Squirrel solutions

Earlier this summer, this elusive squirrel delayed the game between the Detroit Tigers and the visiting Boston Red Sox while the grounds crew chased after it. It was eventually captured in the visitor dugout.

Squirrels are amusing and entertaining to watch. They're handsome, too. But they can create problems: They dig up perennials as they hunt for acorns hidden in the mulch. They knock over potted plants. They consume the expensive bird feed you bought to attract cardinals and goldfinches to your yard. They gnaw holes in houses to get into attics so they can build nests with your attic insulation.

And, yes, squirrels are well known for knocking out the power, which isn't good for the squirrels or those who don't expect their refrigerators to stop working in the middle of the day.

If the squirrels in your yard have become troublesome, how do you deter them? The Evergreen [Colo.] Animal Protective League suggests that you start by thinking about eliminating  the things that attract the squirrels in the first place:

Bird seed
Pet food
Deciduous trees
Plant seeds

Well, if you're a gardener, you can see that it's going to be impossible to eliminate most of the items on that list. No deciduous trees? No flowers? Impossible.

OK, then, what's the next step? Some suggestions from Yggdrasil Urban Wildlife Rescue Education Center in Oakland, Calif:

– To prevent digging, lay down chicken wire and allow plants to grow through it.
– For bulbs, spread a layer of cayenne pepper powder over them.
– Place ammonia-soaked rags in spots where you've spotted squirrels.

To prevent digging, the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, Calif., recommends putting smooth river rocks (available at building supply companies) on top of the soil.

Keeping squirrels out of fruit and nut trees isn't easy, notes the Maryland Department of Natural Resources:

Tall fruit and nut trees can be protected by trimming away lower branches that come within six feet of the ground and then placing an 18-inch long sheet metal cylinder around the trunk. The top of the cylinder should be about four and one-half feet above the ground. Groves of dwarf trees can be protected by an electric fence of the type used for livestock. Place three or four strands at 4-inch intervals on metal, not wooden, stakes.

You might also want to spray plants with hot pepper or wolf pee, suggests Niall Dunne for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

"Squirrels hate muddy feet and if, when you plant your bulbs, you 'muddify' the area in a big way, the animals will not dig up the bulbs," says Doug Green of Simple Gifts Farm. "Also, plant tulips a little deeper than recommended on the packages. Do not leave tulip debris on the ground after planting."

You'll also find solutions in some previous Monitor articles and posts:
Hey, squirrels, I want some tomatoes, too!
Public Enemy No. 1

As a last resort, you may have to consider a Havahart trap. "Live-trapping gray squirrels, using metal box traps at least two feet long is often the most effective way to remove them," says Connecticut's Department of Environmental Education. "Place traps, baited with apple chunks, peanut butter, or various nuts, in heavily traveled routes or on rooftops, along porch railings, or within the attic. Once trapped, squirrels should be quickly removed from cages and released."

Or, practically every locality has a business that removes nuisance wildlife. If you have a nature center in your area, ask the folks there for a recommendation of one that follows best practices in not harming wildlife.

Maybe, in the end, the best thing you can do about a squirrel problem is laugh about it.

More Monitor gardening: Our main gardening page. Our blog archive. Our RSS feed.

You may also want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos -- and possibly win a prize. Deadline is Aug. 11. Join the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions.

And finally, you can now follow us on Twitter, which is where the idea for this post came from: via @OpnSkyGardening.

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