Squirrels

How to Identify and Get Rid of Squirrels in the Garden

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A squirrel enjoys a snack. 

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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.

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.

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    Control and Prevention

    How to Get Rid of Squirrels

    Natural Squirrel Repellents

    • Put a pinch of cayenne pepper on and around your plants. Squirrels won’t eat anything with cayenne—which you can often buy in bulk.
    • Pepper flakes and garlic pepper also deter squirrels. Sprinkle on the soil when plants are ready to bloom. The smells should keep the squirrels away. Another reader claims blood meal sprinkled around the garden soil works, too.
    • 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. There are many repellents on the market, including natural ones with garlic.
    • 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.
    • 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 tuliops. 

    Keep Squirrels Off Bird Feeders

    • Want to keep squirrels off your birdfeeders? Place birdfeeders at least 5 to 6 feet off the ground and 8 to 10 feet away from trees or structures. (Squirrels can leap that far and even farther.) Some folks use a pulley system. Add 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!

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    Reader Suggestions

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

    • A newly developed motion-activated sprinkler, 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.

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

    Plants Affected

    Reader Comments

    Leave a Comment

    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.

    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.

    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!

    I HAVE A PROBLEM SQUIRREL OR

    I HAVE A PROBLEM SQUIRREL OR RABBITS HAVE EATEN MY BELL PEPPER PLANTS DOWN TO NOTHING PEOPLE SAY PLANT LEMON GRASS AROUND GARDEN AND WE HAVE A BIG ONE 27 DIFFERENT VEG WHAT CAN WE DO BESIDES A GUN AND LEMON GLASS THERES STUFF YOU CAN BUY IN WALMART BUT ITS EXPENSIVE HELP THANK YOU LINDA AND BILL

    Hi, Linda: There are many

    Hi, Linda: There are many relatively easy and inexpensive deterrents that you could try. Please see the tips above as well as comments in the thread below. A lot depends on your own layout and circumstances, so it's tough to be specific. One thing we would suggest, though, is to try a lot of things at once and just really make it uncomfortable for the critters to be around. Most folks just try one thing at a time, if for no other reason than this allows them to figure out what works. But we really don't care what works, as long as something works -- so feel free to try multiple things at once. Good luck!

    I have been using Hot Pepper

    I have been using Hot Pepper Suet blocks for yrs. birds will eat them, squirrels will not. Can be found in Home Depot or Walmart. NO MORE SQUIRRELS. Doesn't kill them but they won't be hanging around.

    I have dogs and cats. In the

    I have dogs and cats. In the garden I bury pet poop in mole tunnels, sprinkle used coffee grounds and crushed egg shells around young plants, and feed the squirrels up by my kitchen window, so I can enjoy their presence

    Interesting!

    Interesting!

    I have read all the books and

    I have read all the books and magazines and there are two standard squirrel deterrents. use a metal post and a tin barrier that prevents squirrels from getting into bird feeders. This is good but consider this.
    Squirrels are God's creatures also. I even had one for a pet when I was a tiny little girl, so small that I don't remember but have a video of the squirrel. Bird's need food and so do squirrels. So don't just deter the squirrels but put up a feeder for the squirrels as far away from the bird feeders as possible. That may not be possible in a very small yard but large backyards; parks that will give you permission, and wooded areas will work wonderfully for this mission of mercy.
    The only thing was a regular wooded area where other animal roam, is that the racoons, opossums and deer may also find the food and eat it. If a person has enough money they might set out bales of hay, corn stalks, and other deer food, pieces of fruit and peanut mixed with nuts and fruit, bird seed, and carrots; all chopped up and mixed into the peanut butter. If the birds and squirrels can not get to the food because of the other animals,plant berry shrubs, nut and seed trees, and wildflowers which help birds a great deal also. Elm trees have seeds, maple trees have seeds, hack-berry trees have little berries which I have seen Robins devour in the winter when migrating, and berry trees are also good. When you plant trees in a wooded area you need to surround the trunk with a flexible wire cage to protect the bark which deer will eat. Than expand the cage periodically so that the tree has room to grow. A wooded area like this along with extra help from human friends can be bird and animal friendly. I wish everyone who has money would consider doing this, for there is not a lot of land available for animals to survive on anymore.

