Keeping outdoor plants in containers can be an excellent way of doing a little gardening in areas where you don’t have a lot of ground to work with. It also protects your plants from a number of burrowing insects or other plant-eating pests.
But a container is no match for a squirrel. You’ll need to take a few extra steps to keep squirrels out of your potted plants, or even your in-ground outdoor garden.
A Little More About Squirrels
Understanding your opponent is the first step in defeating him.
Squirrels are agile rodents that most people recognize as they dart around in the yard, or scurry from tree branch to tree branch. They’ve got long bushy tails and are usually black, grey or rusty red.
Squirrels nest in trees, and occasionally they work their way into your home to live in an attic or under the eaves. Active during the day, they can also be a year-round problem because they don’t really hibernate in the winters.
Expect to see them around no matter the season.
The idea that squirrels are always after nuts isn’t accurate and you shouldn’t assume that nuts or seeds are the only thing a squirrel is looking for in your yard. They actually have a wide varied diet that includes fruit, vegetables, tubers, flowers, and even bird eggs or insects on occasion.
Their behavior can be at its worst in the fall. Though they don’t hibernate, and need a continuous source of food all through the winter. This is when their quest for nuts is at its highest because they have to store them away.
And this also means that a lot of their digging isn’t about searching for food, but rather finding a good hiding spot for nuts they have already found.
So how do you keep these clever critters out of your potted plants? There are few avenues you can consider.
1 – Use Taste and Smell
A relatively easy way to keep squirrels out of your potted plants is to make them as unappealing as possible. That means to spoil their taste, and change their smell.
You can use homemade sprays with garlic or strong citrus oils, or sprinkle hot cayenne pepper on the leaves as well as the surrounding soil.
Cayenne pepper can be painful on the nose, and that’s not just squirrels. If you have outside pets, be aware that they will get a surprise if they start nosing around your plants.
Blood meal or fish emulsion can also be unpleasant to a squirrel, and can be added to the soil of your plants. Just be aware that these are high in nitrogen and actually sold as fertilizers. Only use them in your container plants if you know the soil can withstand the extra nutrients.
As an interesting side note, you can also use this type of hot pepper technique to keep squirrels out of a bird feeder. Just mix the pepper in with the bird food, and the squirrels will soon start to look elsewhere for a snack.
The best part is that it won’t do any harm to your visiting birds. They are unable to taste cayenne pepper, leaving them to eat your bird seed as usual.
2 – Set Up a Blockade
Another effective option is to cover or block the exposed soil surface of your container plants. Squirrels may still nibble on the plants, but at least they won’t be digging or uprooting anything.
A layer of stones can do the trick, providing you don’t create too much of a barrier for water. Large smooth river stones are excellent for this. They’re heavy enough to keep squirrels from pushing them around, and yet leave enough gaps for water to flow down to the soil.
Chicken wire or other mesh material can also be layered on the earth in the pot around your plants to prevent digging. You just have to cut it down to the right sizes to fit your plant containers.
Both of these techniques also work if you have a cat using your potted plants as a litter box. See my other tips for keeping cats out of your plants, if that’s a problem for you.
3 – Create Distractions
This option is a bit riskier, as it can make your squirrel problem worse. Still, it can be the right solution for your situation.
If squirrels are digging in your plant pots for food, you can give them a more appealing option elsewhere.
By adding a squirrel feeder in another part of your yard, offering nuts, seeds, fruit and other tasty treats, you may convince the pests to just dine there instead.
The key is to always keep it filled, or you are just going to draw more squirrels to the yard that end up in your flowers when the feeder is empty.
4 – Scare Them Off
Unlike some other yard wildlife, squirrels are not that skittish and it can be tough to scare them off once they are used to people. Short of standing guard and chasing them, there aren’t that many things that will drive out squirrels.
Hanging a few foil pie plates is a classic one, letting them clatter around unpredictably in the breeze. Another choice is to mount a plastic owl or hawk model on a nearby perch.
As a predator, their appearance may make a squirrel think twice before approaching your container plants.
5 – Place Traps
If none of these techniques work out, you can always resort to trapping the squirrels. Using lethal traps is a little drastic and there are good live-trapping devices that work quite well. Give those a try first.
This approach also means you don’t accidentally kill another animal that happens to make their way into the trap, like the neighbor’s cat.
These types of traps can be purchased at most home improvement stores or garden centers.
Set one or two up around your potted plants, and bait with whole peanuts or peanut butter. Once you have a squirrel captured, take it to any nearby wooded area away from your home and let it go.
Hopefully the other techniques mentioned above will be successful so you won’t have to resort to the hassle of trapping.