap, can offer ample protection for smaller garden spaces or raised beds.

Kinley, for example, crafts cone-shaped cages from chicken wire to shield her perennials like coral bells until they’re robust enough in the spring, removing the cages when the plants are large enough to withstand a bit of squirrel activity.

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If you’re looking to protect a smaller patch, chicken wire cages can be an effective but potentially costly and visually intrusive option for larger spaces.

Floating row covers are an unexpectedly effective barrier in vegetable gardens. Squirrels dislike the enclosed space, which hampers their escape and makes them less likely to enter.

Felegi recommends barriers and devices like motion-activated sprinklers as humane and effective deterrents. For best results, enclose the area with a metal mesh that squirrels can’t penetrate.

While fencing might keep out bigger herbivores, it’s no match for the agile squirrel, which is known for its acrobatic skills.

Lastly, ultrasonic motion sensor sprinklers can initially scare squirrels, but they tend to lose effectiveness as these city-dwelling creatures adjust to various disturbances.

Unleash Your Pooch to Keep Squirrels at Bay!

Most pups relish the thrill of a squirrel chase. Get your dog involved in guarding the yard, and watch them naturally ward off those furry intruders. Indeed, your canine can become an effective squirrel deterrent just by hanging around your garden!

Collect your dog’s fur during grooming sessions, then spread it around your plant beds. You’ll notice squirrels steering clear of the area!

Get your dog involved in guarding the yard
Credit: Youtube

Cats and dogs patrolling your outdoor spaces often means fewer squirrels dare trespass. These furry friends instinctively prey on squirrels, who try their best to keep a safe distance. If you have pets, they might be the perfect solution to your squirrel problem!

Human hair also works wonders, as a tip from a fellow garden enthusiast reveals. They explained, “Squirrels used to uproot my garden bulbs until I started mixing human hair into the soil every spring and fall, sourced from my hairstylist. Squirrels seem to dislike the human scent and now leave my garden alone.”

As for traditional scare tactics, don’t count on stationary scarecrows or perched fake owls to do much. However, motion-triggered decoys like snakes, foxes, and birds of prey that emit sounds can be surprisingly effective.

Adding dynamic objects like pinwheels or reflective wildlife tape can further enhance these strategies, helping to maintain a squirrel-free zone around your home.

Natural Squirrel Deterrents

If you’re looking for ways to keep squirrels at bay, consider some natural solutions that you can find right in the market:

  • Use Predator Urine:

It might sound a bit wild, but spreading urine from predators like foxes or coyotes around your garden can be an effective repellent.

These products can be found at garden centers. They typically come in spray forms that need frequent reapplication. Just make sure the brand you choose collects its materials ethically.

  • Spice It Up:

When your plants are about to bloom, try scattering some cayenne pepper, crushed chili, or pepper flakes around them. These spices contain capsaicin, which is a big turn-off for squirrels.

You can also whip up a homemade pepper spray using dried pepper and apple cider vinegar. Don’t worry about the birds; they’re not bothered by capsaicin, so feel free to add it to bird feeders to keep the squirrels away.

  • Peppermint Oil Trick:

Peppermint oil is another great squirrel deterrent. Mix some with apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle and spritz it around your plants to keep the squirrels at a distance.

  • Blood Meal Barrier:

Some gardeners swear by sprinkling blood meal directly onto the soil in their gardens to fend off squirrels.

  • Plant with Purpose:

Growing certain plants, such as nasturtiums, marigolds, and mustard, around the perimeter of your vegetable garden can help, too.

These plants emit strong scents that squirrels find unpleasant. Just avoid planting bulbs that attract squirrels, like tulips and crocuses.

  • Natural Predators:

If squirrels drive you nuts, consider setting up a perch for raptors or an owl box in your yard. These can attract natural predators of squirrels and help control their population.

  • Opt for a Decoy:

A fake owl in your garden can also scare squirrels away. Move it around occasionally so the squirrels don’t catch on to the ruse.

These tips should help you maintain a squirrel-free garden using methods that are not only natural but also humane and effective.

Keeping Bulbs Safe from Squirrels

If you live near wooded areas or parks, you know that keeping squirrels away is difficult. A more practical approach is to shield each plant from these critters.

This method keeps squirrels at bay and protects plants from mice, voles, groundhogs, birds, rabbits, and deer.

Metal mesh cloches work wonders for safeguarding young veggies like leafy greens. You can opt for elegant vintage-style replicas or whip up your own using chicken wire. Cover them with extra chicken wire to stop squirrels from digging up new plantings.

Wrapping tree trunks with aluminum flashing or metal bands is another effective strategy to stop squirrels from climbing up. To ensure sunflowers mature without being disturbed, simply enclose them in paper bags.

Try using old stockings or cheesecloth to combat squirrels snatching a bite of nearly ripe tomatoes only to leave the rest behind. As for bulb choices, consider planting daffodils, fritillaria, snowdrops, grape hyacinths, and ornamental alliums.

Due to their taste and smell, both rabbits and deer find these less appealing. These can also be planted in various containers.

For added defense, line the bottom of your planting holes with wire mesh, commonly known as hardware cloth. Mixing sharp, crushed gravel into the soil where bulbs are planted might deter squirrels and improve drainage simultaneously.

When planting numerous bulbs, lay chicken wire both under and over the bulbs. This setup allows the plants to grow while keeping squirrels out. Cover the soil’s surface with black plastic netting for an unnoticeable and budget-friendly extra layer of protection.

