Year of the squirrel



They’re safer inside.

First I heard that someone who lived in the heart of the boutique/café district of Buffalo was actually shooting them, their little dead bodies discarded on someone else’s property. Then one of my gardening friends confessed that he had been trapping them and releasing the traps in the northern suburbs. At first I was surprised that anyone would be going to such extremes, but then I began to notice weird diggings on my own property, and one morning two whole containers of tulips were almost entirely decimated.

It was then I knew that this was going to be the first tulip season where I really had to worry about squirrels.


They don’t bother the species tulips.

There have always been lots of them around the neighborhood, but they would rarely disturb the garden and never paid any attention to the hundreds of bulbs I’ve planted over the years. Even now, it’s not like they actually seem to eat or want the bulbs; they’ve merely developed a taste for digging around them and generally mangling/ruining my container plantings, tossing pansies to the ground and exposing the bare bulbs. Tulips in the ground are left alone.

Squirrel complaints are very prevalent this year. I noticed one blog where the creatures had simply lopped all the heads off a whole row of tulips, and on Facebook there was this desperate cry: “Squirrels must be … exterminated!”


I’m trying these grids on the containers.

At first I tried a homemade hot pepper solution that seemed only partially to work. Then, as the tulips were coming up, I placed a variety of metal grids over the pots. That worked better. Now that the tulips are just about over, I’m waiting to see what, if any, plants they’ll go after next. And planning to buy a bunch of extra peony support grids to have ready for next year. And counting my lucky stars that I don’t have to deal with deer or—as of yet—rabbits.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Hate them with a passion that borders on madness, I’m afraid. Freaking little tree vermin and their endless destruction of the gardens here. I’ve had them decimate a planting of over a hundred tulips. My cats and dogs only seem to give them amusement, the little buggers. I’ve even refrained from putting out bird feed this year since it encourages the bold tree rats to forage even more than they already do. Our township plants more and more oaks every year and so there is no lack of goodies for them.

  2. Squirrels act in loosely-affiliated terror cells around the country. They use the phone lines for getting around, as well as tapping them to use for communications. They listen in on your conversations. They watch your house to know when you’ve let for the day. They’ll steal your tomatoes and grab your nuts. They lie and they cheat. They cannot be trusted.

  3. I had a freaking rabbit that bore 12″ down into the side of an ornamental grass, was ripping up grass from the yard, and making a bed in the hole. I do garden for wildlife though. Can’t discriminate I guess. Maybe. Bang bang bang ratta tatta tat.

  4. Hmmm, I’ve been noticing weird diggings in my large containers (not holding tulips) for the first time and was blaming the neighborhood cats. Maybe squirrels are responsible. I’ll stop shooing away the cats and see if that changes things.

  5. The fruit and vegetable island at Chicago Botanic Gardens had a horrible time with squirrels. The squash and beans were started in a greenhouse to keep the squirrels from digging up the seeds or eating the shoots as they emerged.

    We finally resorted to have-a-heart live traps. In the three months we caught and released some 45 squirrels. (They were released on other Cook County Park areas.) Still for a four acre island garden, it was very impressive.

    Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania actually puts up and takes down an electric fence to keep critters out of their tulip displays every day in the spring. They also had a machine that makes gun noises as a deterrent for deer.

    Even the big gardens have trouble with these little fuzzy pests.

  6. Well, you American have an easy solution, or so I hear. The deer repellent called DeerVik is supposed to also deter squirrels. It isn’t available in Canada.

    I first heard about DeerVik from Margaret Bennet-Alder who writes The Toronto Gardener’s Journal. She finds it so effective, she is even willing to pay the exorbitant costs of shipping it in from the States. From what I’ve found online, it was written up in Fine Gardening some years ago, so it has some other provenance.

    I’ve never used it myself, but it might be worth a try. You just dip sticks into the sticky stuff and place them amongst your tulips.

    I have a tiny, maybe 10’x10′ garden, but try to include tulips. Looking in my 10-year gardening journal the other day I noticed: “Squirrels beheaded 15 tulips.” Not too many left after that, I’ll tell ya!

