As cute and entertaining as we may think squirrels are as they scurry about our yards and porches, they can also cause damage. The good news is that there are safe and effective ways to keep them out of flower beds, gardens, fruit trees, and bird feeders.
There are a number of things homeowners can do to stop squirrels from terrorizing their yards and gardens. Natural deterrents such as mint and homemade pepper sprays can be used to make the yard an unpleasant place for them. Plastic owls and noisemakers will frighten them and plastic netting and chicken wire will make bird feeders and fruit trees hard for squirrels to climb.
Read on for more tips on the many ways to keep squirrels at bay. Use some or all of the methods described below and you will enjoy your gardens, fruit trees, and flower beds without worry.
Are Squirrels to Blame?
You may have never caught one of these furry rodents in the act of eating fruit from the trees in your yard, but you probably have your suspicions that squirrels are to blame. If you suspect that squirrels are guilty of backyard and garden and mischief, here are a few things to look out for:
- Missing plants — they were there yesterday, but today no more!
- Small holes — who put all these holes in your pots and flower beds?
- Half-eaten, discarded fruit — how rude to leave the leftovers to rot on your porch
- Leftover seed heads — like peanut shells on the bar floor
- Partially eaten flowers — can’t they just enjoy looking at them?
If you’ve observed any of these things, chances are squirrels are to blame. Read on for tips on ways you can keep squirrels out of your yard and off of your bird feeders.
How to Keep Away Squirrels from Bird Feeder
It’s not enough for squirrels to ravage your garden and flower beds, they want the bird’s food too!
Many of us enjoy watching wild birds feed in our backyards. We don’t always like the mess they leave behind, and we certainly don’t like it when squirrels complicate matters. Not only do squirrels eat the birdseed we’ve left for our feathered friends, many times they damage bird feeders. By jumping on to them from overhead branches, these agile rodents can sometimes knock them lose which adds to our frustration.
Don’t Make It Easy for Squirrels
One remedy for this is to use a very long wire that keeps the feeder away from the lower tree branches. This is not always possible with some trees and squirrels are pretty clever at getting to these feeders anyway. In this case, other remedies are required.
Some people use empty spools of thread on the wire to make it difficult for squirrels to get a grip. Other tips for making climbing tricky are to wrap the pole in chicken wire, plastic netting, or a smooth plastic pipe.
Squirrel baffles are effective for bird feeders that sit atop poles. A baffle is a cone-shaped shield that squirrels have a hard time getting around. The baffle should be placed high enough so that these high-jumping animals are unable to leap past it.
Weight-sensitive bird feeders are great for throwing squirrels off balance. They will support the light touch of a bird, but not a squirrel.
Spraying the pole or surrounding ground with a chili spray mix (recipe included later in this article), should add extra protection as well.
Covering a bird feeder pole with cooking grease will make that pole impossible to climb as well. This method is not recommended if you have dogs and outdoor cats, they may also be tempted to get a taste and it’s not good for them.
If You Can’t Beat Them, Feed Them
This may frustrate some homeowners, but sometimes giving the squirrels what they want is the answer. Set out a plate of bird seed as far away from the birdfeeder as possible. Hopefully, the neighborhood squirrel gang will be satisfied with this free handout and let the birds dine in peace.
If you’re using sunflowers in your bird feeder, you are only enticing squirrels more. Try safflowers instead. The birds won’t care, but the squirrels will. They are not fans, and will likely look for other bird feeders to loot.
How to Keep Away Squirrels from Garden
We’ve all been there. You toil away at your garden, planting seeds, watering and weeding for weeks. Just when your plants start to bear fruit, along comes a squirrel to take the easy pickings from your garden. You are not powerless, however. Here are a few tips for keeping the squirrels away from your garden.
Limit Feeding Opportunities
Squirrels like an easy meal and they seldom pass up an opportunity for a free lunch. The solution to keeping squirrels away from your garden plants is to provide less of an opportunity for that free lunch. Be sure to routinely pick up fallen fruit or seeds. Do this every time you weed your garden and you’ll be making an impact. A little housekeeping in the garden will make it more difficult for squirrels to take advantage. Throw these food scraps securely in a trash can with a tight-fitting lid that squirrels and other animals can not get in to.
Like rabbits, squirrels are very skittish. They are always on guard, ready to bolt at the first sign of danger. Dogs are notorious squirrel chasers. If you have a fenced-in yard, letting your dog patrol the it will help limit the intrusion of squirrels. Cats are also great at patrolling for rodents, and unlike dogs, they may actually catch one or two.
Squirrels can also be scared away by noisemakers. Garden spinners and pinwheels can be purchased and placed strategically in the garden. Some gardeners make aluminum pie tins for placement in their gardens as well. Sprinklers will deter them for a little while as well.
Few mammals, besides humans, subject themselves to extremely spicy food. At least not willingly. Chili pepper spray is a great way to ruin a squirrel’s dinner. Recipes for squirrel repellent are easily found online and there are a few included below as well. Squirrels don’t like the taste or smell of chilis or hot sauce. They are also not too fond of mint, which many home gardeners use to great effect. There are also several different types of commercial squirrel repellents available at garden stores. Follow the directions on the bottle for best results.
