Squirrels

How to Identify and Get Rid of Squirrels in the Garden

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A squirrel enjoys a snack. 

Photo by Pixabay

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Here are tips on how to identify and get rid of squirrels, as they can cause many problems in your garden and property.

Why Worry About Squirrels in the Garden?

With a fondness for fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers, the common gray squirrel has long spelled trouble for home gardeners. From Maine to Montana, these wily creatures yank geraniums from window boxes, pluck cherry tomatoes from their vines, and strip apple trees like professional pickers. Though their foraging forays can happen at any time of year, a squirrel’s raid in autumn can drive a gardener nuts.

Squirrels are especially active in autumn as they stock up for winter. They do not hibernate (although they may “lie low” during cold spells), so their underground pantries are vitally important winter warehouses. They have a major instinct for hoarding food, which helps them to survive. Gray squirrels stash food by burying it in a scattered fashion around their territory.

Although North America is home to several species of squirrels, it is the suburb-savvy gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis, that gives gardeners (and people who feed birds) the most grief. How do these clever critters find bulbs, anyway? Why do they ransack some borders and leave others alone? What do squirrels eat?

The average squirrel gathers acorns, pinecones, nuts, bark, fruit, berries, fungi, and insects, but is not above stealing bird eggs and bulbs. Sometimes they will even ruin your flowers just for the fun of it! Keep an eye out for these pesky visitors and try some of our tips below for getting rid of them.

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    Identification

    How to Identify Squirrels in your Garden

    Weighing an average of 16 to 24 ounces, the type of squirrel that is probably causing damage in your garden is the common gray squirrel. Its color varies from gray, tan, or light brown to dark brown and black. Its belly is light, from white to gray. Its body is 8 to 11 inches in length, and its tail measures 8 to 10 inches. Its vocal call is a rapid CRRK CRRK or QUACK QUACK, similar to a duck. The famous feature of the gray squirrel is its bushy tail, a luxurious puff of fur used for warmth, communication, and balance.

    Squirrels have a very keen sense of smell, which most gardeners blame for their bulb pilfering. The nose of these expert foragers is a tiny but powerful tool in the search for hidden nuts and berries. Gardeners aren’t sure whether the squirrels do actively seek out the spring bulbs or not, but the problem of bulb snatching is real and widespread.

    Squirrel Damage

    • Spring bulbs snacked on? You’re probably dealing with squirrels or chipmunks. Squirrels love to dig up spring bulbs during their autumn foraging—both to eat the bulbs and to use the ready-made holes to store their nuts.
    • Squirrels will not only attack your gardens, but your bird feeders as well. If you notice your bird food disappearing rather quickly, you may have a squirrel problem.

    squirrels-birdfeeders-removal.jpg

    Control and Prevention

    How to Get Rid of Squirrels

    Is your yard covered in nuts, berries, and acorns from trees? If so, your place is squirrel heaven! Be sure to rake and remove their food so you’re not party central.

    Also, make sure you have tight-fitting trash cans and never leave food sitting out.

    Consider protecting your garden with a wire fence and make sure it is buried about a foot into the ground, so the squirrels can’t dig under it.

    Natural Squirrel Repellents

    • There are also many natural repellents on the market. Some are made with the urine of squirrels’ predators. These are meant to be sprayed around gardens to keep squirrels away.
    • Try sprinkling cayenne pepper, pepper flakes, and/or garlic pepper on and around your plants when they are ready to bloom. Squirrels won’t eat anything with cayenne—which you can often buy in bulk. Birds don’t mind the taste.
    • One reader claims blood meal sprinkled around the garden soil works.
    • For edibles, you may wish to invest in some netting and put that over your plants—just as you would invest in bird netting for berry bushes.
    • A dog or cat is a great squirrel chaser if that’s an option.
    • Pots are easy to protect with a layer of netting across the top of the pot.
    • Or, here’s an expensive pantry solution: Lay aluminum foil across the top of vegetable pots; poke holes for water. The squirrels do not like the shiny reflection.
    • Scatter dog or human hair around your garden. One readers shares, “I used to have a problem with squirrels digging up my bulbs. Now, once in the spring and once in the fall, I ask my hairdresser to save a big bag of hair for me. I lightly dig this into the soil. Squirrels can not stand the smell of humans, so they leave the gardens alone.”
    • Plant nasturtiums, marigolds, and mustard as a border around your vegetable garden; these plants have an unpleasant aroma.
    • Don’t trap and relocate squirrels. This is a losing battle, since the population of squirrels is extremely high. Also, if the animal is a female, there is a high likelihood that you will remove her from babies that depend on her for survival.
    • Some readers will feed the squirrels in a different part of the yard so that they don’t eat their garden vegetables or plants. We’ve never tried this approach!
    • If you’re really going crazy, explore the idea of a raptor perch and owl nest box for natural predators who will eat them in no time.

