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Noteworthy Books on Deterring Garden Pests

Squirrels in the Garden

Squirrel in the garden at NYBG; photo by Ivo Vermeulen

Squirrels can be a big problem in the garden. They eat flowers, bulbs, fruits and vegetables, they can dig holes in flower beds or lawns in order to bury (and reclaim) their finds, and they can steal seeds from a bird feeder. Many methods have been suggested for keeping squirrels from damaging gardens but, unfortunately, none of them offer a permanent solution. Your best bet is to use a variety of deterrents all at once. Here are a few you might want to try:

  • A dog or a cat can help to deter squirrels. Dogs love to chase squirrels but, despite their best efforts, they can chase only squirrels on the ground. After a while the squirrels will learn to make their way around the garden by staying up in trees (if you have trees in your garden) or fences. However, dogs are probably more effective than cats. Cats can climb trees after the squirrels but after a time they may tire of the chase and prefer to just sleep in the sun!
  • Mount a fake owl on a post in the garden. This is a common solution but rarely works. Squirrels detect movement and a stationary owl will not scare them. (but worth a try)
  • Offer the squirrels something else to eat. They will prefer to eat offered peanuts, corn or sunflower seeds rather than your plants. The drawback to this method is that if the bait is too plentiful then the squirrels will take it away and bury it in flower beds or in the lawn.
  • When planting bulbs, plant them deep enough so that their location is not immediately obvious. It is usually recommended to plant bulbs twice the bulbs height. Also, clean up any bulb or packing debris on top of the soil so that there is no indication of the bulbs below. Placing chicken wire over the planted area and burying the edges in the ground is often effective in discouraging squirrels. The wiring can be removed when the leaves appear above ground. Applying a thick layer of leaves or mulch can also work.
  • Use squirrel deterring chemicals. Both home-made and commercial products can be effective. Hot peppers, which contain capsicum, are a commonly used deterrent. You can make a spray at home by placing 4 - 5 chopped peppers in a mixture of hot water and vinegar (1:1) for a few days, strain the mixture and add one teaspoonful of dishwasher liquid and two spoonfuls of cooking oil. Many commercial products are also available, e.g. Hot Pepper Wax Animal Repellent™, Expel® Natural Animal Repellent or Ro-Pel® Animal and Rodent Repellent. Dusting the ground with cayenne pepper or chili powder can also be effective. With any of these products it is necessary to reapply the compound after rain. Some plants are very sensitive to capsicum deterrents. It is a good idea to try your pepper product on a small section of a plant before spraying the entire crop.
  • For vegetable patches, a chicken wire fence can be an effective deterrent. Use 1 inch mesh wire and erect a fence that is at least 30 inches high and buried 6 inches below ground. The low fence will slow the squirrels down but may not stop a determined critter; wire mesh over the top will make it significantly more effective.
  • To stop squirrels chewing the bark of young trees, wrap the trunk with thin, flexible metal sheeting.
  • To prevent squirrels from climbing trees and bird feeders, installing a baffle is the best solution. A baffle is a thick sheet of metal or plastic that fits around the tree or post such that squirrels cannot climb past it. You can make your own or again many types are available commercially. Baffles should be located at least 6 feet above ground as squirrels can jump to this height. Squirrels can be discouraged from climbing trees by eliminating low branches and by planting the trees far apart.
  • Even if trapping or killing squirrels is legal in your locality this should not be considered as it simply creates an environment for new squirrels to move into.

Choosing Bulbs Wisely:

SQUIRRELS DO NOT LIKE TO EAT some types of bulbs, so these can be planted preferentially. These include -

BOTANICAL NAME COMMON NAME
Allium allium, chives, onions, garlic
Chionodoxa glory-of-the-snow
Hyancinthus hyacinth
Hyacinthoides blue bell
Muscari grape hyacinth
Narcissus daffodil
Scilla squill

 

BULBS THAT SQUIRRELS LOVE TO EAT, on the other hand, include -

BOTANICAL NAME COMMON NAME
Colchicum autumn crocus
Crocus crocus
Gladiolus gladiolus, sword lily
Tulipa tulip

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