Pest Busters Series
Squirrels can be a huge problem for, not only gardeners, but homeowners in general. If they think there is food, they can get into the garbage, chew holes through plastic and wood and eat favorite spring flowering bulbs. Squirrels can even go so far as popping off tulip blooms just for fun. They don't eat them, they just pop them off their stems. Why, I have no idea. They can be annoying little creatures, at times.
Cute and cuddly in singles and pairs, squirrels can be a down right nuisance in fours, fives and more. Suburban areas seem to have a higher population of squirrels than rural areas. In rural areas, there are more predators around to keep their populations low and in suburban areas there are more food sources, shelter and less predators as a general rule.
All is not lost though. There are some things you can do to discourage squirrels from destroying your gardens and avoiding your bird feeders. Some people say that having their cats and dogs in their yard most of the day is helpful, but that is not always a solution for the majority of us. Following are some of my tips that have worked for me.
Protecting Young Trees
If squirrels have been shredding or biting the bark of young trees, surround the tree trunk with metal flashing. This method works best for single trees planting many feet from one another. You may find fabric tree trunk wraps in the gardening section, but they don't prevent against chewing. In the roofing section of your local home improvement store, look for the widest flashing you can find, which should be about 24". Wrap the trunk with a ring of flashing. I use duct tape to secure the flashing to itself to make the ring. The duct tape makes it easy to remove the ring as the tree grows. The ring will not only prevent the squirrels from biting or shredding the bark on the tree, but it will also prevent them from climbing up the tree because the metal is slippery. If you find that the squirrels can still climb up the ring, add another ring above the existing ring you already but on the trunk and grease it down with petroleum jelly, if necessary. If the squirrels can jump from tree to tree, this method will not work.
Squirrels love tulips, crocus and other spring flowering bulbs. They look for freshly turned up soil and then go in for the kill. I've found bulbs dug up all over the yard at times. Some were partially eaten and some were just dug up sitting there. I had a small pail of crocus bulbs that I had dug up to divide and replant and accidentally left it outside overnight and the next day the pail was empty. Whether it was the squirrels or chipmunks, I'll never know, but they were never to be seen again. Since then, I swear by soaking my bulbs in Ropel Animal Repellent first.
Before using Ropel, read the instructions carefully. You do not want to get this stuff on your hands as it tastes very bitter and will last for days if gotten on your skin. Basically you soak the bulbs in the liquid for about thirty minutes or so, then allow the bulbs to dry on a rack (I use a plastic rectangular plant carrier leftover from my purchase of annuals at the garden center). Once the bulbs are dry, plant as usual. You can also spray Ropel on non-edible plants to discourage critters from nibbling on your plants. If you have dogs and cats, you may want to avoid using it as a spray, but there should be no problem soaking your bulbs in the liquid.
Bulbs squirrels don't like to eat - Daffodils, Alliums, Hyacinths, Lavender Colored Crocus, Snowdrops, Muscari, and Wood Hyacinths are good choices. I inter-plant them with other crocus and tulips and that seems to offer those bulbs more protection than planting them without the bulbs squirrels don't like.
If you don't want to use Ropel to protect your bulbs, you can try making cages for your bulbs out of hardware cloth. Just make sure the hardware cloth has large enough holes for the stems and leaves to grow up through the openings.
If making individual boxes is too much work for you, you can lay down chicken wire over the area you planted bulbs to prevent rodents from digging them up.
Protecting Bird Feeders
The simplest solution is to only feed safflower seeds to your song birds, but that can get expensive, and not all birds like them. Squirrels and chipmunks do not like safflower seeds. The experts say that most birds will eat them but I've found that I get a wider variety of birds when I use a mixture of seed such as black oil sunflower, striped sunflower, peanuts, safflower and white millet.
My solution is to use a squirrel proof feeder similar to the green one pictured above on the left. When any heavy animal lands on the perch, the feeder closes preventing them from eating the seeds. Not only does this work for squirrels, but heavy bully birds as well that like to raid your feeders.
You can also get a squirrel baffle to attach to a pole underneath a feeder that will prevent squirrels from climbing up the pole. This only works if there are no trees nearby as the squirrels will just jump from the limbs onto the feeder, and believe me, they can jump a long way.
Protecting Fruits and Vegetables
Most repellents are not safe for edibles, so your best bet is to try and cover them if you can. There are mesh nets that are very effective in protecting against squirrels as well as birds that work great for berry bushes, especially.
If you use a hoop house in the spring to get an early start on your garden, you can use that frame to cover your plants with mesh. It can easily be removed if you need to weed and harvest.
If covering your garden is not really an option, you can try putting some repellents around the perimeter of the garden. One I've had success with is a powdered fox urine from Shake-Away. It not only repels squirrels but rabbits and other critters as well. The fox is a natural predator to these animals, so they recognize the scent and stay away. It would need to be reapplied after heavy rains.
You can make your own hot pepper repellent by steeping 1/4 cup of fresh cayenne pepper powder in two cups of boiling water. Old spices loose their potency which is why you need to use a fresh product. Let the water cool and then put the mixture through a metal strainer or coffee filter to make sure there are no clumps. Once this mixture is ready, put it into a large spray bottle with 1 tablespoon of liquid soap (I prefer Dawn) and fill the rest of the way with water. Spray around the perimeter of the garden and reapply after rain or at least once a week.
I hope these solutions are helpful to you.