Squirrels have no problem digging. They seem to really enjoy it, but add a layer of mulch around your flower beds and they won’t appreciate the extra work. Fencing or netting, even chicken wire, is a way to limit the intrusion of squirrels.
Give in a Little
Setting up your friendly neighborhood squirrels with some free grub may be the best option. Afterall, they are on a hunt for food and they won’t be picky if you make it easier for them than trying to get past a fence or chili spray. Setting out a bowl of sunflower seeds, nuts, peanuts, or seed corn will keep them distracted. Just make sure to keep the freebies as far away as possible from gardens and fruit trees. They might want some dessert after their meal. If you live in a neighborhood with a rat problem then this may not be a good idea as you will attract these rodents as well.
Setting Traps for Squirrels
Trapping squirrels is really taking it to the next level. It may not actually be legal in your area, so you will want to check with local authorities before you attempt this. If it is done humanely, trapping and releasing these animals may be effective, but only in the very short term. With the offender gone, the next squirrel will quickly move into their territory.
How Do I keep Squirrels Away from Fruit Trees?
Preventing squirrels from climbing trees is practically impossible. So is trying to keep them from feasting on fruit. There are a few things homeowners can do, however, to limit their access to the fruit trees in their yard.
As many homeowners and gardeners can tell you, there’s no simple formula for keeping squirrels away from your fruit trees. Squirrel proofing a fruit tree requires planning and management, and usually involves using more than one method.
One of the most common methods is to use plastic netting to create a physical barrier over the growing fruit. This method is quite effective, but it can be difficult to use on bigger trees. Another option is to purchase or make a squirrel baffle, which is a metal collar designed to keep small mammals from accessing bird feeders. The baffle fits right around the trunk and provides a slick surface that will send the squirrel sliding right back down the tree.
For a cheaper alternative, try wrapping your tree trunk in aluminum foil or plastic wrap, which also creates a slippery surface that squirrels can’t cling to. You can also cut aluminum foil into strips and hang them from the tree trunks. It’s believed that the sun glinting off the surface of the foil makes the squirrel uneasy, thereby keeping it away from the tree.
In addition to a barrier method, you’ll need to use a natural or chemical repellent. Chemical repellents for rodents can be easily purchased at a garden supply or home improvement store. They are, however, full of toxic chemicals that can be harmful to your plants, as well as other animals you’re trying to attract to your yard.
That’s why most people opt for natural repellents made from household items like vinegar, spices, and essential oils. Repellents for trees are usually in the form of sprays, which are easier to apply to the trunk, as well as individual branches and leaves.
For an easy do-it-yourself spray repellent, combine 4 cups of water and 1 ounce of hot sauce in a spray bottle. Add 3 drops of dish soap, then close the bottle and shake. Spray your repellent directly on your trees, as well as the plants in your garden. Just make sure to wash your fruits and vegetables before using them.
If you don’t like the idea of spraying your plants with dish soap, try an onion and pepper spray, instead. Bring 1.5 quarts of water to a boil before adding 1 tsp cayenne pepper, 2 chopped onions, and 1 chopped jalapeno pepper. Boil the mixture for 30 minutes, then let it cool before straining out the vegetables and pouring the liquid into a spray bottle.
What Food Do Squirrels Hate?
Although squirrels are known to eat just about anything, there are a few tried-and-true foods that can keep squirrels out of your yard. Garlic, with its potent smell, is an easy way to keep squirrels away from your flowers and vegetables. Just fill an old sock or a bag with garlic cloves or minced garlic and place it in an area where you often see squirrels.
Squirrels also hate the spicy smell of cayenne pepper. Simply sprinkle it onto your plants, or onto the seeds in your bird feeder. Another smell that squirrels hate is vinegar, so try soaking some rags or old socks in white or apple cider vinegar. Then, place the rags or socks in any areas that you want to keep free of squirrels.
By the way, contrary to popular belief, there are actually seeds that squirrels hate. This is good news for bird lovers, who are constantly finding their feeders ravaged by squirrels. For example, squirrels hate safflower seeds, which are loved by cardinals, finches, and chickadees.
Do Squirrels Like Mint?
Squirrels generally dislike the smell of mint, which makes it a great addition to any backyard or garden. Mint is easy to plant and grows in abundance around gardens and trees. While there are several different varieties of mint, the strong smell of peppermint is particularly effective at keeping away squirrels.
For a more convenient option, dab a few drops of peppermint essential oil onto some cotton balls and place them throughout your garden.
Will Mothballs Keep Squirrels Away?
Mothballs are commonly used to keep away squirrels, along with other pests like mice, chipmunks, and snakes. This makes sense, considering that mothballs are widely available as a chemical pesticide.
However, mothballs contain numerous chemicals that are toxic to humans and pets. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, mothballs have been associated with a variety of illnesses, including cataracts, anemia, and liver damage. As a result, mothballs are generally not recommended as a form of squirrel deterrent.
Do Coffee Grounds Keep Squirrels Away?
