too many squirrels!
April 28, 2009 6:31 PM   Subscribe

How can I get rid of squirrels so I can have a balcony garden?

I live in an apartment with a huge balcony, yay! I would like to plant a small garden in a planter box with some lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, etc. Problem is, there is a tree whose branches hang right onto my balcony and squirrels like to hang out on the balcony. Is this going to be a problem for the seeds and plants? Will they eat everything I try to grow?

What can I do to get rid of them? Does cayenne pepper or something work? I know it makes cats not want to go near plants. Are there squirrel repellents? Ones that would be safe to use for growing veggies? What would work? Or is my garden-to-be doomed because of the damn rodents? Any suggestions or advice are welcome!

I saw previous threads that had conflicting comments, from "NOTHING will keep squirrels out" to "squirrels aren't really a problem." Which is it? Do squirrels only eat certain vegetables?

Anything that would involve fencing off the balcony or modifying it is not an option, since I rent.
posted by KateHasQuestions to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
From experience, squirrels haven't shown much interest in what I've planted (toms, herbs). Nuts and birdseed, on the other hand, are squizzer-crack. So you could hang up some nuts, but if you do so, it sets up a relationship where you're buying them off.

Plant your planters, and see how the little buggers react.
posted by holgate at 6:36 PM on April 28, 2009

Don't people use those fake owls to keep small animals like squirrels away?
posted by cazoo at 6:38 PM on April 28, 2009

Response by poster: Don't people use those fake owls to keep small animals like squirrels away?

I don't know, do they? That's why I'm asking! I'd like to find out solutions that have worked for people.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 6:48 PM on April 28, 2009

Don't know about other squirrels, but squirrels in New Mexico seem to like the cayenne. Maybe it's the chile.
posted by answergrape at 6:52 PM on April 28, 2009

A huge balcony sounds so fantastic. Squirrels don't care about vegetables and greens. They like seeds, berries, fruit, grains and nuts. We have tons of squirrels and none have ever bothered with our vegetable garden.

Get whoever owns the tree to trim it - eliminate the easy path. Of course, you've probably seen the squirrel obstacle course videos on Youtube and know that squirrels are devious and rascaly and persistent when there are yummies to be had, but it sounds like you're not really going to be growing anything interesting to them. But don't be surprised if they bring their little food prizes to your balcony and try to hide them in the soil! They're squirrely like that. They love to hide extras and leftovers and come back and dig them up later. So yeah, get those branched trimmed if you can.

The fake owls are to scare off birds, not squirrels. My MIL has a fake owl and the squirrels perch on it to eat the seed they take from her bird feeders.
posted by iconomy at 7:09 PM on April 28, 2009

Response by poster: Would the squirrels eat the seeds that I plant in the ground? Maybe I should buy mini-plants instead of seeds then?
posted by KateHasQuestions at 7:24 PM on April 28, 2009

I've had problems with squirrels digging up and eating my lettuces, but only in a planter, not the ones in the garden. They've never bothered any seeds I've direct-sown in the garden, for what it's worth. They've never bothered my herbs or tomatoes that I'm aware of.
posted by Lycaste at 7:33 PM on April 28, 2009

posted by gimonca at 8:01 PM on April 28, 2009

Squirrels used to love my balcony. They're not eating my plants (petunias and impatiens). WHat they want is to dig through the dirt in planters and store the food they've already found. One time I found a whole dinner roll in one of my potted plants. Frequently I find peanuts.

Anyway, go out and buy a roll of "gutter guard". It's basically stiff plastic netting. Cut it up and lay it on top of the dirt around your plants. I hold it in with U-Shaped nails. Now they can't dig and if they can't dig they lose interest.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:17 PM on April 28, 2009

The squirrels around here (Kitchener, Ontario) like to dig up the dirt in my planters in search of burried nuts/seeds. I cover them with chicken wire or screen until they sprout, and then I try and keep the chicken wire on top of the exposed dirt until they lose interest. Sometimes the plant will grow through the chicken wire without any trouble. This works best with staples and wood planters.
posted by glip at 8:18 PM on April 28, 2009

Try some netting. One year, I hung a birdfeeder full of mixed nuts on my apartment patio to give the squirrels a treat. The next time I went out to the pool, I noticed they stashed most all of them in the planter of a potted palm.
posted by aquafortis at 9:34 PM on April 28, 2009

