Today, it’s hard to imagine any city without squirrels. But before the mid-1800s, wild squirrels didn’t live in U.S. cities at all. That changed in the latter part of the century, thanks to attempts to beautify the nation’s industrial centers. Mayors from New York to Philadelphia started bringing in squirrels to town squares and parks.
Those early city dwellers had to be fed by the city or well-meaning citizens because natural food sources like trees were scarce. Once the squirrel population took off, though, there was no stopping them. Now, squirrels are perhaps the most ubiquitous urban animal one can imagine.
If you’re ruing the day those first squirrels landed in town, you’re not alone. Squirrels eat away at our gardens, torment our dogs and cause electrical fires to the tune of millions of dollars a year. If you’re sick of dealing with them, here are ways to keep them out of your yard.
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Are Squirrels Rodents?
Yes. That’s right: Cute, chattering squirrels share a scientific order — Rodentia — with mice, rats and porcupines. Rodents make up 40 percent of all mammals, and they all have one common trait: constantly-growing front teeth which they must keep in check by gnawing.
What Attracts Squirrels?
Squirrels look for two things when deciding where to live: food and shelter. Trees provide sustenance and nesting spots. So if your property has trees, squirrels won’t be far away.
Other things that attract squirrels:
- Bird feeders;
- Trash cans;
- Vegetable gardens.
Signs of Squirrels
Squirrels are destructive. Tearing up your lovingly-planted veggies in search of a hidden nut means nothing to them. Here are the signs you’ve got squirrels:
- Small holes dug in pots and gardens, with plants flung around;
- Half-eaten veggies and missing flowers;
- Bark chewed off trees, sometimes in a circular pattern called girdling;
- Wrecked bird feeders with seed scattered everywhere.
How To Keep Squirrels Out of Your Yard
Squirrels are crafty and determined, so keeping them out of your yard will take vigilance. This isn’t a one-and-done situation, either. Factor in your time and interest in keeping up a daily struggle.
Squirrels scamper right over standard stockade fences, but you can keep them out of specific areas of your garden and yard with heavy-duty chicken wire. Box in the entire area, including the top. Bury the wire several inches deep to deter digging under. And don’t forget to include a door!
Spray them with water
Like most animals, squirrels hate an unexpected blast of chilly water. Motion-activated sprinkler systems like the Yard Enforcer from Orbit hook up to a regular garden hose and offer adjustable coverage areas. When a critter walks by, the Enforcer delivers an annoying but harmless drenching.
These deterrents will spray anything that trips the sensor, including mail carriers, dogs and you, so keep that in mind. You may need several for optimum coverage and to avoid dousing everyone in your neighborhood.
Dogs famously harass squirrels. If you have one, they’re probably doing their best to keep the furry pests away. If that’s not enough, install scarecrows. Because squirrels are prey to larger animals and birds like owls, squirrels have developed a strong fear response. Move the decoys around periodically; squirrels are smart and will figure out the ruse in time.
Reflective, moving things like pinwheels and wildlife tape have proponents. Squirrels avoid strange noises and movement, so place these around your property to make them think twice about coming in.
Pepper your plants
Squirrels don’t like capsaicin, the chemical that gives hot peppers their heat, so sprinkle cayenne around plants you want to protect. Make a hot-pepper spray and douse your yard around trees and other places squirrels enter. It won’t hurt your plants and squirrels don’t want any part of it.
Though cost-effective — a ten-pound box of cayenne costs around $40 — you’ll need to reapply the stuff after it rains. If you have kids and pets, use caution. Just like squirrels, humans and domestic animals respond to pepper, too.
Get rid of the birdfeeder
Squirrels treat bird feeders like personal charcuterie boards. So if you really want to keep squirrels out of your yard, the bird feeders have to go. If you’re not ready for that drastic step, use a squirrel baffle and change your birdseed to a squirrel-unfriendly one like safflower seed.
Remember: Baffles and unpopular seed deter squirrels from robbing your feeder, but the critters will still come to your yard to try their luck. To remove the temptation, remove the feeder.
Squirrels dislike the smell of peppermint, so plant mint around your property to give squirrels an opportunity to reconsider. Note: Mint grows fast. If you’re concerned about it becoming invasive, use pots and place strategically.
Rake your yard
Squirrels forage for acorns and nuts on the ground. If you rake under your trees daily to remove food sources, squirrels will look elsewhere. Keep your expectations realistic, though. Your trees will have squirrels no matter how clean you keep the ground.
Build a greenhouse
For a more permanent solution than chicken wire fencing, build a greenhouse. These extend your growing season and keep squirrels out, so they’re a win-win for gardeners. If you have a green thumb and DIY ability, a greenhouse offers a permanent, attractive solution to keeping squirrels from munching on your garden plants.
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