There are two types of squirrels commonly found throughout the United States: tree squirrels and ground squirrels. In New England, if you are able to identify squirrel damage to your garden plants and trees, it’s almost all of the time going to be attributable to tree squirrels. Ground squirrels are much more of a threat in areas west of the Rocky Mountains. New England tree squirrels have a tendency to cause the most damage by digging up newly-planted seeds, bulbs and sometimes entire plants or stripping the leaves/bark off trees and shrubs. They are omnivorous, therefore their food sources can include anything from the fruits and nuts (trees/shrubs) to garden vegetables to the bird seed in your feeders. As with chipmunks and rabbits, there a few key methods used to deter these most common of rodent pests:
To protect seed and bulb beds, place chicken wire over the planted area and bury the edges in the soil or weight them down with bricks. Remove the wire before the plants are too large to fit through the mesh.
Tree squirrels can jump up to 6 feet off the ground, which is a good reference point to use when putting up barriers on trees. To prevent squirrels from climbing up fruit and nut trees, place 2’ wide bands of metal (like aluminum) around tree trunks at least 6 feet above the ground. Prune branches so that they are at least 6 feet above the ground and 6 feet away from structures or the branches of other trees. Tanglefoot is an organic product which creates a sticky barrier around the base of trees that will deter squirrels from climbing them.
Chemical and organic repellent options are a bit more limited than they might be for other rodent pests, but pureed hot pepper spray is something that is commonly known to work with squirrels. An extremely hot pepper variety like habanero pureed with a dash of liquid hand soap and diluted with water is perfect. Other deterrents include blood meal around the perimeter of the garden or, if you have a cat, a bit of used cat litter around the base of garden plants.
Pets, natural predators, live trapping, and food diversions are all alternative possibilities. Live squirrel traps are widely available and putting down bird seed in an area removed from your garden can divert their food-gathering efforts.