Here in the UK, some squirrels are definitely more welcome than others. Keeping squirrels out of your garden altogether is neither feasible nor desirable. But there are things you can do to make sure you can live in harmony with these brush-tailed creatures.
Depending on where exactly you live, you may be lucky enough to have red squirrels in your garden. More common by far, however, are grey squirrels. They are an introduced species that outcompetes the smaller native red squirrels and caused their numbers to decline. Having grey squirrels in your garden can be both a problem, and a blessing – sometimes, these little menaces may be both at the same time.
Squirrels Can Be a Problem in a Garden
The main problem with these creatures is usually their appetite. Squirrels are hungry creatures, and this can often bring them into conflict with home growers. They are omnivorous, but largely herbivorous in their diet. They eat a wide range of plants that we grow to eat ourselves, including most fruits and vegetables, many flowers, nuts, berries and seeds.
Some gardeners may also find that they dig up their growing areas to make caches to bury the food they are trying to store for later. This can disturb tender young plants and seedlings and make a bit of a mess.
They can also strip the bark of young trees, which they use to make their dreys.
Some gardeners are also irritated when they eat all the food they have left out for the birds.
But Squirrels Are Also Good To Have Around
But though they can undoubtedly cause some problems, squirrels are also good to have around. They are curious, amusing and delightful creatures, and since they come out during the day, we humans have plenty of changes to see and enjoy them. They give us an interesting insight into the natural world.
Squirrels are also part of the ecosystem – returning natural nutrients to the earth, and providing a food source for certain predators. The main creatures that eat grey squirrels are stoats, goshawks, and foxes.
Grey squirrels are extremely numerous in the UK and it is very unlikely that you will be able to get rid of them altogether, even if you wanted to. So it is important to find ways to live and let live.
Keeping Squirrels Out Of Your Fruit and Vegetable Growing Areas
A physical barrier such as a polytunnel, fruit cage, row cover or cloche can certainly help to reduce losses to squirrels in your fruit and vegetable growing areas. However, they may not be feasible in all cases, and are rarely 100% effective against pests.
Another thing you can try is spreading hot pepper around your growing area. This is unpleasant to mammals, and may deter them from eating crops to a degree.
Planting certain plants can also help keep squirrels away. While companion planting is rarely 100% effective, it can encourage them to stay away from more precious parts of your garden. Try alliums, mint, daffodils, geraniums, and certain other strongly scented plants.
Protecting Fruit and Nuts on Trees From Squirrels
If you are growing smaller fruit bushes and trees, a fruit cage could help you prevent them from eating your crops before you get the chance to. But generally speaking, if trees cannot be caged or netted, you must resign yourself to ‘sharing’ with your furry (and feathered) neighbours. Be sure to pick your crops as soon as they are ripe, and consider the losses as natural ‘taxes’.
Protecting Young Trees From Squirrels
If they are eating the bark from young trees, use tree guards to protect the bases of the saplings. You can find eco-friendly alternatives to the plastic collars that are often used. Again, you can also try planting daffodils and other bulbs that repel them around the base of young trees, which may encourage them to go elsewhere.
Stopping Squirrels From Eating Bird Food
As mentioned above, mammals do not like hot pepper. But birds don’t notice it. So if you have these pests eating all your bird food, add some hot pepper to the seed or food mix and it should prevent squirrels from eating it. (Physical control methods usually don’t work – squirrels are very smart and can often overcome even the most challenging of obstacles.)
Generally speaking, it is best to direct them to different parts of your garden, rather than trying to get rid of them altogether. Consider adding specialist feeders to draw them away from eating your crops and towards a better food source.
Remember, squirrels may sometimes be pests. But they can also be very entertaining and great to have around. Do you welcome them in your garden? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.