Photo by: BBA Photography / Shutterstock.

Are there small, shallow holes dug in your garden beds? Do you find fruits and vegetables that are half eaten? Have your freshly planted bulbs been dug up? If you answered yes to any (or all) of these, it’s probably the result of squirrels. Their rummaging is in full swing in fall when they’re prepping for winter. In spring, they’ll be back, making the most of tender, new growth and ripening fruit when nuts and seeds are limited.

While many of us enjoy watching squirrels, they can be a serious garden problem, cause extensive damage, and terrorize bird feeders. If you are looking for ways to keep them out of your garden, here are some humane solutions to try:

  1. Hide or relocate their food. Be diligent about cleaning up fallen nuts, acorns and berries. Make the process faster and easier with a handy nut gatherer. These food sources can be relocated to an area where squirrels are welcome, such as a back corner of your yard (see #9 below). Also, keep trash can lids securely closed as well.
  2. Photo by: alexei_tm / Shutterstock.

  3. Chase them off. Most dogs love to chase squirrels. Put them on squirrel patrol and let them scare the squirrels away.
  4. Deter them with hot pepper spray. There are many recipes for homemade squirrel repellent sprays, as well as some that can be purchased. Most sprays have a combination of cayenne and/or other hot peppers. Here’s one recipe for a homemade solution:
    • Boil 1-1/2 quarts water.
    • Add 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 2 chopped onions and 1 chopped jalapeno.
    • Boil approximately 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
    • Strain the mixture and pour the liquid in a spray bottle.
    Spray in areas where you want to deter squirrels, such as in and around garden beds and bird feeders (don’t worry, the smell or taste doesn’t bother the birds). Reapply weekly, or more often in rainy weather.
  5. Apply a dry repellent. Similar to the pepper sprays above, a combination of cayenne pepper, paprika and crushed red peppers can be sprinkled on plants, in flower beds, and even mixed in with bird seed (again, the birds won’t mind). You can also try white pepper, black pepper, or garlic. Lightly mist or spray plants before applying to help it stick to the leaves better.
  6. Employ natural predators. Use a squirrel’s natural predators to your advantage by attracting hawks or owls by placing raptor perches or owl nests nearby. However, this approach is not recommended if you have small animals in the yard that you’d like to keep there.
  7. Create a barrier. Use netting on bushes with fruit or berries, shield ground crops with row covers, create an enclosure with chicken wire or even build a greenhouse to protect tempting treats from squirrels. Any fencing should be placed up to 1 foot into the ground to keep squirrels from digging under.
  8. Use companion plants. Discourage squirrels by surrounding or inter-planting with varieties that they turn their noses up to, like nasturtiums, marigolds, mint, or mustard. You can also try crown imperial bulbs (Fritillaria), but it is recommended that you plant these far away from inhabited areas such as patios or porches due to their strong skunk-like smell.

  9. Cover the ground. Squirrels don’t particularly like the feel of mulch under their feet, so add it to garden beds and especially over newly planted bulbs to help disguise the scent of the fresh bulbs. You might also try laying down aluminum foil.

  10. Give them their own food. Although a disputed method, as this may end up attracting more, giving in to the little guys might just be an option. If you’ve got a large area, make them their own feeding ground that is well away from your garden beds. Use a squirrel feeder to feed them their own sunflower seeds, peanuts, and feed corn. Some gardeners go so far as to plant extra tomatoes to keep them satisfied and away from theirs. You may want to include some of the other squirrel deterrent methods above around bird feeders and garden beds, just in case.
  11. Give them a drink. If squirrels are munching on your tomatoes or other juicy fruits or vegetables, they may just be thirsty. Theresa Rooney, author of The Guide to Humane Critter Control, says, “During the growing season, provide the squirrels with a dish of fresh water…and the squirrels will probably leave those tomatoes for you to harvest.”

WHAT ABOUT TRAPS?

Although squirrel traps may sound like a good idea at the time, especially if you really want them gone, they usually aren’t a sustainable solution. You’re often fighting a losing battle and just making way for more to move into the neighborhood. Another consideration against using traps is that you may be separating a mother squirrel from her babies, especially in spring, leaving them no chance for survival — which, again, may sound acceptable in the moment (depending on your frustration level), but really isn’t a good thing. Also, this practice is prohibited in many areas and you should check with your local Department of Fish and Wildlife first.

TIPS FOR KEEPING SQUIRRELS OUT OF BIRD FEEDERS AND AWAY FROM BULBS

Squirrels love to eat the same nuts and seeds that birds do, and fall-planted bulbs are a treat when squirrels are actively stocking up for winter. Here are a few strategies you can use in addition to those above to keep them from feasting on your bird feeders and bulbs.

Photo by: Giedriius / Shutterstock.

Bird Feeders:

  • Use a squirrel-proof bird feeder or add squirrel guards or baffles to existing feeders and poles.
  • Keep the area under the bird feeder clean and free of dropped seeds and nuts.
  • Place feeders at least 5 to 6 feet off the ground and at least 8 to 10 feet away from any structure (house, fence, shed) that they can use as a launching pad to jump to the feeder. Prune trees to keep branches far enough away.
  • Feed safflower seeds — the birds like them, but squirrels don’t.
  • Additives, such as Cole’s Flaming Squirrel Seed Sauce, can also be mixed in with seed.

Bulbs:

  • Line the bottom, sides, and top of the bulb planting area with hardware cloth (wire mesh) or chicken wire. Cover with soil, then add mulch on the surface. The bulb shoots can make their way up through the mesh, but squirrels can’t make their way down to the bulbs. There are also ready-made bulb cages that can be purchased.
  • Cover the surface with plastic netting, then cover with mulch.
  • Place some crushed gravel or rock in the planting hole with the bulbs.
  • Plant bulbs that squirrels don’t like such as daffodils, alliums, snowdrops, Muscari, Frittilaria, Spanish bluebells, and the fall-blooming autumn crocus. You can plant these varieties solely, intermix them, or outline your planting bed with them.
  • Keep your planting area clean from bulb debris. Squirrels have a keen sense of smell and can be attracted to their buried treasure quite easily.

If you simply decide to let them run their course (literally) in your yard or garden, Rooney also points out that they will eat fallen seed that won’t sprout into weeds, help trim trees by keeping branches clean, and can even add some humor.

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