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We actively support wildlife in our garden and encourage it on the allotment too. My friends assume that’s because I’ve got a soft spot for the little critters, and they’re not wrong, but there’s also a deceitfully calculated reason for my wildlife-friendly approach; bribery.
Well-fed squirrels don’t eat my tomatoes. So, we bribe them with nuts and have wild areas packed with berries entirely for birds and squirrels. However, in recent years, our adorable squirrel family has grown bored of blackberries and strayed into the greenhouse, where they can be seen watching, waiting, pining, for the first ripe fruit of the season.
Squirrels are wonderful creatures, but they are also a gardener’s worst nightmare. In this article, we’re going to share everything we do to protect our crops and flowers from these frustrating but adorable little monsters. And, much like my patience, they are all very tried, and very tested.
Do you have a squirrel problem?
Squirrels are a great indication that your garden is providing a haven for wildlife, and can even be quite friendly. The problem comes when they start to interfere with your ornamental plants and vegetables and start digging up your lawn.
As well as digging up lawns, eating bulbs and ravaging your hard-earned crops, squirrels can snap branches on young trees, and scare off other wildlife.
How to squirrel-proof your garden
Protecting your garden from squirrels is really quite simple, but it’s worth understanding why they exhibit such destructive behavior, as there are plenty of nature-friendly ways to discourage them, rather than get rid of them altogether.
In each section below, we’ll look at a specific garden problem caused by squirrels, why they do it, and how to prevent it.
How to protect lawns from squirrels
The most common squirrel problem is digging. Squirrels bury food because they don’t hibernate. Despite being less active through winter, squirrels still need a reserve of summer produce from forage spots to keep them going. In the wild, squirrels will bury nuts at the base of trees, but in urban settings they choose gardens with open lawns, to remind them where they left things.
There is really only one way to stop squirrels from digging up your lawn, and that’s to provide an alternative. Remember, they instinctively store food, so either give them food that’s fresh in winter or provide a space for digging that’s less obtrusive.
- Leave areas of open soil around the base of trees and shrubs. Squirrels prefer to cache in recognizable places, so lawns are a last resort. It will take a year for them to change their habits, but it’s better for everyone in the long run.
- Plant winter fruiting shrubs. Squirrels in your garden will bury less food if they know there will be more available through the colder months. Again, this takes time as the squirrels and their offspring will need to learn new habits, but eventually, they will go to plants like ivy, crab apples, or shrub roses, which hold sugary and protein-rich berries late into winter.
How to protect fruit and veg from squirrels
Humans have always taken cues from nature when it comes to finding edible produce, so it makes sense that the things we eat are also safe and, in many cases, good for, squirrels and other wildlife. That makes our crops vulnerable to theft by hungry squirrels.
Thankfully, there are countless ways to protect your veg patch from squirrels, so we’ve put together a fool-proof list of squirrel blocking hacks for your garden below:
1. Fruit cages & Mesh
Traditional fruit cages, made from sturdy metal or timber framework and covered in fine fabric or steel netting, are a great way to protect your plants. However, unlike rabbits and rats, squirrels are incredibly persistent. Other small mammals will quickly bore of fruit cages and netting, but squirrels will continue digging and tearing through defenses to get in.
For fruit bushes, you’ll need a full-size fruit cage, big enough to give space to grow, and for you to walk in and harvest. Use a fine metal mesh, buried at least 6” deep to keep squirrels away from prized fruit.
2. Block greenhouse doors, windows, and vents
Mid-late summer is the most frustrating time in the garden if you’ve got a squirrel problem. As fruit and veg begin to ripen, squirrels will watch and wait, picking off anything they can before you beat them to it.
A greenhouse full of sweet, sugary tomatoes, is the perfect target for hungry squirrels, so protect windows, doors, and vents. Fly curtains work well as a simple barrier, but will need weighting down to the floor. Alternatively, secure chicken wire to open windows or vents to provide airflow, and keep squirrels out.
3. Chili sprays or flakes
Squirrels absolutely hate hot pepper. They can’t stand the burning sensation caused by capsicum, the compound that creates the spicy heat in all good chilies. You can mix your own chili spray by blending fresh hot chilies with water (including seeds).
