Squirrels are rodents and rodents are defined by their continuously growing teeth. Rodents are constantly driven to chew things in order to keep their incisors chiseled and to prevent them from growing to unwieldy lengths.
Squirrels are driven by instinct to store nuts for the winter. During pecan harvest season a single squirrel can bury over a hundred nuts every single day! It’s a rather clever reciprocal relationship between the squirrel and the nut tree. The tree provides food and in turn, the squirrel plants trees for the future because there is no way those little guys will remember to dig up every single nut they planted each year. If you see squirrels digging in your yard they are most likely either burying food for the winter or digging up food they previously buried (or perhaps just trying to remember where they hid their stash!).
Okay, but how do you keep squirrels out of the garden…
One thing you can do is modify the habitat. There are several strategies one can use. If you have large trees around your yard, you might need to consider pruning back a few long branches to strategically reduce squirrel’s access to your home and garden.
First, spend some time observing the squirrels in your yard. If you are concerned they may get inside your house, cutting back the branches they use to get to your roof might ease your worries. But, keep in mind that squirrels can leap across a distance of up to ten feet and some species of squirrels will nest in trees. In order to prevent squirrels from making their home in your house or shed you’ll need to make sure they cannot access your buildings, even from the roof or chimney.
A chimney guard or cap may be necessary if squirrels are entering through the chimney. Some sources recommend covering power lines that lead to your home, with plastic tubing BUT THIS SHOULD NEVER BE DONE! I want to stress that you should never cover your power lines with anything! Don’t go near them. Some power lines have cracked insulation and can be dangerous. Most are 220V in residential areas, but some are 440V. Talk to the power company for better information. Your spouse doesn’t want to be a widow(er)!
You’ll also want to make sure your garbage cans are securely closed to avoid attracting squirrels and other animals. Metal bins will be more secure than plastic if squirrel chewing is a problem in your yard.
Using safflower seeds in your feeders may help as squirrels don’t favor them or mix cayenne pepper with your birdseed (apparently it doesn’t bother the birds). Bird enthusiasts may have to learn to compromise, either take down the feeders to reduce squirrel (and bird) activity in your yard or keep them up and tolerate the furry critters along with the feathered ones.
Some people suggest setting up a squirrel feeder near the garden to distract squirrels from digging in or nibbling on the garden, but this tactic is likely to backfire. If you start deliberately feeding them you’ll only invite more squirrel problems to your yard and your neighborhood. In the absence of other food sources, squirrels may also feed at dishes of dog or cat kibble left outside, so keep these indoors or well protected.
In summer, a bird bath may also draw in parched squirrels from the neighborhood in search of a water source.
If you have a container garden on your patio you might find signs that squirrels have been digging and feeding. Many of the tactics discussed below will work well with containers. The simplest solution may be to just keep squirrel resistant plants in your patio garden.
But if that’s not enough, or if you really want those tasty cherry tomatoes right outside your door, then try a wire mesh barrier or some of the deterrents listed below.
During nut harvest time wire mesh can be laid on top of the soil in a garden bed plagued by squirrel digging. Wire mesh can also be used to make cages for garden beds or containers to protect your most valued plants. Quarter inch galvanized mesh will keep squirrels out effectively, but keep in mind that squirrels do dig, so you may need to bury your mesh at least a few inches if you’re using it to cage a bed that doesn’t already have a frame.
Consider aluminum flashing, visit your local hardware store and pick up some to protect the vulnerable edges of decks, houses and other wooden structures from squirrel damage. This method can also be used to protect trees from chewing damage by squirrels. Flashing is available in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Rigid L-shaped pieces are best for edges whereas larger flexible sheets will work better for tree protection.
Unfortunately, fencing is not nearly as effective with squirrels as it is with some other common garden pest animals. Squirrels are notoriously skilled climbers and scaling a sturdy fence is a walk in the park for a squirrel. Squirrels may also drop from overhanging branches or wires into a fenced area.
However, some gardeners swear by a simple fence made from very fine plastic mesh. It is so flimsy that squirrels seem to have great difficulty climbing up it. For best results, dig it into the ground at least a few inches to prevent them from squeezing under the fence. However, squirrels can chew through plastic, so this may or may not be effective in your yard.
Another option to think about is mulch. Applying a thick layer of leaf mulch or other organic materials on top of your garden soil will not only insulate the soil from moisture loss, it may also discourage squirrels from digging. But some gardeners find mulching has the opposite effect and squirrels seem to relish digging in their mulch. By experimenting with different types of mulch you may find one that keeps the critters at bay. Adding a sprinkle of cayenne pepper on top of your mulch may also help. Alternatively, a layer of wire mesh underneath will keep them from getting too far into the soil. This could be a good way to protect your bulbs over winter when squirrels go digging for nuts.
