How to Keep Squirrels out of Gardens Humanely

How to Keep Squirrels out of Gardens
Image by Pixabay

If you’re here, you’re seeking how to keep squirrels out of gardens. Probably your garden.

You’ve spent all season painstakingly tending to your prized vegetables and flowers, only to discover one day that someone has ransacked your tomatoes, dug up your tulips, and half-chewed your zucchinis.

Ugh!

We’ve all had run-ins with this common but elusive culprit… Genus name: Sciurus, otherwise known as the squirrel.

You’re frustrated. And you may even be wondering how to get rid of squirrels. We get it — they’re wily, sometimes even ruthless. But concentrating on eliminating or removing squirrels will just create more problems and unintended consequences. Instead, let’s concentrate on how to prevent and deter squirrels.

The world is full of effective strategies to keep squirrels away. Read on to discover the best ones.

Think Like a Squirrel

Think Like a Squirrel
Image by Frank Manzo / Canva Photos

First, consider a few questions from the squirrel’s perspective:

Think about what else they specifically do and don’t like. For instance, squirrels are most active in autumn, when they’ll be searching for their very favorite food — tulip bulbs. But fear not. If you still have your heart set on planting flower bulbs, here’s some handy knowledge: squirrels stay far away from daffodils, narcissi, and alliums — all of which are either highly distasteful to them, or poisonous.

Next, assume the perspective of a rodent and look around your yard and garden for anything irresistible:

  • Take care not to leave fallen fruits, nuts, berries, or acorns on the ground.
  • Make sure to immediately clean up any extra birdseed, and keep it stored securely.
  • Never leave dog or cat food outside where squirrels can get at it.
  • Check garbage can lids are on tight, and no human food is left around.

Combine Tactics

You’ll need to employ multiple strategies to keep squirrels out of your garden. As you know, squirrels are quite motivated and crafty! Trying one thing is probably not going to be sufficient enough on its own. But by using a combination of methods we’re confident you can find a solution to your problem. Introducing…

Operation Thwart Squirrels

A little prevention and a lot of deterrence.

We went down the squirrel hole, so you don’t have to. We’ve reviewed the literature, tracked down the best DIY squirrel repellents, and sat through a surprisingly vast collection of crazy YouTube videos on the topic of squirrel deterrence.

In this section, we’ll investigate how to keep squirrels out of your garden using two main approaches: prevention and deterrence.

Squirrel Prevention

How to Keep Squirrels out of Gardens Humanely: Squirrel on Fence
Image by Warren Price / Canva Photos

Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” — no doubt he was referring to keeping squirrels out of his garden.

The very best way to avoid squirrels tearing up your plants and eating all your treasures is simply to prevent them from getting there in the first place.

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Physical Barriers

To start with, there’s one approach that requires no chemicals, no DIY kitchen formulas, and is 100% harm-free to squirrels: a physical barrier. This could look like something more extensive, like wire fencing all around your garden, or you could try some targeted measures first:

  • A wire dome over a plant, chicken wire, or some wire or plastic mesh on the ground around the plants’ roots prevents digging.
  • If you need to protect more fragile plants, try black plastic netting.
  • If you do plant bulbs, make sure not to leave a trail, and don’t place your bulbs on the ground at any point while you’re digging holes — squirrels will sniff them out!
  • Having trouble with squirrels raiding your fruit trees? Wrap a metal barrier around the trunk so that they can’t shimmy up as easily.

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Leading them Away

Another prevention strategy is to attract the squirrels to something (and somewhere) else. How about setting up a dedicated squirrel feeder and a dish of freshwater, away from your garden?

This might also serve to divert them from your bird feeders, which is a separate problem entirely!

If you keep them occupied and fed, you’ll automatically discourage them from seeking out the other tasty treats in your garden. Just be cautious not to be so generous as to attract more squirrels.

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Identifying Squirrels

One final note on prevention: you may want to spend a little time identifying the type of squirrel you’re up against.

