Squirrels

How to Keep Squirrels Away From Your Garden

Squirrels-how to identify-squirrel-Pixabay

A squirrel enjoys a snack. 

Photo by Pixabay

Got squirrel problems in the yard, garden, and attic? Sure, they’re entertaining to watch and we’re fond of these furry critters, but if you lose your entire vegetable garden and all your bulbs, it can be very frustrating. So what’s a gardener to do? You can co-exist. Try these top tips for repelling squirrels naturally.

Why Worry About Squirrels in the Garden?

With a fondness for fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers, the common squirrel has long spelled trouble for home gardeners. From Maine to Montana, these wily critters yank geraniums from window boxes, pluck nearly ripe 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 late summer and early autumn can drive a gardener nuts.

Squirrels are especially active in late summer and autumn, when 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 did the clever critters find those flower bulbs, anyway? Why do they ransack some borders and leave others alone? 

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.

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    Identification

    Is That A Squirrel I See?

    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.

    How to Identify Squirrel Damage in the Garden

    • Spring bulbs snacked on? You’re probably dealing with squirrels, chipmunks, or groundhogs. 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 foraged nuts.
    • Missing or damaged crops in the garden is also a key sign of squirrels. Often, squirrels will steal ripening fruits and vegetables to snack on, especially soft and juicy produce such as squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and melons. Frustratingly, they often don’t even eat the entire thing!
    • If you’re growing flowers or vegetables in containers, you may also notice that someone’s been digging around in the container soil. Squirrels and chipmunks are known to look for insects or other goodies in containers, and may uproot plants in the process.
    • 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

    Preventing Squirrels 

    • Make sure you have tight-fitting trash cans and never leave food or compost scraps sitting out.
    • Don’t bother trapping and relocating squirrels. This is a losing battle, since the population of squirrels is extremely high in most areas, and moving one will just make room for another! 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. Additionally, relocation of wildlife (yes, even squirrels) may be illegal in your area.
    • If the season has been particularly hot and dry, squirrels may steal tomatoes, cucumbers, or other juicy produce from the vine because they’re thirsty. Some readers have reported that placing a dish of water (or bird bath) nearby affected crops can discourage snacking. 
    • Unfortunately, growing extra vegetables to “feed” the squirrels does not usually work; squirrels will simply plow through your produce and bring their friends!
    • Is your yard covered in nuts and acorns from trees? If so, your place is squirrel heaven! Just accept that your yard will be party central or you’ll need to pick up and move though nuts to a different part of the yard or grow/select different types of trees.

    Fencing, Netting, and Covers

    It’s best to use physical barriers, which can usually get the job done as long as the material is right for the job. Squirrels and other rodents are capable of squeezing through extremely tight spaces, so the holes in the fence or net must be very small. Look specifically for netting or fencing that’s rated for rats or squirrels.

    • Consider protecting your vegetable garden with a wire fence and make sure it is buried about at least 6 inches into the ground, so the squirrels can’t easily dig under it. Materials like ¼-inch hardware cloth will do the trick.
    • You may also wish to invest in some chew-proof netting and put that over your plants—just as you would invest in bird netting for berry bushes. Row covers made of heavier materials can also be used, depending on the season.
    • Pots are easy to protect with a layer of netting or hardware cloth across the top of the pot, too. A layer of gravel or stones can also discourage digging.
    • Or, here’s a more-expensive pantry solution: Lay aluminum foil across the top of vegetable pots; poke holes for water. The squirrels do not like the shiny reflection.

    Dogs are Natural Squirrel Deterrants!

    • A dog is a great squirrel chaser, if that’s an option in your backyard! Squirrels can’t stand those pesky dogs! Save the dog’s hair when you brush or groom it, and use it to mulch your garden beds. The squirrels won’t go near it! 
    • Human hair helps a well, according to one reader who 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.”

