Potted Plants And Squirrels: Learn How To Protect Container Plants From Squirrels

By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener

Squirrels are tenacious creatures and if they decide to dig a tunnel in your potted plant, it may seem like keeping squirrels out of containers is a hopeless task. If you’ve had it up to here with potted plants and squirrels, here are a few suggestions that may help.

Why Do Squirrels Dig in Flower Pots?

Squirrels dig primarily to bury their cache of food, such as acorns or nuts. Flower pots are ideal because potting soil is so soft and easy for squirrels to dig. Chances are, you’ll find their tasty treasure trove buried a few inches deep in your containers. Unfortunately, the critters may also dig up bulbs or chew on your tender potted plants.

How to Protect Container Plants from Squirrels

Protecting potted plants from squirrels is basically a matter of trial and error, but the following suggestions are certainly worth a try.

Mix something into the potting soil that squirrels find distasteful. Natural repellents may include cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, vinegar, peppermint oil or garlic (or try a combination of two or more).

Similarly, create a homemade squirrel repellent consisting of 2 tablespoons black pepper, 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper, one chopped onion and one chopped jalapeno pepper. Boil the mixture for 15 to 20 minutes, then strain it through a fine strainer or cheesecloth. Pour the strained mixture into a spray bottle and use it to spray the soil around potted plants. The mixture is powerful enough to irritate your skin, lips and eyes, so use with care.

Add dried blood (blood meal) to the potting mix. Blood meal is a high-nitrogen fertilizer, so be careful not to apply excessive amounts.

A layer of rocks on top of the potting soil may discourage squirrels from digging. However, rocks can become hot enough to damage plants during the summer months. Alternatively, a thick layer of mulch may be beneficial for keeping squirrels out of containers and will be much healthier for plants.

Consider hanging decorative or shiny elements near your potted plants to scare squirrels away For example, try colorful pinwheels or spinners, old CDs or aluminum pie pans.

Cover potted plants with a cage made from chicken wire, plastic bird netting or hardware cloth – especially during the offseason when squirrels are more prone to “planting” their stash, which they normally come back for later digging up precious bulbs in the process. If you don’t like the idea of surrounding your plants, try cutting small pieces that you can lay under the surface if the soil.

If you have blackberry vines or wild roses growing nearby, cut a few stems and poke them into the soil, standing upright. The thorns may be sharp enough to discourage squirrels from digging.

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