Bonsai hobbyists and gardeners alike who have squirrel problems know that squirrels are not adorable Snow-white esque sweeties. They’re furry tree rats and prolific breeders who are relentless in their destruction. Turns out, the Eastern Gray Squirrel is common for about the entire east half of the United States and up into Canada. They’re gray and brown with white bellies and are both adorable and a complete pain in the can. I’m a tree-hugging, peace-loving half-vegetarian who is now okay with the idea of my husband sitting on the back porch shooting squirrels because they’ve just pissed me off that bad.
I have a yard with lots of oak trees, and lots of poorly tended square footage where there should be grass. They make my yard prime squirrel territory. Live and laurel oaks are also not spindly trees like crepe myrtles that I might just consider taking out with a chainsaw. At least four of those oaks don’t have their actual trunks in our yard. Which means we can’t remove them even if we wanted to. So removing the squirrel problem by taking out the trees is probably here to stay.
As such, it makes sense to know your enemy. Squirrels are scatter-hoarders. They bury food in several places and then return for it later. Which wouldn’t be too bad but they bury it in a LOT of places. Hundreds or even a thousand places each season PER SQUIRREL to be precise. As you’d expect, some of the buried food they dig up after some time has passed, but other sites are just for the day or even just HOURS. Which means that squirrels are basically constantly finding food, hiding it, and moving it around. Kind of explains a lot about every time you’ve seen a squirrel. Squirrels also especially love potted plants and seedlings or cuttings.
Squirrels dig holes in your soil. While they’re doing it they dig up roots, and knock over plants. Plants knocked over fall into each other – damaging new plants. Sometimes the squirrels dig an inch or two. Sometimes the holes are deep, the pot tipped over, the plants on the ground. Squirrels also tend to dig in lots of my pots, not just one. You’ll repot or repair their damage and then the next day or week the squirrels do it again (and again, and again).
KNOW YOUR ENEMY:
For any of you who have tried to squirrel-proof a bird feeder you know that squirrels are anything but dumb. They are crafty, persistent, and incredibly agile. They can jump and stretch over impressive distances. They can climb up and down with ease (they’re one of the few animals that can climb down head first).
In my opinion there isn’t a product that works all the time. I wouldn’t call much of anything “squirrel proof” except a screened enclosure such as a screened porch or obviously inside a house. I feel squirrel defense is a spectrum. Like if you give my toddler a sandwich and put carrot sticks on the side she won’t eat them. But if you’re out somewhere such as a park, and pull out a bag of carrots and start eating them, she’ll beg you for one. It’s all about the presentation and what their options are.
Squirrel defense starts with making your target as undesirable to squirrels as possible. Like trying to make your car less attractive to steal. You’re not going for making yourself impenitrable. You’re just hoping you’ll make it undesirable enough that they’ll pick on someone else instead.
The success (or failure) of squirrel-proof devices depend both on how good the squirrel proof item is, but also on how determined the squirrels are. For example, we have a plastic playhouse in our yard for our toddler. Our neighborhood squirrels have decided to eat her plastic house. She does not bring food in there. We’ve been told this is where junior squirrels may be cutting their teeth. After my anger about the destroyed playhouse calmed down, they thumbed their dirty noses at me by starting in on the mailbox.
Personally I’ve tried human hair clippings, cayeanne pepper, pebbles on top of the soil, bone meal, and Irish Spring (they ATE the Irish Spring). I’ve switched several soil mixes, and I’ve had a custom screened box created as a sort of modified cold frame made purely for squirrel protection. The only thing that worked completely for me was to put them in the squirrel proof screened in area or inside. There’s still a slew of advice and products out there to try. If you too are pestered by squirrels below is a list of your battle techniques.
15 STRATEGIES FOR SQUIRRELS, POTTED PLANT DEFENSE
- Squirrels eat nuts of course, but also berries, tree buds and bark, and seeds. Pay attention to what they dig in (and what they eat). Remove or protect only the plants squirrels seem to target.
- Generally speaking my soilless mix has been less attractive to squirrels than something organic. They dig in my soilless mix too, but less often. Consider changing your soil mix to add inorganic components.
- Apply something hot that gets on their paws. Think capsaicin, oil of mustard or Thiram. Buy it or make it, there are lots of options. A disadvantage with these options is you have to reapply each time it rains.
- Add something that covers or surrounds the pot or creates a barrier. Some suggested options have been chicken wire, branches with thorns, and pebbles. Obviously a covered patio and inside a house are safer if those things are an option for you.
There are plenty of other home remedy suggestions:
- Irish Spring bar soap is perhaps the most commonly suggested home remedy (whole or shaved. Set next to the plant or made into a panty hose bundle or really any way you can imagine.)
- bone meal. Keep in mind bone meal is also a fertilizer.
- blood meal
- coffee grounds
- human hair. The idea is that the hair clippings smell like humans and thus will deter squirrels. You’re supposed to sprinkle the hair clippings on top of the soil.
- moth balls
- peppermints (traditional red and white) placed on top of the soil
- toy snakes, laid out near your target plants to protect
- putting aluminum foil around the pot
- creating another spot somewhere else in your yard away from the plants you’re protecting where you intentionally feed them.
- bamboo skewers inserted vertically into the soil, pointed side up
2 BASIC RECIPES FOR DETERRING SQUIRRELS
I prefer these to other recipes because you don’t need to boil and filter.
- 1 bottle Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce (2 ounces)
- 1 tsp liquid dish soap
- 1 gallon water
Mix together and put in spray bottle. Apply as needed. Reapply after rain or every few days.
- 1 ounce Murphy’s Oil Soap
- 1 ounce Tobasco
- 1 ounce Cayenne Pepper
- 22 ounces water
Mix all together in spray bottle. Apply as needed. Reapply after rain or every few days.
Notable references: Humane Society