Anything I can do to keep squirrels off fruit trees?
January 10, 2013 2:14 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone successfully deterred squirrels from eating the fruit off the trees in their yard? I see a lot of "squirrel repellent" sprays on the market (but I also see a lot of "eat-what-you-want-still-lose-weight" products out there too; I'm not going to take their word for it.) Also what about ultrasonic repellents, do those work?

For the first time I have a yard in which I can plant fruit trees. I've always wanted fruit trees. So I told my neighbor that I was going to plant cherries and plums, and he chuckled sadly and said "you're just feeding squirrels if you do that." He said he'd had a plum tree and eventually removed it because the squirrels were so voracious; he never got a harvest.

I can't tell you how peeved I am about this. I want persimmons, I want plums, I want cherries. I don't want to feed squirrels. And I'm sure the neighbor is telling the truth -- there are a LOT of squirrels in our neighborhood. And I'm sure I'd attract even more of them if I planted stone fruit.

I know citrus isn's as vulnerable; but it is also not as delicious. If I have to I will limit myself to oranges and lemons but it will be a bitter pill. So, brave gardeners of MeFi: how can I successfully grow fruit in a squirrelly neighborhood?
posted by fingersandtoes to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
In Hawaii, we had neighbors who wrapped the trunks of their fruit trees (guava, lychee, etc.) with a couple of flattened #10 cans, which kept the fruit rats from climbing them. I imagine the same would work for your trees, but only if they only route for the squirrels to take was up the trunk and not via the branches of another tree.
posted by rtha at 2:19 PM on January 10, 2013

There's a house I drive by occasionally that has large frames covered in netting to keep the squirrels out. Street View pic here.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:23 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

With cherries at least, even if you defeat the squirrels, birds will eat them just as they're starting to ripen - they certainly decimate mine. A full fruit cage is really the only way to go if you want to keep your fruit for yourself.
posted by pipeski at 2:34 PM on January 10, 2013

As someone who has never tasted an apricot from one of the two trees in her backyard, thanks to the squirrels, I will be following this thread with interest.

Like rtha suggests, placement of the trees may be critical. If you can position the trees so that the squirrels have to go down to the ground to get to the tree, you might have more luck. If they can reach it from a fence or another tree, much harder.
posted by ambrosia at 2:57 PM on January 10, 2013

I have an absolutely insane amount of squirrels in my yard thanks to my neighbor who puts out peanuts for them every day at 1:00. It's horrible, like something out of a Hitchcock movie, when they come pouring in over my fence, my trees, the power lines, from every direction. Ugh. They drive my dog to madness and they devour my fruit, too. They're everywhere.

But! I still get plenty of fruit for myself. A mature fruit tree puts out a lot of fruit. For instance, two or three years ago I picked all the cherries I wanted, the squirrels and the fucking birds had their way with the tree as well, but there was still a lot of fruit so I called the local gleaning organization and they sent a guy out and he picked the rest. Want to guess how much he picked? NINETY-FIVE POUNDS. Granted some of that had been pecked at, but still. The prune plums, we could never eat all of those in a million years. Pears I lose more to bugs than squirrels and end up feeding them to the chickens. So I say just go for it, plant as many trees as you can. You may lose out the first couple of years but once they're mature you'll probably be fine.
posted by HotToddy at 2:59 PM on January 10, 2013

My parents have had a large cherry tree in their yard for many years. When the tree was smaller, wrapping it in lightweight plastic netting largely kept the birds and squirrels out, and yielded big harvests. As the tree became too large to easily wrap even using a ladder, there were a couple years where most of the cherries were eaten. But now, as HotToddy points out above, the tree produces so much fruit that the birds and squirrels can eat their fill and still leave more gallons and gallons of cherries than we can eat/freeze/bake.
posted by JiBB at 3:09 PM on January 10, 2013

If you can position the trees so that the squirrels have to go down to the ground to get to the tree, you might have more luck. If they can reach it from a fence or another tree, much harder.

This can be a difficult proposition. The little bastards are acrobatic. Unless you're leaving ten feet between your trees and any nearby fences or houses or utility poles, have a backup plan.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:13 PM on January 10, 2013

We have possums, fruit bats, bower birds and parrots.

The tried and tested solution is to:

1. Buy dwarf rootstock trees - trust me on this!
2. Put 4 star pickets 1m from your tree (star pickets are a steel stake used for fencing - they come in different lengths. Get 1.2 - 1.5 m)
3. Buy 2 inch HPDE irrigation pipe (seconds are fine - it doesn't need to hold water)
4. Cut the pipe into equal lengths and slip it over the star picks to make a hooped X over your tree
5. Run chicken wire around the 4 star pickets
6. Buy a large piece of bird netting and during fruiting time drap it over the hooped pipe and use clothes pegs to fasten it to the chicken netting
7. The first piece of fruit costs $500, after that its free!
posted by insomniax at 3:18 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

insomniax, would you be willing to provide a photo of your solution? It sounds interesting but I'm so new to this I'm not sure how to imagine it. The thing is, I was hoping to plant in the front yard, especially because in the back yard all the spots would be near a fence (aka squirrel superhighway.) But because it's in the front I need to take aesthetic considerations into account.

HotToddy, I hate your fool neighbor with a fiery, if recent, passion. Gross!

