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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