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Scram, Squirrels!


By Paul James

Years ago I bought a book that claimed to offer suggestions on how to keep squirrels out of the garden. I read it in one sitting, eagerly hoping to glean something — anything — useful, but the author concluded in the final pages that there’s really not much you can do to keep squirrels out of the garden. Thanks a lot!

Squirrels are cute. I’ll grant you that. And I do enjoy sitting on the porch and watching them chase each other around the yard, flittering their tails and showing off their death-defying skills as they leap from one tree branch to another. But they’re destructive critters, feasting on everything from tomatoes to pears, digging in my newly planted seedbeds, and uprooting plants both in the ground and in containers. And of course, they can eat their weight in bird seed every day, but that’s another story.

My relatives in rural southern Arkansas called squirrels “Tree Rats,” and they had an effective way of keeping their populations in check — they shot them, skinned them, and ate them. I recall eating the slightly sweet, nutty meat breaded and fried, oven roasted, and braised in a big pot with vegetables. The flavor was surprisingly good, kind of a cross between chicken and rabbit, but it wasn’t easy coming to terms with the fact that I was chewing on a rodent.

When I tell other gardeners about my squirrel problems, they usually suggest I get a dog. Well, I have three dogs that have, in the past eight years, killed a whopping three squirrels. Nowadays they just sit and stare at them, content to coexist rather than wage war. Thanks a lot!

So I’m left to deal with squirrels in other ways, playing defense rather than offense. One method I’ve used with some success is to top my 4’ x 8’ wood-framed raised beds with lattice panels of the same size. The panels (which are 4’ x 8’ as well) keep the squirrels from digging in newly seeded beds, but I have to remove them once the seedlings are up and growing. In other words, the panels definitely work, but they don’t work indefinitely.

I’ve also built 2” x 6” wooden frames that are 4’ square and covered with chicken wire. I place two of these on my raised beds to allow more space for things like lettuce and other greens to grow. They work well, although they make harvesting a hassle. And I’ve created chicken wire circles roughly 18” in diameter and 2’ tall which I use to protect transplants such as eggplants, peppers, and crops I start from seed that ultimately get quite tall, such as okra.

I’ve also tried repellents — both liquid and granular — without success. I’ve sprinkled cayenne pepper around the base of my container plants, again with no luck. I’ve placed bobble-headed fake owls in my garden, but the squirrels actually knock their heads off!

And so, like my dogs, I’ve decided to coexist with the army of squirrels that call my garden home, because it’s true: there’s not much you can do to keep them out of the garden. And yeah, I know what you’re saying…

Thanks a lot!

Happy gardening, ya’ll.

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12 responses to “Scram, Squirrels!”

  1. Don says:

    Hi Paul,
    Until this year, our neighborhood fox population managed the “tree rats” with great efficiency. Unfortunately, the foxes failed me this year and the “tree rats” have been chewing the tips of my Lacebark Elm trees. Perhaps the foxes are just lulling them into complacency. What do you think?

    • Paul James says:

      I have foxes, coyotes, and feral cats in my ‘hood. But they don’t seem to have an affect on the squirrel population!

  2. Greg Rosta says:

    Hi Paul,

    I grew up in NJ, but in a rural town, and people ate squirrel here, too! Present company excluded… but I had my share of rabbit. Nowadays, rather than having to eat them, my lab Wrigley keeps them away for me. So I don’t mind seeing them when I do!

    Unrelated question for you…Is it too late for a fall lawn fertilizer? We are entering a warm spell, and fall baseball got the better of my weekends in October…

    Regards,

    Greg

  3. Greg Rosta says:

    Thanks, Paul! And, yes, you can borrow Wrigley any time! Good for squirrels, rabbits and groundhogs. But, unfortunately, the deer seem to be losing their fear of her…

  4. Sharon Smith says:

    Squirrels are NOT cute. They are bushy tailed rodents who taunt my dog and two cats, dig in my container pots and manage to empty every “squirrel proof” bird feeder I have ever owned.

    I have found that placing river rock around the flowers in my patio pots has significantly cut down on their digging.

  5. Debby Raskin says:

    I miss having active neighborhood owls.

    We have one squirrel that likes to taunt one of our dogs. It hangs on the tree trunk, head down, tail going back and forth squawking. Dog waits patiently waiting for it to drop into her mouth. My husband still chases them off the front porch.

    • Paul James says:

      I miss the owls, too! For years we had nesting pairs in several trees. I did see one in my yard last summer, but not since.

  6. Sallie Naylor says:

    So I just read about ‘red Fox urine’ that makes them think the Fox is close by so they leave when they smell it. Tell me you haven’t tried that yet??? Maybe it could work? Maybe? Digging in my grass, beds and pots is bad enough, but this year they are eating my PANCIES FLOWERS!! Now THAT is uncalled for! Surely something can work! Surely we are smarter than they are!!

  7. Debra Mumma says:

    I use the branches of roses and other branches that have a lot of thorns on them, placing them in my garden and containers. So far it’s been working.

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