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Last updated: May 24, 2023
A guide with ten practical methods to stop squirrels from digging up plants and keep them out of your garden.
Whether digging up your soil or munching on your produce, squirrels can quickly undo all the hard work you’ve put into your vegetable and flower gardens.
Luckily, despite how intelligent and persistent these rodents can be, there are some effective ways to keep them from damaging your plants without resorting to drastic or expensive measures.
In this article, I will share ten tried and true methods to keep squirrels away from plants and out of your garden. And further below, I’ll explain why squirrels are so attracted to plants in your garden in the first place.
10 Tips to Stop Squirrels From Digging up Plants
In no particular order, try one or more of the following tips to stop squirrels from digging up plants in your garden or backyard.
1. Cayenne Pepper
Whether you have a hungry squirrel or one who buries peanuts in your plants’ roots, cayenne pepper is a great deterrent. The capsaicin in these peppers that makes them spicy to humans also makes them taste and smell bad to squirrels.
If squirrels keep digging up your plants, sprinkle ground cayenne pepper on the soil around the base. The spicy powder will stick to their feet and drive them away before they have a chance to dig.
For thieving squirrels who keep stealing your flower buds or produce, mix some cayenne pepper oil with a spray bottle full of water and a dash of soap. Spray the mix on your produce and plants. The taste will deter squirrels from grabbing a bite.
But do keep in mind that capsaicin is toxic to pollinators, so don’t use the spray on the flower buds themselves.
If you’d like to learn more about this, read my guide on using cayenne pepper to deter squirrels for more tips and information.
2. Install Physical Barriers
Physical barriers are one of the best ways to protect your vegetable garden, not just from squirrels but from other animals like rabbits and birds.
Since squirrels are excellent climbers and jumpers, you will have to create a barrier that extends over your garden as well as down the sides.
A covered garden with chicken wire fencing works well and allows light to still come through. You can also use hoop houses with netting to keep squirrels out.
If your squirrels are targeting just one or two plants, you can use a tomato cage wrapped in netting or wire to protect your produce until it’s ready to harvest.
3. Install a Squirrel Scarecrow
Squirrels are a little more habituated to the presence of humans than crows, but that doesn’t mean you can’t trick these pests into thinking something is there that isn’t.
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Decoy owls and snakes do wonders to keep squirrels from taking to the ground in your garden.
Just be sure to move the decoys around each day to keep these surprisingly smart critters from figuring out the ruse.
4. Use Motion Activated Sprinklers
Motion-activated sprinklers are an incredibly effective way to keep squirrels out of your garden no matter why they’ve come.
These smart products initiate a strong, rotating sprinkler spray whenever they sense motion. The sound of the sprinkler is usually enough to spook most squirrels off, even if the water doesn’t get near them.
Because squirrels are small and these motion sensors only detect up to so far away, this solution is best utilized in small gardens. If you do have a larger space, you’ll have to invest in multiple sprinklers to cover the entire area.
5. Opt for Squirrel Repelling Plants
If you have squirrels wreaking havoc in your flower garden because they are constantly burying food or eating the flowers, it may be worth opting for some plants that squirrels don’t like.
Mint, alliums, geraniums, daffodils, hyacinths, and many other strongly smelling flowers and herbs tend to drive squirrels away. These critters have a highly tuned sense of smell, so they avoid anything that can overwhelm their sinuses.
While these plants aren’t likely to be enough to keep squirrels from stealing your strawberries, they do work well to keep them from digging in the soil directly around them. They are a great choice for filling garden beds frequently targeted for winter storage.
6. Apply Essential Oils
The strong odors that make some plants repellent to squirrels are even more effective when distilled into essential oils. Like cayenne pepper, these concentrated oils can be applied to garden soil and vegetable plants to keep squirrels away.
For use on plants, mix about ten drops of peppermint, cinnamon, clove, garlic, or thyme with 1 cup of water and a dash of soap. Put the mixture into a spray bottle and spray on your produce and plants, avoiding flowers where pollinators are active.