    Protecting Bulbs from Squirrels

    • To protect spring bulbs, cover the surface of the bed with black plastic netting, which is invisible and inexpensive. 
    • Or, you can line the planting hole itself with wire mesh “hardware cloth.” Some gardeners have found that planting the bulbs in a handful of sharp, crushed gravel discourages the squirrels. This might help provide better drainage as well.
    • If squirrels are especially challenging, try chicken wire. Plant beds with one inch chicken wire and place more wire on top of the bulbs. The plants can grow through the wires, but the squirrels can’t get to the bulbs. Also, consider planting bulbs that squirrels don’t like such as daffodils, ornamental onions (Allium), snowdrops (Galanthus), and grape hyacinths (Muscari). Plus, check out our list of rodent-proof bulbs
    • Don’t advertise your newly dug bulbs by leaving papery bits of bulb debris in or on the soil. Clean up your act, or better still, try not to lay your bulbs on the ground while you dig the holes to plant them—squirrels will smell their favorite and scamper over.
    • If all else fails, just grow tulips in pots as squirrels aren’t attracted to tulips. 

    Keep Squirrels Off Bird Feeders

    • Birdfood definitely attracts squirrels who love seeds and nuts and berries. Keep the area under your bird feeder as clean as possible.
    • Place birdfeeders at least 5 to 6 feet off the ground and 8 to 10 feet away from your house, trees, or structures. (Squirrels can leap that far and even farther.) Some folks use a pulley system. Add squairrel guards or baffles below new birdfeeders. (If squirrels have already used a birdfeeder, they’ll find a way around the baffle.)
    • If squirrels are climbing up your birdhouse poles, try rubbing them with Crisco! It doesn’t hurt the birds, and the squirrels slither down!
    • Try using safflower seeds. Birds are happy to eat these seeds, but squirrels find them bitter.

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    Reader Suggestions

    Here are a couple of squirrel repellent suggestions that readers sent in:

    • Try motion-activated sprinklers, primarily designed to keep cats and rabbits out of gardens, may help scare away squirrels, especially in small yards or at corners of front yards where damage is most likely to occur. However, the presence of numerous squirrels, stray animals, or children may result in overwatering and high water bills if they continually trigger this device.
    • Get some mousetraps. Anchor them solidly to the ground in the area where the squirrels have been digging. Cover them with newspaper, and sprinkle a little dirt on top. When a squirrel comes to dig, it will set off the traps. As the mechanism snaps, it will scare and throw dirt at the squirrel. Once it’s scared enough times, it will find another digging area. Be sure to anchor the traps just in case the wind blows the newspaper off of them. If the trap is anchored, the squirrel will not get hurt.

    Squirrels Inside the Home

    In the autumn, many squirrels try to find shelter and may come inside your home. Avoid this by trimming branches that hang near your roof and place a mesh guard on your chimney. Close up all holes into your home. 

    If a squirrel does become trapped in your chimney or attic, you don’t want it to die inside. Make sure it has a way to get out. Hang a rope down through your chimney so it can climb back up to the roof. Or, buy a live trap to get the squirrel out of your house. 

    Call an animal control specialist if you’re desperate. Once a squirrel lives in your house for a few weeks, they and all their relatives will be attracted to your attic for at least a couple of years.

    Do you have any tips for keeping squirrels away? Let us know below!

    Plants Affected

    Reader Comments

    Leave a Comment

    Squirrel Infestation

    We moved into our present house last summer. We had a few squirrels (4-5) in the yard and our dog kept them at bay. He would run after them and they were not a nuisance. This week I looked outside and saw 12 squirrels running and jumping from tree to tree in the front and side yard. We have a pile of large logs piles on the side yard and they scurry in and around that all day. They stare at us when we sit on the deck and are not deterred by loud noises. They just look at the dog and only run when he chases them. We have 12 squirrels and no babies yet. Unfortunately we now live in a suburban neighborhood so my preferred method of eradicating the squirrels cannot be used. Has anyone had to deal with such large numbers of squirrels? Would getting rid of the wood pile make a difference? Thank you for any suggestions.