We're talking like 10+ years for a fruit tree to mature to a point where it produces large amounts of fruit, right?
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:25 PM on January 10, 2013

Sure, once I figure out how to do it!

Black netting can be used to reduce visual output, but some argue that the birds can't see it, and so they fly into it. I read somewhere that strips of reflective red/silver metal can be used to deter fly intos

If you are in a rush memail me an email address I can send attachments to.


this is probably a better explaination - although photos don't shown my scheme

And this is a good one to explain the star picket/hdpe pipe
posted by insomniax at 4:01 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

We're talking like 10+ years for a fruit tree to mature to a point where it produces large amounts of fruit, right?

No no no, it was more like three or four for the cherry tree. The prune plum was already here when we moved in so I can't say on that one. And it doesn't really matter, because however long it takes, those years are going to pass anyway, and if you don't plant now you'll be older but fruitless. Might as well plant.

Thanks for hating my neighbor!
posted by HotToddy at 4:51 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

well, my friend has a garden with things that squirrels tend to eat. Said friend also has a pellet rifle. The vultures in the neighborhood appear well fed. While there are still plenty of squirrels in the neighborhood, friend's yard seems to be an exception.
posted by k5.user at 6:59 PM on January 10, 2013

Chilli powder is a generally cheap and effective mammal repellent.

If the squirrels need to climb the trunk to get the fruit then every few weeks dust the branch and ground with chilli powder. The squirrels will over time learn that climbing that tree is unpleasant.
If they can avoid the trunk then it's a bit harder.
My bins are generally dusted with chilli powder to keep foxes away, and it works pretty well.
I need to do it more frequently when new foxes get born. I hope they don't develop a taste for chilli.

It won't do anything to discourage birds though. Birds can't taste chilli.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:10 AM on January 11, 2013

We have a magnolia whose buds got eaten by the squirrels each spring. Last year, with great success, I did the following. Make a mixture of petroleum jelly (like Vaseline), cayenne pepper, and a some hot sauce (like Tobasco). I put this in spots around several (many) branches (no need to coat the entire branch, just a 1-2 inch area) of the tree. Coat all around the circumference of the branch.
No squirrel attacks. I watched as a squirrel even walked around below the tree, without bothering to climb it. Magnolia flowers in abundance.
posted by mbarryf at 5:00 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mbarryf, making a pungent vat of nasty cayenne + vaseline daub and smearing it on a tree is hilarious enough to be an entertaining project even if it doesn't work. I love it. Plus it sounds like it totally could work.

This afternoon I'm going to go to Costco and use the advice I got from my last question to be able to get in there and purchase a giant vat of Vaseline and a big old jar of cayenne. God I love MeFi.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:58 AM on January 11, 2013

Tried various netting. Waste of time and looked like crap.

Vaseline and "Ass on Fire" hot sauce worked absolutely wonders for keeping the squirrels off our hummingbird feeders. The little bastards spin like the Tasmanian Devil cartoon the first (and only) time they make the mistake of climbing the poles.

It was partially successful at deterring their attention to a peach tree. Trouble was they'd just jump over from a nearby fence, which I couldn't really smear with the concoction. What seemed to help was having left some rat bait on a shelf inside my shed. Squirrels kept gnawing into the shed and getting to the poison. "Voting themselves off the island" in the process.

But even with that I still only got ONE DAMNED PEACH off the tree in five years.
posted by wkearney99 at 7:02 PM on January 11, 2013

I recommend starting with fruit trees where you don't mind eating the fruit somewhat green, or picking it green and shelf ripening it. One of the things about wildlife is that they get a big head start by eating barely formed fruit, so the earlier you can start harvesting the more you get.

Depending on how big your yard is, you could get a dog and give it access to the yard... (If you already wanted a dog and accept the task of caring for one and so on, and don't mind the noise of an over excited dog constantly during fruit season.)
posted by anaelith at 3:47 AM on January 12, 2013

Photo of an unnetted pear tree, with the star picket and hdpe/ poly pipe in place.

In the background is fruit tree netting mark two, where the trees are being espaliered so that you can go under the netting and walk beside all the trees.

The big steel I beam is part of fruit tree netting mark three, still in construction, continuing the espaliering. Mark three will have some furring channel along the top of the poly pipe to stop the netting from sagging. Netting on the espalier rows is permanently installed. The pear tree is going to be severely pruned into next winter to start the espalier.</a
posted by insomniax at 10:21 AM on January 13, 2013

Depending on how big your yard is, you could get a dog and give it access to the yard... (If you already wanted a dog and accept the task of caring for one and so on, and don't mind the noise of an over excited dog constantly during fruit season.)

Not all dogs care about squirrels. My dog doesn't give a shit about them, and they know it, so they are fearless around him. But my dog does effectively scare away any outdoor cats, so the squirrels and the birds know our backyard is a safe cat-free zone. Now, if you could train a cat to be outdoors but not leave your backyard, that would be a deterrent, but that assumes you can make a cat do what you want it to.
posted by ambrosia at 10:43 AM on January 13, 2013

Not all dogs care about squirrels.

And not all squirrels care about dogs. I have possibly the world's barkiest, most ferocious-sounding, squirrel-bloodlustiest dog, and the squirrels just laugh and deliberately taunt him. They're intelligent, playful animals who get a kick out of teasing him.
posted by HotToddy at 12:13 PM on January 13, 2013

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