Finally, do not leave any traces of your planting activity, like bulb skins, on the soil. It’s best to keep the bulbs off the ground as you prepare their new homes to prevent attracting squirrels.

Deterring Squirrels from Bird Feeders

Dealing with squirrels humanely can be challenging, but there are effective ways to prevent them from visiting your garden in the first place.

Like most wildlife, squirrels are resourceful and will seek out easy food sources in your yard, even the most squirrel-resistant bird feeders.

Eliminating their preferred snacks is one strategy. Squirrels have diverse diets and enjoy a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, flowers, fungi, and insects. They will also eat pet food, leftovers, and bird seed.

You don’t need to stop feeding the birds altogether, but you can choose birdseed that squirrels find less appealing, such as safflower seeds or seeds coated with cayenne pepper, which the birds don’t mind.

Deterring Squirrels from Bird Feeders
Credit: Yankee Magazine

Here are some practical tips to keep squirrels at bay:

  • Use safflower seeds instead of sunflower seeds in your bird feeders. Birds like them just as much, but squirrels find them too bitter.
  • Keep the ground under your bird feeder as tidy as possible.
  • Attach a squirrel baffle, an upside-down cone at least 13 inches wide, to your feeder pole.
  • Set up bird feeders on standalone poles at least 5 to 6 feet above the ground and 8 to 10 feet from any structures. Some people find a pulley system helpful.
  • For feeders hung from wires, slide old CDs or plastic bottles on the wire to act as barriers.
  • If squirrels are climbing your feeder poles, a smear of Crisco might stop them—it’s slippery, but safe for birds.
  • Consider the design of your bird feeder. Tube feeders with metal ports can prevent squirrels and unwanted birds from accessing the seeds.
  • Invest in a sturdy all-metal feeder with a weight-sensitive mechanism. These feeders close off the food supply under the weight of a squirrel while remaining open for birds. They’re more expensive, but they save on long-term costs and hassle due to squirrel damage. Just ensure they are mounted securely.

By implementing these methods, you can enjoy birdwatching without the interference of pesky squirrels.

When to Call Professional Wildlife Control for Squirrel Issues

Gray squirrels are known to have up to two litters per year, typically in early spring and late summer, with each litter consisting of three to four young. New mothers often seek spaces like garages, sheds, chimneys, or attics to protect their young from predators.

It’s important not to block these areas during nesting periods, as it can trap the young inside and lead to desperate attempts by the mother to break in, potentially causing damage to your property.

If a squirrel does become trapped inside, providing an escape route is crucial. You can drop a rope down the chimney to help it climb out, or consider setting a live trap, such as a Hav-a-Heart trap, which requires a bit of savvy.

When baiting these traps, secure the bait (like a piece of apple) with wire to the trigger so the squirrel has to fully enter the trap to reach it – these critters are clever enough to snatch a treat with their tail while keeping the door open otherwise.

As fall approaches, squirrels look for cozy spots to overwinter. To prevent unwanted guests, trim tree branches close to your roof and secure your chimney with a mesh guard. Seal any entry points into your house to keep them out.

However, if squirrels start causing damage or keep getting inside despite your efforts, it might be time to consult a licensed and insured wildlife control professional.

Experts emphasize that handling sick or injured wildlife should be left to local rescue groups who can remove the animal safely.

If squirrels have settled in your home, it’s wise to call a wildlife control specialist quickly. Once a squirrel makes your attic its home, it can attract relatives that may stay for years.

Squirrels can cause significant damage if they move from your garden into your home’s internal spaces, such as the crawl space, attic, or eaves.

Signs of an infestation include noises of activity, visible damage to insulation, wiring, and ducts, nests in insulation, and signs of squirrel presence like acorn piles, excrement, or small, foul-smelling droppings around your property.

Also, look out for larger holes in your home’s exterior or water stains and odors that might indicate the presence of squirrels.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does cayenne pepper deter squirrels?

Absolutely! Spreading a mixture of cayenne or other hot peppers, either as a spray or powder, around your greenery can keep these critters at bay.

However, a word of caution: if cayenne comes into contact with their paws and eyes, it could lead to discomfort and even temporary vision loss. Therefore, gentler deterrent methods are advised.

  • Are mothballs effective against squirrels?

While mothballs are often suggested as a repellent, they pose a significant risk. Not only are they harmful if ingested by squirrels, but they also present dangers to pets and young children. Thus, it’s best to avoid using mothballs.

  • What about using traps?

Setting up traps for squirrels might seem like a quick fix, especially when they’re unwelcome.

However, this method is often ineffective in the long term—leading to a never-ending cycle of new squirrels moving in—and can also separate mothers from their young during spring, jeopardizing their survival.

Furthermore, trapping might be illegal in your area, so checking with local wildlife authorities is necessary.

  • Can coffee grounds keep squirrels away?

Mixing used coffee grounds into the soil or scattering them around your outdoor potted plants might do the trick in repelling squirrels. It’s worth a try to see if this natural remedy works for you.

  • How can I prevent squirrels from digging in my potted plants?

In addition to coffee grounds, there are other methods to discourage these furry diggers. Try sprinkling essential oils or spices, planting flowers they dislike, or placing a shiny spinner in the pot.

Protective grids or netting over your pots can also help keep squirrels and other pests from causing trouble.

  • Do hot peppers truly repel squirrels?

Integrating hot peppers or scattering hot pepper flakes among your plants can be an effective deterrent. The compound capsaicin, which gives peppers their heat, is generally disliked by squirrels, making it a method worth trying in your garden defense strategy.

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