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

    Squirrels and sunflowers

    I'm definitely going to try using cayenne pepper next year against the squirrels. I had these two great big sunflowers in my backyard. And they were so close to blooming when the squirrels broke the tops off of both of them for the seeds! But next year I am determined to get a beautiful yellow sunflower! Thank you for those tips!

    squirrel deterent for bird feeders.

    Put three or four sections of stove pipe over your feeder pole . Four , five , or six inch galvinized stove pipe will work .They can't use their claws and can't hug the pipe so , no access to the treats.

    Squirrels

    I live on the edge of a canyon in San Diego and there is a large population of animals, including squirrels. Squirrels come into my yard to feed but they don't bother my garden because I use physical barriers. In defense of squirrels, they alert me to the present of rattlesnakes, which there is also a large number of them. I know their alarm calls and see their tails move about so I know a snake is present.

    squirrels and birds: weapons of mass destruction

    Squirrels and birds are so bad in my small garden, I've considered planting them a larger garden all to themselves so they may not mess with my small one. But then I figured they'd just still start in my small one, finish it off, and then move on to the larger one and pick it clean. So I guess I'll just have to still try to beat them to a tomato and an ear of corn now and then. Maybe they won't mind that too much.

    Protecting bird feeder with ground pepper

    Just mix thoroughly dry ground pepper with bird food.
    Ground pepper won't affect birds.

    Red Pepper Suet

    I was having a terrible time keeping squirrels off my suet feeder. At first I had it strapped to the trunk of a tree. That was an ad that said to squirrels "come and get it!" Then I tried hanging it. I had to get it high enough that they couldn't jump to it, but then I made the mistake of using binders twine, which has plenty of gripping surface for a squirrel to wrap claws around and just shimmy up and down. I switched to fish line, which I figured squirrels could not get on a grip on and would slide. They saw as the ultimate zip line: they landed hard on the feeder, but I guess the suet was worth the ride and the bump.
    But finally I came upon Red Pepper Suet. As mentioned above they just don't like the taste, but birds don't mind it at all.
    I haven't had a squirrel on the suet feeder since.

    More squirrels in apple trees

    I guess I should have told you what things I've tried so far (that don't work)
    Spray the bark of the trees with vinegar (I do this every day especially after it has rained
    I hang shiny objects in the apple trees - they take no notice of them, or pull them down and throw them on the ground (beside all the apples they pick, take one bite and throw away)
    I bought a large package of cayenne pepper and sprinkled it around the trees and up into the trees in forks of branches, etc. - didn't do a thing. Even had the dog stand guard, but as soon as the dog goes to sleep they do their deed!!

    squirrels in my Apple Trees

    Lots of great comments and tips so far about squirrels, but no one has touched upon keeping them out of my apple trees. They get more apples every year than I do, and I'm getting pretty tired of it. HELP!! Anyone have a solution?

    squirrels

    Sorry folks, but I have to agree with several others. There is such a large population using a pellet gun to harvest them, and making stew with the vegetables from the garden is better than them eating them for free. They are also mighty tasty fried after being soaked in buttermilk.

    Squirrels

    I tried the slinky this summer--worked for a week---they pulled on it enough that it stretched out----now THEY grab the popcorn and laugh!!!

    Rabbits

    Any similar deterrents against rabbits or beaver in the yard?

    cheap trick

    If using a feeder on a pole, buy a $3 metal slinky and slide it over the pole, hanging it from the feeder. When you hear some metal slinky sounds as the squirrels try to figure it out, grab the popcorn and take a seat. They are determined and hilarious gymnasts, well worth the show.

    NO black plastic netting PLEASE

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don't use black plastic netting with larger holes in your gardens!!!
    Beneficial animals such as snakes often get tangled in netting and become injured. There are other solutions. I used to use netting, but once I found this out the netting can harm snakes it went in the trash.

    Squirrel remedy.

    Try a Squirrelinator with basin. After a week or so no more squirrels.

    Protected species

    Native squirrels are a protected species here no matter how big their population becomes or how much damage they do. However, you will also be fined for allowing a dog to bark without checking on them and silencing them. Also, you could face charges/fine if your dog kills a squirrel and somebody reports it and they determine that the dog attack on the squirrel could have been prevented. Nothing attempted lasts for long to deter them. We even have to check before opening a door to the outside to prevent having them run inside the house. Some years the population explosion is so great they even begin looking sickly and are more aggressive. Worry that someday rabies could also become an issue.

    Anti-Squirrel Infantry

    Try using an airsoft gun, I know it sounds aggressive but squirrels are extremely destructive and endless in number.

    Squirrel Easter Adventure

    I had all the eggs tucked away in our yard for the grandchildren. I had used plastic eggs with yummy treats inside. I happened to notice a squirrel running by with a green egg in its mouth. I chased it around the yard which was silly, as if I could catch it. Later my grandson found the green egg! It had a hole in it and the chocolate was gone!

    squirrels

    I had a problem with squirrels digging under a patio. I got a battery powered fly swatter from Harbor Freight and taped the on button down, stuck it in the hole. Problem solved.

    Tried a few of those tips...