Next, you might want to think about squirrel repellents. These can be applied in a variety of ways such as sprays, powders or soaked rags. You can use squirrel repellent to combat squirrel chewing activity in any area you’d like to protect but don’t necessary want to cover with wire mesh due to aesthetics. Generously spray the affected area with your chosen repellent and remember to reapply often. Placing a chew decoy nearby, such as a solid log or branch, will give the squirrel a handy alternative. No matter which repellent you choose, you will need to add more periodically, especially after a rainfall. Don’t spray repellents on any plants that you plan to eat, at best the taste will be unpleasant, at worst there may be some toxicity.
One of the most effective things to spray to keep squirrels away is hot chili pepper. Squirrels like an unexpected mouthful of hot cayenne about as much as most humans, so they will not want to revisit the site of a close encounter with the burning spice. But if you’re concerned about squirrel welfare this may not be the kindest method. Once a squirrel gets hot chili on its paws it can easily transfer to its eyes causing painful irritation or temporary blindness. If you’re willing to risk a little squirrel discomfort for the sake of your garden, there are a number of ways to apply hot chilies as a natural squirrel repellent. Sprinkle cayenne powder or chili flakes in your garden beds to reduce digging and protect bedding plants. Squirt some hot chili sauce on wooden structures that have been subjected to chewing damage to prevent further offenses. You can also make a homemade repellent spray by simmering some cayenne powder, chili flakes or some fresh hot peppers in water. You could also add some onion or garlic for a more potent deterrent.
If you have a problem with squirrels climbing poles to get to your bird feeder, try mixing some cayenne pepper with petroleum jelly and smearing it over the pole. If that doesn’t make it tricky enough for the little critters to keep their grip, then the cayenne should turn them off that tactic entirely.
Castor oil does seem to have some effectiveness with squirrels, voles and moles. Try making a spray with castor oil and dish soap diluted in water. Spray over vulnerable plants for protection. Apple cider vinegar is also used by some gardeners either in a spray or by soaking rags and leaving them in containers with holes poked in them in high squirrel traffic areas.
If repellents aren’t your thing try some squirrel deterrents. The movement of garden pinwheel decorations, old compact discs or pie plates in the wind may deter squirrels from digging in your garden beds. Noise deterrents seem to have limited impact on most squirrels, but motion activated sprinklers can provide some startle effect. However, squirrels can become accustomed to all kinds of sounds, noise and movement. Rotating your use of these deterrents may prolong their effectiveness.
Need more ideas? How about decoys? Fake owls, snakes and other predator decoys may help to deter squirrels from your yard, at least for a little while. Look for decoy models that involve some movement, as these will look more threatening to potential prey animals. Frequently changing the location of your decoys may also make them more effective.
Probably one of the most reliable ways to reduce squirrel problems in your yard is to keep a dog or cat outside as much as possible during the daylight hours. Some dogs and cats will chase squirrels away, but even if they don’t, squirrels will instinctively want to keep their distance from any animals they see as potential predators. The lingering scent of pet urine will also help to deter squirrels and other garden pest animals.
Another suggestion is to either garden without using squirrel attracting plants or plant squirrel resistant plants.
We know that squirrels love nuts, seeds and berries, but their menu doesn’t stop there. Squirrels will eat almost any fruit or vegetable. They love tree fruits, tomatoes, corn, sunflower seeds, grapes, kiwis and all manner of berries. Squirrels spend a lot of time in trees, so the more trees you have the more you invite the squirrels to live and play in your yard. If you have a problem with squirrels in your fruit trees there are a few things you can try. A special “squirrel baffle” is designed to fit around the trunk of a tree and make it difficult for squirrels to climb the tree. The problem with this method is that squirrels will very easily hop from one tree to the next even if the branches are a few feet apart. You’d have to baffle every tree in the area for this to be even remotely effective.
In your flower beds there are a number of plants that squirrels are less likely to munch on. Try planting allium, crocus, lily, marigold, hyacinth, daffodil, impatiens, geraniums or columbine if you’ve had a problem with squirrels eating your flowers. Garlic and onions are some of the only veggies squirrels won’t touch. When it comes to the vegetable garden I have to admit that I haven’t come across any squirrel repellent plants that actually cause the squirrels to want to go elsewhere.
If you have squirrels living in your attic or another part of your home, you will need to evict them promptly before they can cause too much damage. This can be a tricky problem to deal with and you may need to call in a professional pest control service to ensure it is handled properly. If you already have squirrels living in your attic, you can get a one-way door that will let the squirrels out, but not allow them to return. However, this may mean a nest of abandoned babies is left in your home, so this is really best left to the professionals.
Ideally, you will find the right combination of the techniques above that will help to keep your squirrel problems manageable.