    Squirrels

    They seem to enjoy that wood pile and may even be roosting in it, so removing the logs should encourage them to find somewhere else to hang out. Problem is, you don’t know where they’ll choose! They could take a liking to your neighbor’s yard or your crawlspace instead. If you have any birdfeeders up, these are also squirrel-magnets, so take them down. 

    Alternatively, you could try spraying strong scents around the logs, which could discourage them from hanging out there. The strong scents of essential oils, like eucalyptus, lavender, or citronella, may be just offensive enough to get the squirrels to scram. 

    Overall, removing any sources of shelter or of food is the best way to get the squirrels to move on to greener pastures.

    Squirrel Damage

    Help! The squirrels have eaten the lead seal off all the vent stacks on my roof causing several leaks in my house. Their teeth marks are apparent on the vinyl trim and soffit and facia board of my house. And, they have even chewed the aluminum fence ties off my chain link fence. How can I get rid of these destructive animals? I don't want to use any type of poison lest I harm the family dog or my neighbor's cat.

    squirrel trouble

    Squirrels chew in part because their teeth are always growing, so they need to constantly wear them down. As for the lead around vent stacks, apparently that is a common problem. There are various methods you can try, including installing a vent shield made especially for deterring squirrels from chewing there. Installing wire mesh over certain places that squirrels favor, and trying squirrel repellents, available at hardware stores and garden centers, are other options. Hope this helps!

    Squirral and chipmunk problems

    I've been using vaseline rubbed on the pole holding my bird feeders for many years. This works all season and through the entire year. I've only had to replace the vaseline once a year. The pole/bird feeder stands alone; so there is no way for the pesky critters to jump to the bird feeders.

    Squirrel Retardant

    I liberally sprinkle moth balls through my flower garden. Does the trick every time as well as neighborhood cats.

    Squirrles hate soap

    I plant bulbs with a healthy amount of grated bar soap flakes on top and then more soap grated over the top layer of soil once the bulbs are covered up. If the bulbs are near an edible plant humans eat I use my homemade soap that has no harmful additives. I have had total success with my soap deterrant. Good luck to you all!

    Squirrels control

    The best deterrent is a 12-gauge shotgun, used frequently, and then the crows will take care of the carcass!!!! Bon appetite!!!!

    Squirrels

    I have found that putting straw around any where you don't want them to dig works, l think they don't like the texture of it, so l use it every where, even in my flower pots,you can also try rocks, they can't move them,good luck !

    Squirrels prevented from digging in our pots

    When we did container gardening, and we first planted the seeds, the squirrels would love to dig in the soil and bury their nuts. We just placed a bunch of toothpicks in the soil. The squirrels do not like to dig and touch the toothpicks. It worked like a charm and we didn't need any chemicals or complicated solutions!

    Squirrels

    Me and my daughter have both had problems with squirrels making nests in the engines of our cars. They eat the wiring. It cost my daughter 2000.00 to repair her car. I was luckier. Cost me less than 200.00. The dealership told us to tuck peppermint oil soaked cotton balls in the engines. So far it's worked like a charm.

    Squirrels damage!

    Yes squirrels are fun to watch. I lived in a neighborhood where house after house had to replace the electrical wiring because squirrels had eaten the insulation off the wiring in the attic.

    Squirrels

    Leave the squirrels be. No reason to scare them away. They won't destroy your garden. They're just trying to survive like any other animal.

    Squirrels

    I had two 4x4 raised beds of sweet corn. 160 plants. They were doing fantastic. I was going to have a huge bounty of corn. The squirrels came and destroyed my corn beds. Deterrent sprays did not work. They ignored live animal traps. I will probably be going to extreme measures this fall.

    SQUIRRELS WILL DAMAGE YOUR GARDEN !!!!

    Squirrels

    I have a small garden even so it is a lot of work and I don't do it for the squirrels and deer.

    leave squirrels alone?

    The grey squirrel is the very invasive and has adapted well to development. It has few natural predators in these areas and their numbers have so increased that there are areas that encourage killing them. I for one, thought they were very cute and fed them as they were very poor looking. I even rescued a baby squirrel and my kids named it Box; cause it lived in a box.
    I soon realized how feeding them and encouraging them to make homes in my yard would cost me dearly. First they chewed the wires up in my new Toyota pick up. The repairs cost over $1800.00. They invaded my attic and managed to go down inside a wall and chewed the wires to the dryer. I was told by the fire marshall the squirrels were electrocuted and their bodies piled up inside the wall and eventually the wire sparked and the hair on the bodies ignited. It was April 3rd about 2 am. My father was 84, he lived with me. He had dementia. The fire and smoke scared him and he hid. I tried to find him but had 5 children to rescue as well. I lost my father because he died from the smoke and fumes.
    I hate grey squirrels and do everything to keep them out of my yard. There are a lot of people that do not share the ideas that grey squirrels are cute creatures to be left alone. If anyone wants to protect the rodents, I respect that but do not try to impose your feelings on me because I choose to not want the pests in my yard.
    I HATE grey squirrels and do everything I can to keep them out of my yard.