  7. I live in a rural area of North Florida, where hunting was and still is a way of life. My solution is to have my husband or grandson shoot the squirrels during hunting season. When we have enough for a meal, we eat them. We would do the same with rabbits and deer, if they were a problem. We do not eat coons, possums or armadillos, but we do kill them on occassion if they are destroying something (most of the time the armadillos are). If we can find somebody that wants the animals, we give them away; otherwise my husband feeds them to the buzzards (hey, they have to eat too).
    While I agree that the destruction of predator’s habitat and the decline of predators is part of the problem, I also feel that the decrease in hunting for food contributes to the problem. For years, families had to kill wild game to have enough meat. Now that most meat is bought at a grocery store, only avid hunters continue to shoot game animals that cause problems in gardens and on farms.
    I realize that not everybody feels that killing a nuisance animal is morally or socially acceptable. I don’t condemn them for their soft-hearted approach to life, and they shouldn’t condemn me for my shoot-to-kill approach to pest control.
    As a postscript, the woman in one article wouldn’t put poison out because of the stray cats – Does she realize how many diseases stray cats carry and how many more stray cats there will be, if the population isn’t controlled some way? And, let’s be realistic, all of the stray cats (or dogs) in the world will never be adopted.

  8. Melody, in a tight urban neighborhood, shooting just isn’t a good option, but I have no problem with hunting (where it is allowed) or even with the organized bait and shoot programs for deer in the suburbs. You have to do something. As long as it has regulations and supervision, so people don’t get shot.

    Frank, as to your 3 links:
    Ew, ew, ew!!!

  9. Squirrels are the reason I do not grow tulips or other bulbs. It was too depressing to lose them all year after year.

  10. “Get a cat. Few cats are capable of catching squirrls, but they do act as a deterent. ”

    Um, no. Cats are not controllable weapons nor disposable resources. If they chase off one squirrel, they won’t hang around waiting for the next one. They are far more likely to wander off and hunt birds. Bad idea.

    Blood and bone meal are good cheap ways of keeping squirrels from digging. They dislike the smell. Stuff needs to be refreshed after heavy rains.

    I will have to wait until next year to test things that prevent tulip decapitation. Most of mine are species, but the gorgeous Red Emperors all lost their heads, and T marjoletti is currently a bouquet in a Mason jar on the fireplace mantel.

  11. Lolo is right. She knows squirrels. I too have squirrels from h**l. My sure-fire deterrent is Cayenne pepper powder. It works and is cheaper than buying support grids. Get the big container from a warehouse club – that’s the cheapest way. Sprinkle it liberally in your beds. It doesn’t hurt the plants. It will have to be refreshed from time to time but it doesn’t lose a lot of its punch when it rains. If you’ve cooked with it you know it packs a punch even when diluted. Squirrels hate it. I love it.

  12. I have no squirrels this year. A total of 0 in my garden. The reason is that last year the oak trees in my part of the world had no acorns–not just a poor crop, but none at all. Unfortunately, the squirrels hereabouts starved. And not only the little grey ones, but all the lovely flying ones as well, unless people learned about the problem and put out food for them.

    For me, there isn’t anything much more upsetting than having dead or dying small beasties in my garden as was the case last fall. So, this spring my seedlings have come up untampered with, and my tulips all bloomed in the places where I had planted them, but I have no acrobats in the trees, no sly and clever little thieves at the feeders, and my garden is too quiet.

    Yes, they’re furry little thugs, but they are clever too and I have to admire them while I try to outwit them. (and P.S. — many cats can indeed catch squirrels. I know this because I had one who used to kill two or three a week when the babies came out to play. He would line them up neatly outside the back door so I could admire them.)

  13. I have only species tulips, so no problems there, but I’ll go to war with you in sympathy. It’s shredding my waist-high azaleas that gets me mad. It took 5 years to grow that plant, and it was gone in 2 days. I WISH I could hunt them. Liquid Fence helps.

  14. I buy big bags of dried hot peppers and mix them with coffee grounds and scatter them in the garden. I find it works like cayenne, but lasts longer. Just be careful not to touch your eyes!

