It's Gardening Season: 5 Tips to Keep Squirrels Out


squirrels in garden squirrels in garden
Squirrels aren't going anywhere, so if you want to keep them out of your prized garden, you have to get creative. Peter Schaefer/EyeEm/Getty Images

"Squirrels are great learners: This is their great survival trick," wrote author Anne Wareham in the book "Outwitting Squirrels: 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Effects of Garden Pests and Honest Advice Concerning Your Chances of Success." "They can learn from another squirrel, or even from people, and they do it fast ... if you have a family of squirrels around, it only takes one to learn the trick of breaking and entering and you can be sure that soon the whole family will be enthusiastic burglars."

No doubt, gardeners everywhere are reading the above words, nodding their heads even while steam casually escapes from their ears. For it is gardening season and people are planting and tending their vegetables. And that means the war with pesky, persistent, athletic and quite intelligent squirrels is officially on. Some top "targets" for squirrels: tomatoes, bulbs, sunflowers, beans, cucumbers, eggplants, squash, figs and really anything we might ourselves eat.

You can Google anti-squirrel tips or ask the oldest person at the nearest garden center how they keep the squirrels out of the garden. And you'll get no shortage of advice. We're here to offer five "battle tactics" (below) to keep squirrels from undoing all of your hard, soiled-glove, proud backyard work.

But first, in the name of staying sane as the temperatures — and tempers — heat up, let's start with a healthy foundation of perspective, based on three truths about squirrels.

Squirrel Truth No. 1

If you have nut- or fruit-producing trees in your yard, chances are you will have squirrels in your yard. Likewise, if you have a "bird feeder", you also have a "squirrel feeder." Squirrels steadfastly deny there is a difference. And finally, if you plant things in your yard that can be considered squirrel food, you will have squirrels in your yard.

Some gardeners and homeowners never fully come to grips with this truth. But wondering why squirrels are taking bites out of your unprotected tomatoes is — pardon the pun — fruitless.

Squirrel Truth No. 2

Killing squirrels that ransack your garden — while providing deep satisfaction to some uber-serious gardeners who have "tipped over the edge" — doesn't keep squirrels out. More will simply arrive in their place. It is a war of attrition, and squirrel killers generally run out of ammo before squirrels run out of squirrels.

Squirrel Truth No. 3

Sending squirrels flying into space on catapults — while obviously a popular activity to take video of and post on YouTube — won't work either unless you make your entire garden a giant catapult.

These are the squirrel truths. They cannot be challenged. Further, any idea that we might one day live in a world without squirrels (and these truths) is just, well false. Squirrels have been around for about 40 million years — a lot longer than us — and they are not going anywhere.

So let's get to the heart of the issue: You have a garden, and you don't want to get rid of that garden. That garden will attract squirrels. So, how do you keep the squirrels out?

Protecting Your Garden

Now we're getting somewhere. While there are any number of creative ways and products that claim to, once and for all, send squirrels "back to the woods," we've uncovered the most sensible — or at least the most common — top five "battle tactics" in the ongoing garden war against squirrels.

  1. Spice them. Many experienced gardeners, including those who produce the Farmer's Almanac, claim hot spices do the trick. Like many humans, squirrels don't like it when their lips and mouths burn. That's why some gardeners sprinkle cayenne pepper around their plants. Others mix home-brew combinations that include capsaicin (the stuff in chili peppers that makes your mouth burn), peppermint oil, vinegar and other unpleasant-tasting ingredients, and they spray them around plants, but not actually on the plants they intend to eat. The sprays must be reapplied after rains.
  2. Terrify them. Predator pee is another option. You just spray it around the perimeter of your garden. One product claims wolf urine "creates the illusion that a predator is nearby," which sends other animals, like our pesky little squirrel, running out of fear, never to return. Ha! (See squirrel truth No. 2.) Other varieties of predator pee include coyote, fox, bear, mountain lion and tiger. These also have to be reapplied after rains.
  3. Keep them out. Protect your garden — after planting bulbs or seeds, or when plants begin blooming — with netting or chicken wire. It might not look nice, but if done right, squirrels will soon get frustrated and find other places to eat. For vegetable pots, some gardeners recommend placing aluminum foil across the top and poking holes for water. Squirrels, apparently, are not fond of the reflection or the feel of foil.
  4. Annoy them. A great way to do that is to "hire" a dog or cat to patrol the yard. Here's an example of the heated, perennial squirrel-cat rivalry.
  5. Feed them. Yes, it almost sounds too simple — or perhaps like succumbing to squirrel extortion. But many gardeners claim the trick to keeping squirrels away from their prized tomatoes is to simply set up a feeder (with sunflower seeds and other nuts) in an area away from your garden. Squirrels eat; you garden. Everyone is happy.