How to keep squirrels out of garden beds is a challenge we had to figure out here on our acreage. We live near a wooded area, and squirrels live abundantly around us; the little pests loved going into my garden and taking a single bite out of everything.
Squirrels think our gardens are free buffets, my friends, and they will partake all day long, all summer until you have no hair left on your head!
Please don’t despair; we have many methods to help you control these garden pests without harming them or your gardens. Even though they are the scourge of my garden beds, I do not have the heart to harm them, cage them, or trap them to get them away from my harvests, so last summer, we tested several non-harm methods to see what worked best.
So how do we deal with squirrels naturally?
The best non-lethal methods to stop squirrels from damaging your crops include strategies that repel, distract, deter, and scare squirrels away. Decoy food stations, decoys, motion-activated sprinkles, human hair, predator urine, harsh scent plants like garlic, onions, and lavender all seem to impact squirrel curiosity in the garden. But there are many more ways to keep these pests at bay without killing or harming them.
Our article below will take you through each approach and list multiple ideas for dealing with your squirrel problem naturally. You will find a method that will work for you, your squirrels, and your garden!
Start by Identifying Squirrel Damage
So you wander out to your garden in the morning to see how your tomatoes are doing, and lo and behold, over a dozen are missing pieces with tiny bite marks. You wonder if it is a garden demon or some other anti-garden supernatural pest? And you would be right.
Squirrels leave behind a trail of destruction that is usually easily identified. To identify squirrels in your garden, look for the following.
- Small golf ball-sized shallow digging spots in planting beds and rows.
- Bite marks and missing fruit
- Missing plants
- Nibbled tree buds
- Container digging
- Partially eaten flowers
First, Try Distracting Squirrels Away from your Garden
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We call this the lets-try-to-be-friends method.
If you want to be an excellent woodland neighbor and keep everyone happy, try distraction methods to keep squirrels out of the garden.
Decoy Food Supply
Install tin-sized food boxes featuring foods squirrels enjoy, like sunflower seeds or feed corn, in an isolated part of your yard, far from your garden. Decoy food stations work well to keep the squirrels fed and uninterested in the rest of the garden.
Extra Food Source Plants Away From the Garden
Many gardeners even grow some extra tomato plants near the area but away from the primary garden to feed squirrels. Extra food sources attract other animals like bears and deer, so be careful.
Let your Pets Wander in Your Garden During The Day
The scent and sight of a dog or cat wandering in the garden are enough to keep squirrels away. They will actively avoid any area where dogs and cats are free to chase.
The dogs and cats will also leave their scent through the garden, which will help when they are not around to distract.
You could even plant some catnip to make sure that your cat (and probably a few other neighborhood cats) visit your garden.
If Distraction Doesn’t Work, Try Scaring the Squirrels Away.
This method is called the we’re-not-friends-please-go-away method.
The best method we’ve found for keeping squirrels out of garden beds is to scare away the wee pesky critters:
Try using Decoys
Adding decoys like traditional scarecrows can help deter squirrels away from the garden. When they see something that looks human and maybe moves in a bit in the wind, the squirrels do their best to avoid the area.
But the best type of decoy are animals that are natural predators, like owls, hawks, snakes, and foxes.
Place the decoys around the garden’s perimeter, or high up where the squirrels will see them.
- Our Recommendations: You can purchase many great, inexpensive decoys for your garden. So long as it looks realistic, they will work. You can find decoys at most garden centers or online at sellers like Amazon. Check out these decoys that will work for squirrels!
Motion Activated Sprinklers
Discourage squirrels with motion-activated sprinklers!
We installed four motion-activated sprinklers in our garden last summer for the deer. The sprinkler system DID work exceptionally well against the squirrels and raccoons, but not so much for the deer!
Coyote urine is intense and unpleasant and is one of the best predator urines you can use against squirrels.
Spraying around the garden’s perimeter works exceptionally well for tiny pests like squirrels, raccoons and even larger ones like deer.
Predator urine will need to be applied every few weeks during the growing season and more frequently if there is a lot of rain.
Warning: it is an unpleasant smell for you as well.
Dog Hair & Human Hair
Squirrels do not like the smell of humans and predators like dogs and cats. So if you cut your hair or clean your hairbrush, brush your dog or cat, save that hair, spread it around the garden’s perimeter, or place it directly on the garden soil in the garden beds.
Squirrels actively avoid areas they think humans are near, and the hair method is excellent.
The downside to this method is it doesn’t last and will need to be applied through the season. In addition, hair will eventually absorb the smells from the garden and be less and less effective.
Aluminum Foil Around Garden Plants
Squirrels, with their animated movements, are very paranoid wee pests. Any sudden sound will startle them and send them scurrying away.
Using sheets of aluminum foil around your garden beds and plants, take advantage of this paranoia. As soon as the squirrel steps on the tin foil, it will feel wrong and make a sound. The squirrels will be scared and run away.
Tinfoil works great because it lasts all season and can be rinsed off and used the following year.
The foil sheets will need to be held down with earth staples or even rocks so as not to blow away in the wind. Leave an edge or two to crinkle in the wind, which will also help to deter birds.
Try Repelling Squirrels with Scents They Hate
Commonly referred to as the we-are-enemies-now-and-you-need-to-say-in-your-lane method.