    It goes without saying that various tips may or may not work for some as well as others. My squirrel troubles aren't too bad so I don't go far out of my way to deter them. They buried some peanuts in a few potted flowers this season - a neighbor must be handing them out. Last year, they ate my flowering clover to the ground but clover can't be stopped. One or two tomatoes per season are sacrificed - not bad. Feeding them now and then in a location removed from the flowers I want to protect is helpful when new flowers are sprouting from seed or new perennial purchases are taking root. Cayenne did nothing for me, might work for you! Blood meal is effective. You'll need a good amount and you'll want to put it down a few times each season. My dog is so gentle and uninterested in squirrels and birds that they don't care about her at all: they stare at her and laugh. So it depends on the dog in question! Giving them my decorative pumpkins at the end of October keeps them happy until December.

    how to get rid of squirrels

    the peppermint plants I plant around our garden work ...and peppermint oil:
    Scents like white pepper, black pepper, and garlic are naturally unpleasant to a squirrel. The same goes for sweet smells such as peppermint. Spraying your plants and flowers with water and then sprinkling on pepper or peppermint oil to deter squirrels.

    Squirrels

    Our neighbors have at least 25 bird feeders (all types) all over their yard, hanging from trees, hanging from planters, and they gather up pinecones into a huge pile and leave them under the trees. Of course those squirrels don't STAY in their yard - - they come over to OUR yard to dig up anything and everything. Our neighbor on the other side of the street has a walnut tree, which really attracts the little critters, but they use our 6 foot wooden fence as a highway to go back and forth. We've tried literally everything to get rid of them, but with the major attractions in our neighbors yards, it's impossible. They have ruined the top of our new fence within 2 years, and I've given up trying to grow anything except what I can plant up on the back deck where I can keep an eye on things a little better and shoo them away with my outdoor broom. It's a losing battle for the rest of the yard, however.

    Our dog only barks when squirrels are around so he's some help, but he's already almost 14 years old and almost blind, so he's not exactly on top of his game.

    Squirrels eating my tomatoes

    I have a small garden so I was especially frustrated to see that the squirrels started knocking off and eating my tomatoes! I tried several of the other deterrents like aluminum foil which seemed to work a bit but they were still getting in and spoiling my (small) crop. I finally came up with a solution that so far has worked like a charm. I take plastic zip lock sandwich bags, make slits on the sides, middle and bottom. I slipped the bag under each group of tomatoes and slid the top on both sides to hold them in place. It's been over a week and so far NO MORE THEFTS! I'm cautiously optimistic that it's working, but I understand it may not be for others with larger gardens. Good luck everyone

    squirrels

    Gods little creatures but they surely are a trial for man. Just over my property line is one of the most awesome black walnut trees I could imagine. Do we have squirrels. OMG yes. Lost pole beans this year and they love to dig in my garden and frequently plant walnuts but not just in the garden but everywhere. I see many starts to these trees come to fruition on my property. Cute, beautiful and etc, they are a rodent or are classified as a rodent. Not to sound bad, they can be harvested and are actually quite delicious. I have eaten wild squirrel and rabbit and find both beneficial to my diet. I would like to hear from others that feel the same. Please, I dont feel I am an ogre but the bible says we have dominion over all animals of the earth.

    Squirrels and more

    Ya not only did I have problems with Squirrels but birds and my Chickens. I built a fence with 4" square concrete mesh 6' high with T posts then covered it with 1"square 20 gage chicken wire. Then found that the chickens/Squirrels/birds could go over it!! Then seeing how they were I got an electric fence charger and insulated the tops 2" T posts with 1 1/2" abs plumbing band clamped on. Then ran bailing wire about 1" from the grounded fence so whatever tried to go over got the shock of their life. Laughed to see the first chicken fly up on it and then squawk and jump 3' in the air. They have never tried it again.
    Yes it was a lot of work I have a large garden with 7 9'x9' razed beds 100 feet of fencing connected to 35' of south facing shop with gates that one hast to bend down to go through so as not to touch the double wire an inch above them. But it worked,I got the chickens to take care of the grasshoppers, that worked. Now we are getting lots of veggies. The whole thing is on a drip system timed, just haft to weed a little, easy sitting on the two stacked rail road ties around the beds.
    Another note put down 4" of compost then cardboard, then 4" of clean garden soil and really don't have much weeds. Ya a lot of work but I love growing things and we are getting more that we can use. should be good for years.

    squirrels, chipmunks

    My problem with these adorable but thieving and desctructive little critters is their habit of climbing the pole that supports my bird feeder. I tried taping an aluminum foil pie plate over the pole, and that worked until wind, rain, etc. tore the pan off the pole. My current solution is better, and works very well, but does need to be fixed up a couple of times per week, depending on weather. I wrap duct tape around the pole, inside-out, so that the sticky side is on the outside. The chipmunks don't like the sticky feel, and give up on climbing the pole. I also keep a squirt bottle filled with a vinegar / water solution next to the window, and spray the little brats from the window whenever I see them showing too much interest in the bird feeder. If I run out of duct tape, my back-burner plan is to coat the steel pole with Vaseline.

    Squirrel and patio screen door

    We came home today to find a hole approx 3 inches across chewed or town on screen of sliding patio door. Look like some white fur around it but no animal inside. Would a squirrel do this?

    Squirrels... errrr...

    Hi. Thanks for all of the great tips! Especially the mirror balls! I've had fantastic results spreading vapo rub around the outside rim of my planters and pots. I've even put it around my raised beds. It seems to work really well as I've had zero squirrel damage since! The only drawback is that you can smell the vapo rub for a couple of days but then it dissipates. (And continues to work) Relatively inexpensive if you grab generic rub from the dollar store too!

    Squirrel

    Pellet guns work. They taste good too.

    Mint

    I have found that planting anything in the mint family along the borders of my beds keep the squirrels out of my garden. Just be sure you plant it in a container/separate bed or it will take over your area.

    Squirrels in the Yard & Garden

    Yes, a pellet rifle. If that does not work-a shotgun?

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