A few weeks ago I posted about a squirrel raid on my balcony… This was the first, but definitely not the last invasion of the furry bandits into my garden, and I spent this time trying out different things to scare them (now I know that it’s impossible) or at least keep them away from the plants. Here are some hard truths that I learned and strategies I developed.
- Trying to scare the squirrels away is pointless.
- I’ve tried an ultrasound device that also blasts cat meows and owl screeches sporadically – no result. Yes, I could have tried three more devices from different manufacturers, but it seemed like a waste, plus my gut feeling was telling me to stop…
- I’ve also put out a radio with NPR on. It worked for about two days, but then things returned to how they were. Only now the squirrels developed a taste for public radio, I guess.
- Some people suggest putting out cat hair (and spent litter) to scare the critters away. This may work for the suburban squirrels, but the ones that stop by my place not only ignore the smells, but fight back when my cat (6x the size of a squirrel!) tries to chase them…
- You can keep the menace away from plants by putting up a sturdy barrier. Since we’re talking about gardening here, this barrier also has to let the sunlight, water and air through. You also need to be able to pass through the barrier somehow to get to the plants :). I think the best solution long term would be to build rigid cages along the balcony walls with removable sides, but I opted for the less sturdy short-term solution and am wrapping (loosely) all plants in bird netting. This has been fairly successful so far, but wrapping and then unwrapping the plants whenever you need to do something is time-consuming and, let’s face it, quite annoying. Keeps the plants safe, though!
- The netting can damage young plants (because of its weight, plus sometimes the squirrels will sit on it), so I started protecting the fragile plants with tubes cut out of plastic bottles.
- The netting is not entirely squirrel-proof. When faced with too much free time, they can stick their claws through the holes and try to dig in wrapped planters. While they probably won’t be able to take anything away, they may damage younger plants while doing so.
- You can distract the squirrels and keep them preoccupied by bribing them with foods they can’t devour in a second. I settled on unshelled nuts and peanuts. It seems expensive at first, compared to sunflower seeds, but it takes them a few minutes to go through a nut, whereas they shell and chew up a sunflower seed in a second or so.
I tried to do some research on the foods that squirrels enjoy (I mean, there must be a reason why they chewed down my blueberry bush so badly that I could barely find the root, right?).
Sensibly, in addition to unshelled nuts, people also recommend carrots and other harder veggies and fruit. The squirrels that occupy my balcony, though, refused everything I tried from that category (carrots, pumpkin, apples and pears). So I decided not to care about their nutritional needs any more and stick to the nuts and occasional seeds. The most annoying thing about the bribing is that they throw the shells everywhere, and try to bury some of them…
- Squirrel activity ebbs and flows with the season. Early spring was insane, probably because they were very hungry after a tough winter (not that tough, though, as they regularly helped themselves to my bird feeder…), and the females were pregnant. Now, as we’re approaching June, it is much better. I even started experimenting with keeping some of the sturdier plants unwrapped. Still, if I fail to replenish their nut tray, they go straight for my plants… I also anticipate a lot more digging in the Fall as the animals prepare for winter.
I was fortunate to capture this on video! This squirrel is working on a walnut, then tries to bury it in the planter, but fails because of the netting. In the end, he just leaves the nut to sit there on top of the net, pats it with his hands (as if pretending to bury it) and walks away…
Feed your squirrels!