  15. You can either get a dog, who will dig up your tulips for sure, or you can take a few steps. Having dealt with squirrels decimating my tomatoes a while back (we lived next to a park at the time), I can tell you what I did. I placed bird netting over my tomatoes… They chewed through the netting. Coyote urine did squat. I even found a critter rummaging around in my tomatoes when I was reapplying and sprayed it with the bottle to no effect! So my last resort (without resorting to poisoning or killing the buggers, or violating city laws regarding wrist rockets and firearms), I got a Hav-A-Heart trap.

    A dab of peanut butter and next morning I had a critter chittering away it was unhappy. Well, I was unhappy about the time I found a squirrel absconding with one of my tomatoes along the top of the patio fence, and after a loud, “HEY!” it dropped the tomato which it dropped and lobbed through the air and splattered all over my front door! It was pay back time! Hubby worked 5 miles away across from a large regional park, which he would relocate my latest prisoner. The number of squirrels destroying my tomato crop decreased.

    You can also try one of those motion activated sprinkler deterrents. Don’t know how good those work.

    This year I have a healthy number of cats that love to relax on my back porch. So I figure the cats will keep the critters in check.

  16. Major chuckles, The Critter Wars. I live in the forest and we have them all, deer, turkey, squirrels, raccoons, possum, rabbits, chipmunks, mice, voles, moles, stray hounds, feral cats, hawks, owls and snakes. Now what varmint have I forgot?

    The most surprising thing is the damage they cause with the exception of the raccoon and my sweet corn is close to non-existent. This is definitely an active hunting area by the locals, but I really think for the most part the mast produced by the forest keeps them all well fed and at a distance.

    The three cats that adopted me last fall have been very good about catching the small furry critters attracted by the bird feeders and very unsuccessful at catching birds fed mainly at a second floor level. For the first time in a decade there are no mice living in the house. Sealing all the holes in the house helped a lot too.

  17. I have three cats, but they never catch a squirrel. This year, I spent all April watching the squirrels delicately pick up and eat the $30 worth of grass and clover seed I’d planted.

    They also treat my goldfish pond as the corner bar.

    I agree with everybody who thinks there is insufficient hunting in the Northeast. I just don’t want to do the shooting myself.

  18. Don’t get me started! I wouldn’t resort to actual murder, but I do dream of relocation. My homemade remedy that seemed to work for keeping them away was chili peppers and onions boiled, cooled and sprayed on the soil, with a sprinkling of paprika on top. Not sure if you want your flowers smelling like this, but it did the trick with only a few re-applications and they must have got the message. Good luck keeping your flowers safe from the ravages of rodents!

  19. I just had the telephone tech out yesterday and was informed that the phone was out due to squirrel(s). According to the tech, they chew the lines and break into the main boxes and nest in them. That said, I enjoy watching the squirrel highjinks — although they make my hound dog go nuts. And, I caught my young kitten hot in pursuit of a squirrel going up a tree. Lastly, to Melody’s comment re: stray cats & disease — most urban areas have mice / rat problems, and those are nastier than the cats, which help to control them. Ideally, there is a catch & release spay/neuter program for feral cats to keep the population in check.

  20. I had a att tech tell me my phone line was also chewed up by squirrels about a month ago! Unreal. I live across the street from a school and at first I thought it was the darn school kids pulling my tulips… but now I know it was the squirrels. I have three new peonie bushes and one had a bud that some jerky squirrel plucked off and ate. Luckily, my very feminine doberman took it upon herself to murder one of the squirrels and carried it around outside for two day without my knowledge. I guess she had a hiding place somewhere in the yard Anyway, she grew up in an apartment and only knew from leash walks, so this murdering thing was an additional all new and exciting thing to her now that we live in a house. I was horrified at first… I love her and kiss her all the time and suddenly that doesn’t seem like such a great idea… but now I have noticed that there are like no squirrels in my yard. This is additionally good because I noticed that some jerky squirrel had also chewed up some of my solid wood fence posts that are more than 4″ thick! UGH!

  21. I was told to hang moth balls in a stocking on the pecan tree, well that does not work . I am going to start shooting them with a air rifle. i wanted pecan pie for thanksgiving this year. I killed and ate them when I was a kid. So it will not go to waste.

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