You may be delighted by the scent of fresh coffee grounds, but it’s thoroughly unpleasant to squirrels. All you need to do is sprinkle a light layer of coffee grounds around your plants to keep the squirrels at bay. This is an especially effective method around trees, bushes, and flowers beds.
To use coffee grounds in your garden, mix them directly into the soil around crops like tomatoes and corn, or sprinkle them around lettuce, beans, peas, and other in-ground plants. Along with keeping out squirrels, coffee grounds are an easy, economical way to provide valuable nutrients to your plants.
Will a Fake Owl Keep Squirrels Away?
Since owls naturally prey on rodents, an owl decoy seems like a sensible way to scare off squirrels. This method can be effective as a squirrel deterrent when it’s used correctly.
The key is to move the decoy around regularly so the squirrels don’t get used to its presence. Another option is to buy a more realistic decoy that can turn its head and make owl noises. However, there’s no real evidence that these work any better than their silent and stationary counterparts.
If you’re keen on giving these a try, choose a decoy modeled after smaller owl species, like the barn owl. Larger owl decoys could scare off birds you’re trying to attract to your birdhouses, since large owls often prey on smaller species of birds.
Facts About Squirrels
Squirrels can be found on every continent with the exception of Antarctica, of course, but Australia too. These animals are bushy-tailed rodents. Many city-dwelling folks consider squirrels to be “rats with bushy tails”, that is to say, a nuisance. Others find them fascinating mammals and enjoy observing them in parks and their own backyards
Marmots, chipmunks, and prairie dogs are in the same Sciuridae family as squirrels, of which there are over 200 species. There are black squirrels, red squirrels, gray squirrels and even albino squirrels. There are also flying squirrels. This type of squirrel doesn’t actually have wings, of course. They do appear as though they are flying as they jump from tree to tree gliding on a membrane the connects their front legs to their bodies.
The largest squirrel is the Indian giant squirrel which grows to 36 inches and weigh up to four pounds. The smallest is the African pygmy squirrel with grows up to five inches and weighs less than an ounce. If you think the squirrels in your backyard were cute, you should check out one of these tiny critters some time.
Gray squirrels are the type you’ll find throughout North America. They can be found in almost every neighborhood park, running across electric lines on every street, and cracking nuts in backyards.
Gray squirrels build their nests in trees. It may seem like squirrels are constantly eating, but they really only eat about one pound of food per week. Nuts are not the only thing on the gray squirrel’s menu. They enjoy seeds, fruit, and fungi. Like humans, they are omnivores so they will eat insects, eggs, and even smaller rodents when possible.
Squirrels bury food for later use in the cold winter months. This is why you’ve probably seen them darting about the yard with an acorn in their mouth looking for the perfect spot to dig a hidey hole.
More Squirrel Facts
- Squirrels have four front teeth that never stop growing
- They can easily jump and land safely from heights of 20 feet thanks to their padded feet
- Their eyes are high on their head giving them great views of their surroundings.
- They can reach speeds of up to 20 miles per hour when dashing in front of your car
- Gray squirrels can actually be white, brown, or black
- They often forget where they bury their nuts which results in a new tree growing from their forgotten hiding spot
Make Your Own Squirrel Spray
There are several recipes for homemade squirrel repellents that are safe to use. They won’t cause any permanent damage to the squirrels, but they sure won’t like them. One spray that can be used to keep squirrels out of bird feeders and backyard gardens it easy to make in your home kitchen. Below are recipes for both wet and dry repellents.
If you are not the do-it-yourself type, then many home and garden stores sell sprays that will repel squirrels but are safe for lawns and gardens.
This liquid spray is made with some powerful foods that squirrels do not care for, in fact, they can’t stand them.
Here are the ingredients you’ll need:
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 onions, chopped
- 1 jalapeno, chopped
- 1 ½ quarts water
Bring the water to a boil in a pot on the stove. Add a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, onion, and jalapeno. Boil for 30 minutes then remove pot from heat. Once this mixture has been allowed to cool, pour through a strainer to remove the vegetables. Use a funnel to pour the remaining liquid into a spray bottle. Be careful not to get any of the liquid in your eyes.
Spray your homemade squirrel repellent around bird feeders, gardens, flower pots and beds, and any anywhere else you want to keep them away from.
This dry repellent also uses spicy ingredients to keep rodents away. You may already have these ingredients in your spice rack:
- Cayenne pepper
- Crushed red pepper flakes
Depending on how much repellent you need, mix equal parts of the paprika, cayenne pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes together in a bowl. Sprinkle this mix around flower beds and your garden and bird feeders. You can also mix some in with the bird seed. The birds won’t mind since it won’t even register on their taste buds. Squirrels sure won’t appreciate this spicy concoction though.
More Squirrel Repellents
The above repellents recipes work well in some areas of your yard, or even your back porch. There are some more specific areas you may need to target, however. When squirrels start digging down into flower beds to get those bulbs and seeds, this requires special attention. Mix a few tablespoons of hot cayenne pepper with some detergent and pour it around the outside of the flower beds and they’ll respect the boundaries.
Mike Zhang. Founder of FamilyLifeShare