    nandina and squirrels

    The squirrels literally eat my nandinas - right in front of me! These are small about 1 foot high but have not been able to buy a big one- any help if someone gives me another small plant to transfer?

    netting

    You may wish to consider some bird netting for your nandinas? The squirrels do like those berries!

    Squirrel deterrent

    I have tried Human hair in stockings and in the soil to keep squirrels away. As soon as the rain washes the scent of Human away the squirrels will return. Crush oyster shell into 1"-2" pieces and spread them around the area where digging has occurred. This usually keeps the squirrels away, the shells scratch their paws and they will not dig there anymore. Windshield glass works as well but the oyster shell is better for the soil. You should use caution if you dig in your garden bare handed.

    squirrels

    We have container gardens in our yard. We have placed mint plants in our gardens for the last 2 years. It is very effective in keeping them away. Before the mint plants they would dig in my flowers constantly. Now they stay away from the gardens.

    Thanks for sharing about mint plants

    I was hoping that mint PLANTS might deter them since people talk about peppermint oil being a deterrent as well. I have several types of mint that I keep in containers around, and I might just move those containers into garden area or consider planting mint outright. It can spread, so a bit concerned about that but I prefer to deter rather than annihilate if I can. Go live your life squirrel... get the heck outta mine ;)

    Squirrels

    We treat them as yard pets, and mostly enjoy them. I am of the notion that we need to accommodate other critters we share space with. We live in a small village, and realize that we humans are seriously displacing fauna and flora alike. We keep squirrels happy with corn cobs. They don't bother our plants. Same is true of rabbits, we leave out corn, and I cultivate wild clover plants for them -which they love.

    mouse traps

    have tried everything from human hair to repellents,,,mouse traps seem to work..They get really scared,and haven't bothered my flowers so far.....good luck

    squirrel resistance

    i use 1/3 +/- C neutral food oil to 1/3 C cayenne fine ground on bulk 2-3 Gallon bucket oil sunflower seeds. Blend carefully and put in squirrel resistant feeders. Birds get used to the spice but squirrels don't. Save on seeds.

    Read our tips at the top of

    Read our tips at the top of this page and also scan some of the Q&As. There are some repellents available and some people use netting and chicken wire.

    The squirrels ate all the

    The squirrels ate all the unripe peaches out of my two peach trees last spring. Is there any way to keep them out of the fruit trees?

    Peach trees and squirrels

    I have the same problem as a previous commentor. Squirrels and chipmunks are eating my beautiful peaches, that we have been doting over!

    Squirrels

    Live in Southern California and have a few tomato plants that produce fabulous tomatoes! Started seeing ripe & green disappear during night! Set test with 2 big ripe tomatoes on flat surface! They were half eaten, cleanly, then carried remainder about 30 feet and departed! Set trap with new tomatoes surrounded with white flour smoothed over and sure enough, looks like squirrel prints!! They do not like the flour on their paws do they are not taking tomatoes after they get flour on feet!! Pretty sure rats would naw at fruit and not carry carefully so far!! We have a few squirrels in neighborhood so I am assuming I
    Have identified thief!! I moved other pots of tomatoes up on deck! So far, so good!

    A band of baby Squirels

    A band of baby Squirels destroying my pecan, please help. What can I do to get rid of them. Tried sound but need more permanet measure. Thanks

    There seems to be no (easy)

    There seems to be no (easy) solution to the squirrels in your pecan trees. Here are some thoughts:
    Try wrapping the tree in a two-foot wide metal barrier to prevent the squirrels from climbing up it. Note that squirrels will just from other trees into it, however.
    Cut off any branches that hang low to the ground, especially nut bearing ones. Cut down any trees or the like that provide the squirrels a jumping off point into the tree.
    Provide an alternative food source, such as corn cobs.
    Finally, having the same problem with a peach tree, one Almanac editor was advised to hang sparkly Christmas ornaments in the tree. (Squirrels are spooked by sparkly things.) It worked ... until the tail end of season—but she still got more of the harvest then the squirrels did.
    We hope this helps!

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