Squirrel diggers
August 20, 2006 9:13 AM   Subscribe

How to keep squirrel from digging in container plants?

And before you suggest them, hot-pepper-based products are not working.
posted by gimonca to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried straight hot pepper powder? We buy it by the pound at Indian markets, and use it to keep the squirrels and rats out of our garden and compost bin. You have to use a lot, though--the ground has to look red. After a while, the resident rodents learn the smell, and you can use less.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:57 AM on August 20, 2006

We had a cat that took a liking to the soil of one of our large potted plants. My dad got a section of window screen and cut out a piece to fit over the soil inside the pot, with a cut-out section for the stem. Not the fine mesh kind of screen, but the stiff kind with large, 1/4" gaps.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:10 AM on August 20, 2006

Hot pepper products, such as hot-pepper-wax sprays, straight hot pepper powder, hot pepper flakes, hot pepper added to vaseline and smeared on everything, and assorted homebrewed hot pepper solutions using Dave's Insanity Sauce didn't help for me.

Neither did mothballs. Neither did chicken wire, unless I secured it to the ground with some elaborate system; the squirrels simply lifted up the edge.

What did work: A multi-pronged approach.

1. Figure out what the squirrel "highways" are. If you're in the city or suburbs, there's usually one or two routes they stick to on the way to your containers. Do anything you can to make those routes impassable. Try to trim tree branches that facilitate the trip. One thing that worked for us was putting carpet tack strips on the tops of the portion of our fence that they liked to use. It didn't stop them entirely, but it slowed them down and annoyed them.

2. Grow marionberries, or some other exceedingly thorny berry, or a prolific rose with unusually hellish thorns. Let it ramble for a season. Then prune it back and, wearing leather gauntlets, cut the canes into short sections. Lattice these on the surface of your plant pots. Squirrels won't touch 'em. Extra points if you can get these thorny plants to grow into/onto the squirrel "highways."

3. They like to dig in freshly-dug soil, and they can smell it, so don't bother tamping it down. Established perennials are much less attractive, so once a plant is established, try not to disturb the soil.

4. Don't feed them. People will tell you, "If you feed them, they won't dig up your plants." It's not true. If you pay them Danegeld in squirrel food, all you'll have is more, stronger, better-fed squirrels to dig up your plants.
posted by ROTFL at 10:23 AM on August 20, 2006

If are resolute, and seeking a permanent solution, trapping works.
posted by paulsc at 1:04 PM on August 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Of course I meant "If you are resolute..."
posted by paulsc at 1:05 PM on August 20, 2006

If the squirrels have dealt you lemons, make lemonade.
Enjoy your own circus as the acrobatic squirrels outwit every diversion you try.
We were entertained as the bushy-tailed rats destroyed the cone of roofing material that was supposed to protect a bird feeder, and managed to climb a skinny pole and hang by toenails to tip and empty another bird feeder.
We have a hazelnut tree that has never borne fruit because the squirrels eat the buds.
We have raised-bed gardens with very loose soil; the squirrels use them as pantries for burying extra food.
They win.
posted by Cranberry at 1:12 PM on August 20, 2006

Container plants, as in plants in pots sitting on your balcony or window sill? Can you use screening to keep them out?

If not, can you live with it? Are the squirrels actually costing you lots of money or breaking your heart or something? Do you need these plants more than the squirrels need life?

If the answer to the last question is yes:

I have a soft heart for most beasts, so this wouldn't work for me, but you might want to reclassify them as beasts you can kill. Do you swat flies and mosquitos? Do you kill garden slugs? Do you trap mice and rats? Do you eat animals? Do you have a pet that eats animals? Do you buy dead animals for your pets? How far up the evolutionary ladder do you think it is from mice and rats to squirrels? Is it even a step up? And squirrels compared to cows?

If you do decide to kill them, just trap them and follow local ordinances. But you might have to do something strange, like eat them in a pie rather than release them. Better to call local professionals and let them have to eat squirrel pie for the next two weeks.
posted by pracowity at 1:43 PM on August 20, 2006

Gardening forums are filled with people asking this question.

You've got to face it: squirrels are smart. They've got a brain the size of a pea, but 100% of it is devoted to climbing and hanging and digging and eating your bell peppers and cucumbers. You've got a brain the size of a cantelope, but you're a generalist. In their specific field of endeavor, they are the masters.
posted by jellicle at 3:59 PM on August 20, 2006

Hardware cloth worked great for me. It was not difficult to secure it enough to keep the squirrels out. But I used it to cover freshly-planted seeds, and only kept it in place until the foliage grew. If you're having problems with them eating established plants, hardware cloth might require some engineering before it worked.
posted by owhydididoit at 6:32 PM on August 20, 2006

A layer of large pebble (2-3") mulch sometimes works.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:49 PM on August 20, 2006

To keep the squirrels from digging in your plants, sprinkle some cat urine on the soil. If that's impractical, many hunting and fishing stores have a variety of bottled urines and musks for sale. Pick something with big teeth that eats squirrels.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:03 AM on August 21, 2006

> Pick something with big teeth that eats squirrels.

A hillbilly?

In any case, I have read (here, for example) that the scents don't work, not over the long run, and that the only surefire solution (other than a solid physical barrier) is to trap them and remove them.
posted by pracowity at 5:51 AM on August 21, 2006

Follow owhydididoit's advice or use chicken wire. Both are the cheapest, best alternatives.
posted by JJ86 at 7:31 AM on August 21, 2006

I had mad squirrel troubles with my container garden and tried several fixes, which all worked to varying extents.

1. Red pepper powder sprinkled on all exposed dirt worked, but needed constant reapplication after rain. And I found out the hard way that it ruins the flavor of water-sucking plants like lettuce and spinach. You *think* pepper lettuce sounds good but it isn't.

2. Bursting onto the deck to yell MOFO only works in the very short term and makes your neighbors wonder.

3. A thick layer of wood chips or pebbles worked really well. It helps the pots retain moisture after watering, too. This won't work so well with seedlings or freshly planted seeds; maybe best to start those indoors anyway. Mint and other plants that like to re-root themselves - what's the word I'm looking for - they like to dip a branch below the surface of the dirt and re-sprout from there - wouldn't do well with a thick layer of mulch. A thin layer might do.

4. Get cats. I got two and haven't seen a squirrel anywhere near the garden in months.
posted by jessicapierce at 11:00 AM on August 23, 2006

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