Squirrels

How to Keep Squirrels Away From the Garden

Squirrels-how to identify-squirrel-Pixabay

A squirrel enjoys a snack. 

Photo by Pixabay

Here are tips on how to keep squirrels out of the garden, off the bird feeders, and out of the attic—especially when they are most active in autumn!

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 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 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 did the clever critters find those 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.

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    Identification

    How to Identify Squirrel Damage 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, 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

    Protecting the Garden From Squirrels

    Generally speaking, your goal should be to make your yard or garden as unappealing to squirrels as possible.

    • 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 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 may be illegal in your area.
    • 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, however!
    • 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.

    Fencing, Netting, and Covers

    Physical barriers 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 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 a foot into the ground, so the squirrels can’t dig under it. Materials like 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.

    Natural Squirrel Repellents

    There are also many natural repellents on the market:

    • Some commercial 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, 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. Bird, on the other hand, can’t taste capsaicin, so the kick won’t harm them.
    • One reader claims blood meal sprinkled around the garden soil works against squirrels.
    • 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 a strong aroma.
    • A dog is a great squirrel chaser, if that’s an option in your backyard!
    • 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.

    Protecting Flower 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. 

    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 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

    There seems to be no (easy)

    The Editors's picture

    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

    The Editors's picture

    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.

    hot peppers don't work

    Bought a home that hadn't grown a garden so I was in seventh heaven.....until I tried to grow corn. The little grey buggers would snip it down to ground level and if I was able to fence it in when the corn got larger they somehow managed to take my ears off the stalks and ruin the stalks in the process. I tried "Ghost Peppers" you know, the really hot ones. They didn't work the little darlings weren't discouraged in the least. Next year I'm building a tall type of tent of material that is porous enough so the rain gets in (and the little devils don't) Save your money on peppers, that is unless you use them yourself they don't work. They don't really do a number on my other veggies so... Good luck.

    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

    The Editors's picture

    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.

    Squirrels...I have Fishers

    What's a Fisher ?

    Also, regarding getting rid of squirrels. My neighbor used to trap them...they just can't resist a big old walnut...then kill them in some fashion and feed it to his dog...yuck...but affective.

    My wife and I recently purchased an anti-squirrel Birdfeeder from Tractor Supply Co. that consists of an inner clear plastic container surrounded by a metal housing that slides down when the squirrel places his weight on the feeding perches. It has been quite affective. I have a video of one trying his best to get a seed...unsuccessfully...lol.

    This year I plan to try feeding corn cobs, etc. them away from house. Will keep you apprised.

    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

    The Editors's picture

    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.

    Squirrels...What can I do ?

    I've read several responses from your staff regarding "raptor perch and owl nest boxes" and I wanted to caution your readers who are bird enthusiasts. That inviting predators like Raptors to your yard will be hazardous to your little bird friends visiting your birdfeeders.

    Our property is bordered by a wooded church cemetery that is home to approx. 30+ squirrels. Many but not all who enjoy making a daily visit to our garden & birdfeeders. (See previous comment regarding 'Fishers' for birdfeeder suggestion)

    I plant a 4 x 4 "Square Foot" raised garden utilizing an enclosure of 1/2" wire fencing with a detachable top (for your access & tall growing plants, etc). I have found this to be an effective deterrent for many different foraging pests.

    I caught a squirrel in it once before using a wire fencing top and I spent approx. 15 min. chasing him round and round as he evaded my grasp.

    Wire Box type Squirrel Traps: be sure to use heavy gloves when picking up the Trap and cover it with a pc. of cloth, etc. as the squirrel will injury himself flinging his body into the end of the trap trying to escape...unsuccessfully.

    Living in a (sparsely populated w/large open lots where beautiful homes once stood) part of Detroit one would not imagine that we would observe the largest Groundhog I've ever seen or a pretty big raccoon...and our latest visitor in winter & spring a beautiful male Pheasant.

    Thank you for a wonderful magazine and website !

    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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