To make a squirrel-proofing chili spray, you will need:
- 1L spray bottle
- 950ml cold water
- 25g grated hand soap
- 100g fresh hot chili peppers (the hotter the better)
- Muslin cloth
- Blend the chilies and soap to a pulp using a hand blender, or food processor
- Add just under 1 liter of cold water
- Mix thoroughly, then leave to steep for 6 hours or overnight
- Strain the mixture through a muslin cloth
- Pour into a spray bottle, and you’re good to go
To protect root vegetables, it’s even easier, simply sprinkle dried chili flakes and ground peppercorns over the soil around your plants. It won’t harm your vegetables but will stop squirrels from digging up potatoes, onions, garlic, and other root vegetables.
Note: There is a lot of advice online to use garlic to stop squirrels. In our experience, garlic actually attracts squirrels, so avoid it at all costs.
4. Chicken wire
Freshly planted root vegetables are an easy target for squirrels, so cover the ground with chicken wire and peg it in firmly. As veg begins to sprout you can remove the chicken wire, but for most, it will provide an ongoing deterrent and is best left in place. Onions, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, potatoes, and beets should be protected with chicken wire until they’re ready to harvest.
How to squirrel-proof bird feeders and wildlife stations
Wildlife feeding stations are really difficult to protect from squirrels because they can jump 9ft horizontally (further from up high) and over 5ft vertically from the ground. Thankfully, spinning baffles and springs can prevent them from gripping and climbing.
Spinning squirrel baffles are the best measure for free-standing bird feeders as they create an awkward angle that squirrels cans jump around, and struggle to climb over. A decent DIY method though is to hang springs around poles, which squirrels really struggle to climb over as the spring is weighed down and falls with their weight.
How to protect bulbs from squirrels
Bulbs, including vegetables, but mostly spring bulbs, planted in late fall or early winter, are Birthdays and Christmas rolled into one for a squirrel.
We let our guard down last year after planting our tulips. We filled pots with tulip bulbs, layered up, ready to burst into life in spring, but forgot to buy extra chicken wire to protect them through winter. We popped straight to the DIY store and were back in ten minutes. Alas. Not fast enough. The squirrels had dug up pretty much every bulb.
If you have a squirrel problem in your garden, make sure you’ve got plenty of chicken wire, and prep it in advance of planting any spring bulbs. Once you’ve planted bulbs, cover them with a double layer of chicken wire, wrapped securely around the rim of each pot.
Plant squirrel-proof plants
There are quite a few plants that will deter squirrels and a few that squirrels are smart enough to stay away from.
Marigolds, Geraniums, and Peppermint can deter squirrels from digging up other crops nearby as their odor is particularly offensive. They aren’t 100% effective, but work in combination with other measures to stop squirrels digging up lawns, or bulbs in summer.
Fritillaries, daffodils, snowdrops, and hyacinths work in similar ways during spring when their scent is strong enough to deter squirrels, but they are equally effective in fall and winter too as they are highly toxic to squirrels and rodents alike. Squirrels are clever enough to leave them alone too, so if your tulips are constantly getting eaten, consider switching to daffodils or hyacinths for a similar bright spring display.
How to deter squirrels
And one last note on squirrel deterrents: Stick to natural defenses. Most squirrels will learn the difference between a real instinctive threat, and a fake one within 24 hours or less. Then there’s the electric defenses. The ultrasonic noise emitters that are commonly sold to deter rodents and squirrels work. However, they’ll also deter most other wildlife.
A garden without wildlife can struggle to attract pollinators, birds and other beneficial creatures that you need for an effective ecosystem, so only use electric deterrents as a last resort.
Natural deterrents against squirrels can include predator dropping. If you can get hold of fox droppings, owl poo, or even cat poo, and regularly refresh it, squirrels will be much more careful, and rarely come out into the open.
And then there’s the nuclear option… get a cat. Cats are ruthless squirrel hunters. They rarely catch them, but squirrels know a threat when they see one and will stay well clear of open lawns or flower beds if they know there’s a resident feline.
As I wrap up this article, I am gleefully watching out of my office window as the biggest squirrel from our local family is baffled by a chicken wire mesh over this year’s artichokes. We’ll dig them up in a few weeks, knowing that this year, for once, we’ve beaten them!
All joking aside, squirrels can be a big problem for gardeners, but they are beautiful, friendly, and funny creatures that should be cherished. Just try to encourage them to find food that isn’t yours.