The bastard squirrels ate every good thing in my garden this past year. Everything. Including digging up my tulip bulbs, leaving me thinking I was CRAZY (an entire planter box full of bulbs, empty except a few shreds of tulip paper). They or some other critter -- but I saw a squirrel at it one day, so I'm pretty sure they were the culprits -- ate my vegetable plants too, leaving sad little half-inch stumps where the broccoli had once been. No solutions to offer you, just confirmation that they can and will destroy a garden if they are not stopped.
posted by katemonster at 9:37 PM on April 28, 2009

Same basic story as katemonster: squirrels have decimated my potted tomatoes on my patio for two years running now. I think cayenne would work for me (Arlington, VA), but I tried it too late last year for it to be of any use. Good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 4:31 AM on April 29, 2009

Eating is not necessarily the problem--they can dig your planter down to bare earth and leave the uprooted plants strewn around to rot.

You can discourage some digging by getting landscaping rocks from a hardware store. Not small pebbles--think rocks largish enough for the little monsters not to want to move them. Use them liberally to cover the soil in your planters. This is not a guarantee, but it seems to help cut down on the digging. Also more appropriate for some plants than others.

I have a hypothesis that it's not the plants themselves as much as the dirt and potting soil that attracts them--maybe it smells like something moist, recently disturbed and easily diggable, and maybe that seems like an opportunity to steal a recently buried nut that another squirrel might have hid. That's not much help, since you'll need some kind of medium for the plants to grow in, but it's my possible explanation why they zero in on potted plants while leaving established garden beds alone.

That said, geraniums in my planters seem to get left alone. Other plants (petunias, verbena) seem to get targeted very viciously.

I have used many, many commercial squirrel repellents. Number that have worked: zero.
posted by gimonca at 5:31 AM on April 29, 2009

Squirrels don't care about vegetables and greens.

It depends. One thing that can happen is that in very dry weather, squirrels (and other creatures, notably rabbits) may attack moister fruits and veggies to get at the water content. In a normal season, squirrels don't attack my tomatoes in a regular planted bed.
posted by gimonca at 5:37 AM on April 29, 2009

I tend to use stuff like Deer Off to keep squirrels out of my veggies and plants. It worked on whatever was eating my tomatoes last year and so far seems to be keeping the squirrels off my tulips (squirrels love tulips, weird but true). It has a mixture of capsaicin, garlic, and rotten eggs in it, so it stinks when you spray it but then I haven't been able to smell it, and it seems to work for me at least.
posted by katers890 at 7:10 AM on April 29, 2009

I have a very similar setup (renter, balcony, lots of trees, lots of squirrels--big fearless ones, too, seriously the size of small cats). The internet claims squirrels won't bother my tomatoes and peppers, but I wish someone would tell the squirrels. On unprotected plants, they nip off the fruits as soon as they form and take them away. They also dig in the pots and leave the seedlings to die.

Cayenne pepper has never really worked for me (and it might be kind of cruel). Here's what did work: make a cage from chicken wire. Roll some chicken wire with 1" holes into a tube big enough to enclose your pot, and use scrap wire to secure. Bunch the top (like you're bunching a sack) and wrap with more scrap wire, or fold the top over so the tube is closed at the top and secure with wire. Put a cage like this over each plant. Squirrels can't get in, but you can easily lift the cage for watering and harvesting, and you can reuse the cages next year. This is the only way I could get vegetables last year.

I followed the instructions in You Grow Girl by Gayla Trail, but here is an online tutorial (this cage is used for decorative purposes, but same basic method). Since you will be using window boxes, you'll need to modify the design to fit your planter; here is another idea you could copy, and here's a method for making a rectangular cage.

Google "chicken wire cloche" for more. Good luck!
posted by Ms. Informed at 10:01 AM on April 29, 2009

Not for balcony veggies, but, if you plant daffodils on top of tulips, the squirrels shouldn't dig up either. Daffodils are poisonous and the squirrels are smart enough to know. Last years, I planted green onions around my tomatos to keep the bugs off. I didn't lose one tomato to either the squirrels or racoons. Could have been luck, though.
posted by x46 at 1:46 PM on April 29, 2009

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