How to Keep Squirrels Out of Garden [& What They Eat Most]

squirrel on ground

Efforts to keep squirrels out of your garden can go a long way in terms of your sanity while gardening.

There’s almost nothing worse than spending MONTHS growing tomatoes or some awesome pumpkin variety, and then you come out one day and there’s a huge chunk taken out of it, or even just a few bite marks is enough to ruin that plant.

Not only are squirrels awful for tomatoes, but if you have bird feeders, good luck 🙂

How to Tell if Squirrels Are Eating Your Plants

If you suspect that squirrels are eating your plants, look for these telltale clues:

Worn-down or gnawed leaves on shrubs and trees.

These animals will chew off the tips of branches to get at buds and blossoms.

squirrel tomato damage

Torn-up leaf litter on the ground under your trees or plants. This indicates that squirrels are eating tree buds and even young shoots in the springtime. If squirrels or chipmunks are digging holes, you may find acorns and other seeds buried there.

Small piles of dark scat (squirrel poop) near feeding sites.

If you see any of these signs, it is likely that your plants are suffering because of squirrels or chipmunks.

What Do Squirrels Generally Eat?

Squirrels eat fallen nuts, acorns, sunflower seeds, all kinds of vegetables that many gardeners plant, and they love bird feed.

Squirrels are notorious for digging up freshly planted bulbs, flowers, or seeds. They will also eat just about any kind of fruit or vegetable they can get their paws on. And yes, squirrels love to eat tomatoes.

Although squirrels don’t usually cause permanent damage to healthy trees and shrubs, they do dig up bulbs and flower buds in the fall or spring.

In an urban environment, squirrels may not be able to find enough food in the wild; they might crave a little extra in the form of a neighborhood garden. Lucky you! 🙂

How to Keep Squirrels Out of Your Garden

It’s not easy keeping squirrels out of your garden. Considering they can climb 50-foot tall trees, I don’t think your 8-foot fence is going to keep them out.

Here are some great ideas to help mitigate the damage they do to your garden.

Fencing and Covers

Yes, I just said fences alone won’t work. But if you add a “lid” to them, why wouldn’t it help?

Plastic netting or bird netting can help keep squirrels from getting to your prized plants.

But you can also go a little more durable and put some hardware cloth (essentially metal mesh) or chicken wire on top of your plants.

These are good options, but as plants grow you’ll need to raise these up to allow them to gain some more height.

Electric Fence

Another option is to use an electric fence that will emit a high-pitched sound when activated by squirrels coming into contact with it.

This sound is unpleasant to humans but not harmful—and it doesn’t bother birds at all! The fences are inexpensive and easy enough for any homeowner to install themselves without professional help.

Motion-Activated Sprinkler

This is my all-time favorite option. Not only is it effective, but it’s hilarious to watch in action.

The Garden Enforcer - Motion Activated Sprinkler

A motion activated sprinkler works wonders for keeping animals (and people!) out of your yard. It sprays intermittently as it detects continuous motion so animals won't get used to the timing of it.

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Point one of your home security cameras towards the garden, or set up a trail cam, and watch this magic happen the next time a “cute” little squirrel tries to eat your veggies.

A motion-activated sprinkler will work day and night to protect your garden from these furry thieves.

Scarecrow or Fake Owl

Have you ever seen a squirrel being hunted by an owl? Talk about creepy! No wonder this option works for keeping squirrels away.

Plastic Owl Scarecrow Sculpture

Fake owls are great for keeping many animals out of the garden, including squirrels, deer, birds, and more.

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Place a fake owl or hawk in the corner of the garden and you can realize for a little bit.

Pro Tip here — you can’t just set it and forget it with this. If squirrels realize something isn’t moving, they’re going to realize it’s not real.

So make sure you move it around the garden every couple of days.

Let Your Dogs Run Around the Yard

Most dogs love to chase squirrels around the yard, and they can do so without hurting them.

If you don’t have a dog or if yours doesn’t like squirrels, you can try whistling at the squirrel. This is also a good way to get your kids interested in protecting the garden too!

Even when the dogs are not running around anymore, the hair they leave behind has a strong scent and can keep squirrels at bay.

Cayenne Pepper Spray

Some of the strongest capsicum (pepper) is found in cayenne peppers. Sprayed on plants, it can deter squirrels from eating them. You can add garlic into the spray for an added effect.

You can also use other types of hot peppers or chili peppers in your spray.

Companion Planting

Companion planting is kind of like having your own personal army of repellents. You can plant these “relics” in your garden to keep squirrels away.

Plants That Repel Squirrels

Here are some companion plants that will help deter squirrels and other animals from feasting on your vegetables:

One good trick is to use companion planting to discourage these rodents from eating your veggies.

Certain plants can actually repel squirrels, while others will attract them away from more nutritious plants.

Here are some of my favorite repellent and attractive plants:

Marigolds – A fan-favorite for keeping deer, rabbits, and other pests away from your garden.

For some reason, squirrels hate marigolds almost as much as they hate my motion-activated sprinklers and It’s working for me! Marigolds are nice to look at too, so it’s a win-win in my book. I plant them all around my yard every year.

Onions – You can plant onions to help keep squirrels out, but you can also use whole onions in the garden to keep squirrels away.

Wrap onion bulbs in mesh bags and hang them near the plants you want to protect.

Garlic – You can also plant garlic as a companion plant around the edge of your garden, like a little perimeter fence for rodents.

Adding garlic to your pepper spray will help keep squirrels away as well.

Thorny or Spined Plants

One method is to plant thorny plants such as blackberries, roses, or forsythia near the trunks of trees and around the perimeter of your garden beds.

Coffee Grounds

I love a good cup of coffee — but squirrels do NOT like the scent of coffee. While you can just throw your coffee grounds in the compost bin, you can also sprinkle them around the garden to discourage squirrels from eating your vegetables.

Squirrel Traps

Here’s something NOT to do. Squirrel traps are effective short-term, but they are going to come back, or the ones left around your vegetable garden will just create more babies.

How to Grow Sunflowers Without Squirrels Taking All of the Seeds

One of the things squirrels love to eat the most is sunflower seeds. They’d have a lot of fun at a baseball game.

All kidding aside, how can you keep squirrels from eating all of the seeds as soon as you put them in the ground? Well, you can use some of the options above, but you can also put a small cage around your newly planted seeds.

Gardeners Advantage Protective Garden Dome

Great for protecting against:

  • Birds
  • Squirrels
  • Rabbits
  • Deer
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These help keep birds out as well, as birds love to eat sunflower seeds too. This isn’t shocking considering they are a big part of most birdseed mixes.

You can also put down row covers – but make sure they allow for enough sunlight to get through for them to grow.

The sunflowers will be able to grow about 6-8 inches all before you remove the cage, so the seeds will be well established.

My Favorite Squirrel Repellent Stack

When it comes to keeping squirrels out of your garden, there are a number of options you can try. Some methods involve creating an environment that is inhospitable for these furry creatures while others encourage them away from eating vegetables and fruits in the first place.

My favorite “squirrel repellent stack” is the fake owl combined with a motion-activated sprinkler for some good comedic relief 🙂

The most effective method may be combining repellant plants with companion planting and other deterrents such as scarecrows or fake owls hanging around the perimeter of gardens. You can also plant thorny plants near trees or use coffee grounds to discourage their presence altogether!

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