    Natural Squirrel Repellents

    There are also many natural repellents on the market:

    • Spread predator urine around your garden. Garden nurseries will carry repellents are made with the urine of squirrels’ predators. These are meant to be sprayed around gardens to keep squirrels away, but will likely need to be reapplied regularly.
    • Try sprinkling cayenne pepper, ground chili peppers, pepper flakes, and/or garlic pepper on and around your plants when they are ready to bloom. After getting a taste, squirrels won’t dare eat anything with cayenne—which you can often buy in bulk.
    • Birds can’t taste capsaicin, so add some cayenne pepper to those bird feeders to deter squirrels.
    • One reader claims blood meal sprinkled around the garden soil works against squirrels.
    • Plant nasturtiums, marigolds, and mustard as a border around your vegetable garden; these plants have a strong aroma.
    • If you’re really going crazy, explore the idea of a raptor perch and owl nest box to invite natural predators who will prey on squirrels.

    Which Bulbs to Plant

    • Bulbs that squirrels (and other rodents) do not like, such as daffodils, fritillaria, snowdrops (Galanthus), grape hyacinths (Muscari), and ornamental alliums. These flowers are also disliked by rabbits and deer because of their unpalatable taste and fragrant odor. You can also try these flowers in pots, planters, and containers. Check out our list of rodent-proof bulbs
    • For more protection, just 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.
    • Gardeners lay down chicken wire if they’re planting many bulbs. Look for one-inch mesh and place below and on top of the bulbs. The plants can grow through the wires, but the squirrels can’t get to the bulbs. 
    • As an added layer of protection, cover the surface of the bed with black plastic netting, which is invisible and inexpensive. 
    • 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.

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    Image: Allium. Credit: C. Boeckmann

    Keeping 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.
    • Keep in mind the jumping abilities of squirrels: Even if a squirrel can’t gain a foothold on the feeder, they can knock it to the ground.
    • Place birdfeeders on isolated poles (not hanging from eaves or trees) 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.
    • Attach to the feeder pole either an inverted cone with at least a 13-inch diameter, a special squirrel-deterring dish with a 15-inch diameter, or a PVC pipe or stovepipe that’s 6 inches in diameter and 18 inches long.
    • Protect feeders suspended from a horizontal wire by threading old records, compact discs, or plastic soda bottles on the wire on each side.
    • 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.
    • Also, consider the type of birdfeeder. If you have the common tube feeder, metal ports around the seed dispensers will protect the feeder from nibbling squirrels and house sparrows. 
    • If you are buying a new feeder, the most successful feeder is an all-metal feeder with adjustable springs that regulate a counter-weighted door. When birds light on the platform, the door remains open, but under the heavier weight of a squirrel, the door drops down to conceal the food supply. These tend to be pricier, but you won’t have to replace them of account of squirrel damage. 

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    Reader Suggestions

    Here are a couple more 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

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    Reader Comments

    Leave a Comment

    Squirrel Retardant

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

    Moth balls and squirrels

    Did you know in the states it is now illegal to use moth balls outside? After years of using them and putting how many chemicals into our water table they are illegal to use outside. I have thrown a couple under my shed still in the wrappers but I don't live in the states. Be careful who you tell that you are doing this.

    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 in the garden

    I have a grandson with a pellet gun that keeps the population under control!

    Protecting bird seed feeders from squirrels.

    We have had great success by attaching the children’s toy “Slinky” to all our
    bird feeder poles..
    The squirrels leap on the poles and are startled when the “Slinky” descends to
    the ground with them aboard, or they will immediately jump to the ground.
    After a couple tries, they give up...no harm to them.

    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.

    Cage it!

    My 4x4 raised bed of sweet corn was destroyed in the tassel stage by ?raccoons? And the cure was this: first drive four stakes at each corner followed by mesh fencing around the perimeter. Check mesh opening size so that it is small enough to keep the pests out. At a height of four feet, cover the bed with more mesh and secure to the side mesh. Allow the corn to grow thru the mesh while the ears mature inside this cage. Enjoy the corn. Good luck!

    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

    The Editors's picture

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

    Nuisance squirrels

    Can't you find them difficult and not "hate" them? Likely squirrels were around before humans. Maybe there just giving us payback for destroying their safe world. :- )

    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

    The Editors's picture

    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!

    Get a Silent Cat pellet rifle

    Get a Silent Cat pellet rifle and be consistent. Don't be fooled by all these other gimmicks- elimination is the only way.

    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

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