What You Really Need to Know About Controlling Squirrels Without All the BS

Controlling squirrels is one of those problems that comes up frequently in gardening conversations.

And here's a few thoughts, both about the pest itself and how you might reduce the damage it causes


To begin with, this is a rodent.

A rat with a fluffy tail.

It does not however carry diseases. It causes most of its damage due to its insatiable appetite and its ability to chew through almost any barrier humans can devise including thin sheets of metal.


This animal tends to be territorial, with a territory ranging in size from one to 100 acres depending on the season, the availability of food and the population density of other squirrels. In other words, if there's a lot of food around, a lot of squirrels around (such as in a city) then the territory will be small. A lack of food will force the animal to travel more widely searching for food.

In practical terms, being territorial means that if you decide to kill a squirrel by shooting or trapping, another will quickly move into the territory to take over its place. Eliminating the pest won't work in the long run; you can't get rid of them. They're here to stay. Or at least some of them are because they are a prime food source for hawks, owls, some snakes and other predators. It is estimated that half of their population dies every year but given the females have two litters a year, there's no real reduction in numbers.

You Can't Get Rid Of Them

You can't get rid of them and you can't stop them from eating.

So what's a poor gardener to do?

Feed Them?

Well, you can feed them. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the fact that if you feed them the seeds they want (sunflower) then they'll leave your bulbs and vegetables alone. So feed them and enjoy their antics instead of going to war with them.

You can establish barriers between them and the plants you want to protect. In most cases, this is easier said than done.

Hardware Cloth

A length of hardware cloth can be place on the ground over top of the newly planted bulbs (spray paint it yellow so you can see it and remove it next spring before it damages/constricts emerging bulb leaves). The bulb area can be completely soaked thoroughly after planting to remove visual traces of digging (so the animal won't try to dig up the competition's food source). And squirrels don't like to dig in mud. Barriers such as hardware cloth can be constructed around prized flowers. Good luck with this one – it had better be a small prized flower and really well constructed barrier.

Hair & Fur

You can hang bags of human/cat/dog/ hair and scatter bloodmeal about. I'm told by as many gardeners that these things work as I'm told by gardeners that they don't. You'll have to replace the contents of each of these regularly if you turn out to be at all effective for you. And maybe you'll be lucky that your squirrels won't like the smell of these products

You can spray your plants with noxious tasting products. That's always assuming you aren't going to eat the plants or fruit yourself. Products that contain hot pepper sauce or bitrex (a foul tasting chemical) work if you spray the product regularly as the plant is growing (and after rains) so the animal doesn't get a chance to taste a non-foul tasting bit. Never let up on the spraying if you want to see your flowers alive again! :-)

I note the "squirrels going blind from rubbing pepper in their eyes" story is just that - a story. Doesn't happen and it's an urban myth now. Fact of the matter is some squirrels actually like lots of pepper. Go figure.

You can trap and shoot or have cats and dogs. All these things work to control individual squirrels but do not really reduce the overall population and the density (unless you're a determined hunter that blasts anything that moves in the backyard for several years and who needs that kind of aggravation.) Take a break for a year and the squirrels will be back.

In summary.

Relax. Squirrels are going to be here longer than we are. Feed them and spray your prized plants with foul tasting products. Between the two activities, you'll get flowers. Fruit or vegetables will require a barrier or enough planted for both you and the squirrels.

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