The following methods are meant to repel squirrels away with scents they do not like:
Cayenne pepper and hot Chili Peppers
Squirrels do not enjoy the smell of hot peppers because they have very sensitive noses and the peppers cause irritation. To get the best out of this method, use a spicier-smelling pepper, such as cayenne pepper.
Super hot peppers will be even more effective as the smell will be much stronger for squirrels and work well at repelling them.
Black Pepper & White Pepper
Sprinkle black or white pepper around your garden beds to deter squirrels. The little pests do not like the smell and will avoid areas where pepper has been used. You will need to reapply after heavy rain.
We’ve used whole black pepper in the garden, which lasts much longer in the whole form vs. ground.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is intense, and squirrels do not like the scent.
So how do you make ACV spray for squirrels?
If you are going to do 5 gallons of spray, mix 5 ounces of ACV with 5 gallons of water. If you do the ACV solution, spray a test patch on a plant out of sight. Spraying ACV on pots or hard surfaces such as decks should not damage them.
Spray the solution around the beds or the whole perimeter of the garden to help keep squirrels out.
Squirrels hate peppermint oil!
Essential oils scents squirrels dislike—peppermint, geranium, clove—are also effective deterrents. Soak cotton balls in the essential oils and place them in shallow trays (such as jar lids or saucers) around the garden or directly in planters.
We like this method for ease of application, and it does work well. We’ve found peppermint oil to work exceptionally well.
Plant squirrel-repelling flowers and plants in your garden beds
Be sure to add some strong-scented companion plants around your prized crops to keep squirrels away. A few plants that work well are :
- Alliums. These are the flowering parts of onion, scallion, and garlic plants.
- Lily of the Valley
- Learn More: If you’re curious about companion planting, we have a whole category dedicated to what plants to grow side by side for the best growth and health!
Next, You Can Try Removing What Attracts Squirrels to Your Garden
Ah, yes, the fine-you-win method.
The smell or taste of falling ripe fruit and seed attracts squirrels into the garden and feeds them very well.
Clean the fallen food underneath the tree or bird feeder. Ensure trash containers are secured to keep squirrels from finding food inside the bags.
Bird Feeders Attract Squirrels.
Squirrels love seeds, squirrels love nuts, and they are bonkers for sunflower seeds and safflower seeds – so it only follows that the pesky squirrels in your yard are going to think that the bird feeder you just set out is for them.
Try adding a squirrel baffle if you have a bird feeder and have a problem with squirrels. The baffle sits over the feeder, so when the squirrel climbs down, they slide off the baffle and cannot get to the bird seed.
Another great idea is to add cayenne pepper to the bird seed before adding it to the bird feeders. The birds are not bothered by the pepper, and the squirrels won’t want to partake.
- Our Recommendation: You can also purchase squirrel-proof bird feeders. We bought this version for a relative, and they swear it keeps the squirrels away from the bird seed.
Freshly Planted Bulbs
Flower bulbs are the nectar of the gods for squirrels, and if they get a chance and find your bulbs, they will destroy them one by one until the entire lot is gone.
One good tip I did get from a fellow gardener was to interplant the flower bulbs with garlic. Garlic will deter the squirrels and may keep them from eating the bulbs.
If a nut falls in your garden, does it make a sound? Yes, it does, and every squirrel for 100km can hear it, and they will come running (this is an exaggeration that sometimes feels true).
If you have nut trees in your yard, you will want to clean any fallen nuts that accumulate on the ground frequently.
Nut trees attract squirrels to your yard; once they find the nuts, they will find your garden next.
Like fallen nuts, fallen fruit will also attract squirrels to your garden. Of course, fruit ripening on a tree will also be a big invite, but keeping squirrels away from ripening fruit 10 feet in the air can be challenging.
Or add a level of extra protection TO keep Squirrels out of the Garden
We call this the neener-neener-neener method.
We have a 5000-square-foot garden, and there is no way to protect the entire thing, but we do try to cover our essential crops and hope that the squirrels only take portions of the rest. We’ve found success with the following:
Row covers work well for everything from squirrels to cabbage worms. Inexpensive row covers are only as good as how well they are fastened down. Any clever squirrel will find a way to crawl under if the row covers are not soundly in place.
Keep that row cover tight to the ground or raised bed to prevent smart little critters from figuring out how to get under.
Chicken wire works GREAT as a barrier, as the squirrels will not try to chew through the wire mesh. The mesh is fairly ridged as well and will stay in place. I like chicken wire around tomato plants and over crops like cabbage, broccoli, strawberries, etc.
Plastic Bird Netting
Plastic bird netting works well to keep squirrels out, but they can get caught up in it, just like the birds, and that is why I don’t like using it. The plastic netting can twist and tangle, and there is a good chance that a bird or a squirrel will get caught up in it unless it is fastened down incredibly well.
Harmful Methods That We Do Not Recommend For Keeping Squirrels Digging and Eating in Your Garden
- Squirrel traps – even non-harm traps can harm.
- Peanut butter – Peanut butter is not suitable for squirrels, and too much can harm them.
- Poisons- Poisons in the yard or garden are ALWAYS bad ideas. You run the risk of poisoning the ground, pets, and children.
- Mothballs – Do not use moth balls in your garden; they are poisonous and can leech into your soil.