Are you dealing with city squirrels or country squirrels? Some say suburban squirrels are the worst of all! And different species of squirrels have different preferences or tendencies that you might use to outsmart them.

Squirrel Deterrents

Sure, keeping them away is a solid first step, but what is the best way to repel squirrels?

One word pops up frequently: capsaicin.

Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers — i.e., the thing that makes them spicy. Some humans enjoy spicy foods; squirrels, however, do not.

You probably already have the most common and readily available form of capsaicin in your pantry right now. Yep, cayenne pepper. Liberally sprinkling pepper around your garden can halt squirrel traffic, without affecting plants or birds. Just be aware that this method can result in pain for squirrels, and if they get it in their eyes via their paws, it can cause temporary blindness. The good news is that other strong spices, like black pepper, cinnamon, or garlic powder, can also be used to similar effect. Just make sure to regularly re-apply, especially after it rains.

Squirrel Eating Nut
Image by Carmelo Forte / Canva Photos

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The Coffee Grounds Method

Another burning question floating around the squirrel-related interwebs: do coffee grounds keep squirrels away?

The answer is: probably. So long as you replace the grounds often and use them in combination with other methods. The advantage of using coffee grounds is that they’re plentiful and offer extra benefits: many plants like a light layer as fertilizer. Coffee grounds also keep away slugs, snails, and ants.

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DIYs: Homemade Squirrel Repellent

Cayenne pepper, check. Coffee grounds, check.
Here are a few more homemade squirrel repellents to try:

  • Natural substances. A mixture of vinegar, garlic, and cayenne in a spray bottle. You can use certain essential oils such as citronella, eucalyptus, or lavender in a spray bottle.
  • Irish Spring soap. Squirrels and other creatures apparently can’t stand its strong scent. Break bars into chunks, insert into an old sock or mesh pouch and hang around multiple spots in your garden. Replace every four weeks.
  • Shiny things. Get creative! Old CDs hung in trees, aluminum pie pans — some even claimed wild success with disco balls!
  • Mothballs. Many people swear by mothballs, strategically placed throughout the garden. We do not recommend this repellent except as a last resort. It is toxic to pets and children and can get on edible plants or into root systems.

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How to Keep Squirrels Out of Gardens by Gardening

Interplant your garden with things squirrels are known to hate. That list includes:

  • Garlic, mint, onions, peppers, and the previously mentioned flower bulbs.
  • Marigolds, nasturtiums, and mustards make a pretty border and a natural squirrel shield.
  • Strategically placed prickly cacti can also work if you’re feeling feisty.

Fertilizers

You can also try fertilizers. You probably need to fertilize your garden anyway. Why not use some eco-friendly options that squirrels also happen to dislike intensely? Hen manure is reportedly a good choice, as is blood meal.

Animal Hair

If applicable, consider letting your cat wander through your garden from time to time. This natural predator leaves their scent behind as a warning to rodents throughout the land.

Similarly, squirrels do not like dog hair or human hair distributed throughout the garden, or worked into the soil. Human hair proves to be especially useful.

Aluminum Foil

Strips of aluminum foil in your garden mulch. Squirrels don’t like shiny things, or chomping down on foil as they’re digging for treats. You can also put a layer of foil on the base of a plant in a pot. Just make sure to poke holes so water can get through.

Premade Formulas

And of course, there are plenty of squirrel repellent products that you can buy online. But make sure to do your research — efficacy and formulations vary wildly. Read reviews and take note of the toxicity of any product to decide whether or not you want it in your garden. Though there is one item we can readily recommend: a plastic owl decoy. Easy, cheap, humane, and even kinda cute.

Squirrel Away

The truth is, it will take trial and error, and likely a little patience to find what works for your garden — and your squirrels. But now you have a lot more tools in your squirrel prevention and deterrent toolbox.

Good luck, and remember to think like a squirrel and get creative!

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