To protect the soil, mix these essential oils with diatomaceous earth and sprinkle the powder on the ground where needed. You can also soak cotton balls in the mixture outlined above and set them in areas the squirrels target. Just be sure to reapply every few days as needed.
7. Make a DIY Squirrel Repellent
If you don’t have essential oils, you can make your own easy squirrel repellent at home using garlic and vinegar.
Start by mincing a few cloves of garlic. Add these to a mixture of 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar and 1/2 cup water. Let the mixture sit for a few days to infuse the garlic oils. Then strain out the garlic and add the liquid to a spray bottle.
The strong scent of garlic and vinegar will quickly repel squirrels from your vegetable and flower gardens. Read my guide on scents that repel squirrels for more ideas to keep squirrels away from your plants.
8. Cover the Ground
One simple solution to top squirrels from digging in your garden beds is to make it harder for them to dig.
Adding a thick layer of cedar mulch, which tends to be very pokey on little hands, is the simplest solution. Mulching with river rock is more expensive but even more effective.
You can also use chicken wire buried just below the surface to thwart squirrels’ digging efforts.
9. Give Them What They Want
If squirrels are targeting your veggie garden because they’re hungry, the easiest solution may be to give them what they want.
Put your veggie scraps and extra produce on a feeding platform on the other side of your yard and let the thieves fill up on those instead. Just be mindful that any longer-lasting food you provide, such as peanuts or corn, is likely to end up buried back in your garden.
If your squirrels target high-moisture fruits like tomatoes or melons, they may just be after the water. Setting a bowl of water out for them each day should be enough to keep them from ruining your harvest.
I have also had success planting sunflowers around my veggie beds. Squirrels and raccoons love these flower heads so much that they never touch any other produce in my garden. Plus, they do a great job reseeding the sunflowers, so I don’t have to waste energy planting them again next year.
If you enjoy watching squirrels in the yard and you don’t have plants to protect, read my guide on how to feed squirrels with safe and sensible tips to attract squirrels to your backyard.
10. Add Bone, Hair or Urine to Your Soil
It may sound a bit odd, but these things do wonders for repelling squirrels as long as you get the right product.
Bone meal is a common soil enhancer that does wonders for keeping squirrels from digging. Mix a little with some garden soil and sprinkle it around plants in problem areas. The smell of the bone will be enough to keep them away, and your plants will thank you for the extra nutrients.
Hair, from dogs and humans, will also scare away these highly scent-oriented pests. Next time you get a haircut or brush the pup, save the hair and scatter it around the garden in any problem areas.
With urine, I suggest picking up some coyote or wild cat urine from your local garden store. These highly concentrated products carry a long-lasting scent that scares squirrels away. This method is better suited to flower gardens away from the house and is not advised for veggie gardens.
Why Do Squirrels Like Our Gardens?
There are two main reasons why squirrels like to dig up plants.
1. To Bury Food
The most common reason squirrels become a nuisance in the garden is that they constantly look for places to stash their food.
To get through the winter, they’ll bury food in the ground. If that ground happens to be your garden, prepare for holes in your soil, dug-up plant roots, and mulch tossed into the grass.
These disturbances in the garden are most common when squirrels have an excess of less-perishable food around. Seeds, nuts, and corn are all great food sources worth stashing for the winter.
If you or your neighbors are feeding the birds or squirrels, expect to see more squirrel damage in your garden than usual.
2. To Eat
Of course, if there isn’t a plethora of extra food around, then the plants in your garden may be what’s attracting squirrels. In this case, your plants, rather than the soil, are likely to take the brunt of the damage.
Fruits, veggies, and even some flowers make tasty treats for squirrels. This makes backyard gardens, both flower and veggie, the perfect buffet for a hungry squirrel.
If you’re constantly dealing with beheaded flowers, missing tomatoes, or chewed-on zucchini, squirrels are your most likely culprit.
If you’re actively attracting birds to your yard, read my guide on bird feeders and squirrels with tips to keep squirrels away from the meals for your birds.