As Landscaping professionals, we do a lot of defensive gardening. What is defensive gardening? Well, it’s essential any tactics used to protect a garden or a landscape from natural elements that are out of a gardener’s control: severe weather, drought, cold, and critters, namely. Gardening is, naturally, a mercurial endeavor, and all avid gardeners are used to leaving outcomes to chance. However, there are old techniques—and some newfangled technologies—that can help gardeners and landscapers alike protect their hard work from outside threats.
Critters, perhaps more than any other natural element, have a reputation for disrupting and destroying gardens, and most gardeners have some kind of plan in place to keep deer, squirrels, bugs and the like out of their way. Squirrels, in particular, are frustrating to deal with due to their size and agility—they easily sneak through fences and wiring, and can climb up almost anything. To deal with a squirrel pest, we recommend a combination of hard-hitting tactics:
Recognizing and Treating a Squirrel Infestation
Firstly, gardeners must be able to identify a squirrel pest. Because of their nimbleness, squirrels are hard to catch “in the act.” Luckily, they leave plenty of clues behind. Common symptoms of a squirrel infestation are shallow, gold-ball sized holes in freshly planted seedbeds; small bite marks on fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers; signs of digging in container plants; and partially eaten flowers and seed heads. If you’ve noticed these signs in your garden, you may indeed have a squirrel problem.
In many places across the country, squirrels are as ubiquitous as weeds. It would be nearly impossible to eradicate them completely, but gardeners can outsmart and prevent a squirrel infestation. Prevention is a good place to start: in order to keep squirrels out of the garden, clean up the plant and produce debris that typically attracts them. Fallen seeds, fruits, and nuts make easy squirrel food, and such detritus could lead squirrels to other parts of your garden. Be mindful of the space beneath your trees and shrubs, and dispose of any organic material that falls there.
Another option is using a repelling spray. There are many homemade spray recipes online, similar to the kinds of sprays used against deer and other mammals. They often have a hot pepper or peppermint component, and need be continually applied to plants. Repelling sprays can spoil produce, so be sure to apply carefully and specifically in affected areas.
Squirrels can also be frightened away—though the frightening tool should ideally be a bit more threatening than a scarecrow. Generally, pets make great squirrel repellents. Most dogs and cats like chasing squirrels around by nature, and a garden guarded by an agile dog is sure to be well-protected. If you don’t have pets, spraying the urine of a predator animal (like a wolf or coyote) at the base of vulnerable plants can frighten all kinds of potential animal pests away—though this method might make your produce seem wholly unappetizing.
The most sympathetic method of squirrel prevention involves creating a squirrel-friendly decoy station that will distract and satiate would-be pests. By setting up a place in the garden where squirrels can pick up treats, drink water, or even munch on some decoy tomatoes, gardeners can hope to keep local squirrels satisfied. Being no expert in squirrel psychology myself, it’s hard to say how much some simple generosity can quell the critters’ voracious appetites, but, for those who have a soft spot for squirrels’ lyrical chittering and bushy tails, this method seems good enough.
Ultimately, gardening will never be an exact science. The forces of nature continually challenge, disrupt, and complicate even the most seasoned professionals’ gardening projects. Many of the gardeners I’ve talked to have testified that this, in fact, is their favorite part of the craft: no matter how well your plan and plant your beds, there will always be an unforeseen challenge on the horizon. In my mind, that makes all of us gardeners seem pretty adventurous—even if, most of the time, we really just feel like we’re wrangling squirrels.