    What a fabulous artical you

    What a fabulous artical you have written! Good on you! I agree we need to be civilized and learn to live cooperatively with nature and not kill animals that are just going about their business of survival! I have a few things to add:
    1) Are people positive that squirrels are doing the damage? I had whole cucumber, tomato and pepper plants knawed away at the base and the plants eaten. After observing day and night, it turned out to be rats (I thought it was rabbits, racoons or squirrels). They were the type that burrow under large tree roots.
    2) I do feed my squirrels sunflower seeds and they are happy and have never touched anything in my yard or large vegetable garden. I dont feed peanuts because they will bury them and I want to avoid having them dig in my garden.
    3) To get rid of the rats, i set traps. After one was caught, the others avoided the traps. So, i leave unset traps all around my rows of tomatoes and cukes and the rats stay away. As an extra precaution, i wrapped the base (18") of all 40 plants with copper mesh or remay cloth. It took a few hours to do this but it was worth it as no more damage!
    4) I also put bunched up netting on the ground around the base of my tomato and cucumber plants and also around some raised beds. This will deter all small critters. I check daily as birds very occasionally get tangled.
    5) Finally, i found that rats, being nocturnal, dont like light. I put solar powered spotlights throughout the garden, shining directly on the 'at risk' plants! Works like a charm!!
    Note: My vegetable 'raised bed' gardens are also surrounded by 8' deer fencing.
    My only problem now are bugs that chew leaves, mostly earwigs and vine weevils here (Victoria, BC).
    Please stop killing the little wild creatures! When you kill rats or squirrels, new ones will simply move into the territory. Better to train the established ones as they will educate their babies.
    Good luck! Diane

    Squirrels are natural creatures but I need my food too

    It's lovely for you to be so pro-squirrel. I'm not one to kill them. However, what am I to eat when they stole every single green pepper and tomato I grew last year? Every - single - one. How do I know it was squirrels? I have a security camera (we live in a high crime area) which captured them dining on my dinner. I container garden as it's all I can afford to do. There are plenty of plants in the area to sustain squirrels - they just love to eat what I've spent all summer working on. I had an apple tree on the other side of the house with apples they loved too - they had PLENTY of food with just that tree. I had to forgo buying some foodstuffs in order to afford the plants and containers. When I get zero back, it's an issue. For those who garden just because they enjoy it that's one thing - but for those of us who have invested time and money as a way to be able to eat healthier in the long run, this is a serious problem. I am hopeful that the tips the Farmer's Almanac provided will help. I can buy an entire bag of hot peppers for less than $5, grind them myself, and hopefully have a summer free from squirrels eating my food.

    I have a problem every Spring

    I have a problem every Spring with squirrels digging up my Lilies in search of their previously buried nuts. I have used cayenne pepper and black pepper sprinkled on top of the mulch near the flowers and this has discourage them. However, I will give the hair suggestion a try as well. Thanks for the advice.

    I have a fisher eating my

    I have a fisher eating my lettuce off of my deck. Would these tips help for it?

    It may work; however, fishers

    It may work; however, fishers have very, very long claws that can slice through just about anything.

    It's surprising that a fisher would enjoy eating lettuce. In many instances, they would rather eat something warm-blooded.

    Thank you for your interest in the Old Farmer's Almanac and our Web site.

    After planting vegtables in

    After planting vegtables in my present home here in Connecticut for over 10 years I now seem to have a problem with squirrels grabing my cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries and squash and who knows what else and leaving a few bites and then droping them on the ground. I have never had this problem ever before but it started last year and we actualy caught them red handed a number of times, this year so far they are into my strawberries, ( to early for the veggies ) HELP What can I do.

    We feel for you. You may want

    We feel for you. You may want to invest in some netting and put that over your plants. A dog or cat is a great squirrel chaser if that's an option. There are many repellents on the market, including natural ones with garlic. 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.

    veggie drop

    damages may be catipillars or snails. voles and chipmunks too. try some diatomaceous earth around seedlings
    for slugs/snails and masculine spray fragrance with predator urine feromone for herbivore prevention.

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