Dealing With Pests In a Container Garden: Squirrels

by Fern on June 15, 2009

in Pests & Problems

Last month I started a new series on dealing with pests in container gardens. First up was one of the grossest pests around: snails and slugs. I shared my snail control ideas, and you all shared some great ideas too.

This month, let’s discuss squirrels. They’re pesky enough when your garden is on the ground, but when your garden is on a balcony, it is often even easier for the cute, yet destructive, little buggers to get at your plants. Your garden is now just a hop, skip and a jump from the nearest tree. Literally.

Photo by INJ

To be totally honest, I don’t think there is any truly effective method of keeping squirrels out of your pots. All of the things that work 100% of the time, or even enough to say “consistently deters squirrels” are methods that are either difficult to implement in a container garden, overly tedious, or are so ugly/obtrusive that they defeat the purpose of having a balcony garden in the first place.

So…when you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! Try leaving out nuts and other treats for squirrels to attract their attention away from digging in your pots. Or put the nuts in pots that won’t be harmed by a little squirrel activity (i.e. with an established “tough” plant). Hopefully the squirrels will be so busy with the treats you’ve left for them that they will forget about those pots newly planted with bulbs or large seeds that squirrels seem to love digging up and nibbling on.

Here are some other things to try (no guarantees though!)

  • In pots with trees and nothing else, I’ve found that large river stones covering all the exposed dirt works pretty well in keeping squirrels out of the pot. Mere gravel won’t work. The rocks need to be large enough that squirrels can’t easily push them aside. Obviously this won’t work in pots newly planted with seeds or bulbs because it will prevent them from being able to push their leaves above the soil.
  • For pots newly planted with seeds or bulbs that must stay outside, you can create a chicken wire “sleeve” by forming a loop just big enough to slide all the way around the pot. Secure the ends with twist ties and then slide the pot inside the loop. The weight of the pot will keep the squirrels from being able to get under the chicken wire. This isn’t the most attractive option, but it might be worth it for bulbs that must be outside during the fall and early spring to get enough cold weather.
  • A cheaper option than the chicken wire method for pots with seeds or bulbs would be to put a stick in the pot and then drape clear plastic (like the plastic covering your clothes from the dry cleaners) over the stick and either tuck it under the pot or use duct tape to secure the edges to the sides of the pot. The downsides are (1) plastic all over your balcony is ugly, and (2) it’s difficult to water the pots while you’re waiting for the bulbs or seeds to sprout.
  • I’ve heard that growing tomatoes and other vegetables in one of those upside down pots keeps the frui outside the reach of squirrels.

So…what are your tried and true squirrel deterrents? Anyone out there douse their balcony in wolf pee (yuck!)?

Photo by lesleymcl

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Louise @ Buddy Garden June 15, 2009 at 6:57 am

Great post. I do have problems with squirrels on my deck. One year I put up a bird feeder and the squirrels destroyed it completely and made a mess. Sometimes I’ll find pots with mysterious hole in the soil and I knew the squirrels were here. I’ll try these methods for sure!

Hey by the way, I miss seeing your garden. I don’t remember seeing much pictures of your garden this year. Love to see it when you get a chance.


Jen June 15, 2009 at 7:03 am

There was a squirrel on the brick wall of my patio, when I went to scare him away, he mistakenly jumped towards me. Most likely thinking that I was a friendly person wanting to feed him. Right, well he was very wrong!

By the time I had finished yelling and waving my arms at him, he had run all the way down the balcony destroying quite a few of my pots, and then continued onto the neighbors balcony wreaking havoc the entire way.

So…..as a squirrel preventative, I am thinking of ways to stop everyone else feeding him from nearby. This seems to be my biggest problem, other neighbors who are putting out peanuts, unaware or not caring that he plants them in my garden. Anyone have a really big squirrel net?



Naomi Mellendorf June 15, 2009 at 7:05 am

Good morning,

The squirrels in my pots have been very destructive thus far this season. I have been trying to grow more things from seed for the economics and variety and it’s been very disappointing to see them rip it all up. So, I visited my local nursery and now I alternate sprinkling granulated fox urine and Bonide Repels-All. It smells a little, but nothing horrible and it works. I sprinkle on non-edible pots/plants and the ground (I’m on a patio rather than balcony) around my pots. Reapply after rain. My plants are thriving and the squirrels can find food and destruction elsewhere. Thanks for your blog!

Naomi Mellendorf


prue June 15, 2009 at 7:13 am

One surefire way to avoid squirrel problems – move to Australia, we don’t have any! Though the possums can be pains I’ve heard. I think living on a main road helps keep them at bay (though it doesn’t help me sleep!)


iona June 15, 2009 at 7:59 am

First off, great post!! Fortunately I don’t have a squirrel problem up here on the 12th floor (really the 15th – 2 garage levels and lobby)but I do have a rather disgusting problem with pigeons perching and pooping on my terrace railing. Other than yelling like a crazy woman when I see them there doesn’t seem to be a solution I can think of. They don’t really bother my plants but they do make a mess in my city garden. Anyone?


Lars June 15, 2009 at 10:48 am

Shaking a bunch of cayenne pepper into your potted plants will often keep squirrels from digging around, because they sniff around where they did and they don’t like hot pepper!

Alternatively, there are products like Hot Pepper Wax that you can spray around the plant too, which have the added benefit of also getting rid of various insect pests.

Hot pepper stuff doesn’t affect birds though! That’s why they make birdseed that has all kinds of hot pepper seeds in it. The squirrels get a burning mouth, but the birds don’t even notice.


Kimberly June 15, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Folks on Twitter have sworn to me that hair clippings in pots will help deter squirrels. They don’t nibble, but digging is destroying everything. Therefore, Hot Pepper Wax and sprays that contain coyote/fox urine haven’t helped.


Chicago Garden June 15, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Don’t really have a problem w/squirrels myself. The alley cats seem to keep their populations under control around here.


Sparky Holden June 19, 2009 at 3:53 am

There are a bunch of commercially available products that repel squirrels that I suppose would work on container plants. I have them at my site if anyone is interested http://www.squirrelrepellent.net.

As you mention the only problem that I see is that they have to be reapplied. I have some homemade recipes on the site for squirrel repellent sprays too, based on cayenne pepper, that some people swear by.

The only other thing I can add is it depends on the plant you are growing in the pot. For those that plant flower bulbs I know there are some specific types of bulbs that squirrels won’t touch because of the smell and taste of them, I believe Daffodils are one of them, I still have to research the rest.

Nice article, maybe you are right, if you can’t beat em join em! Feed the furry felons!



rosita June 22, 2009 at 6:38 pm

Squirrels are constantly digging up my pots. I tried being a nice neighbor and leaving them peanuts etc. but then my pots and garden became the repository for my treats. I do sprinkle cayenne and it sort of works and I keep a water spray bottle and hose close by and just zap them with water. they leave for a few days. I have also tried trapping them and letting them go in a nearby park but honestly it’s a drag to carry the cage/trap around with the squirrel screaming it’s head off.


Jacqueline July 28, 2009 at 1:24 pm

I’ve always considered myself a nature lover, but I’m really starting to hate squirrels. Lately, enough so that I fantasize about having a BB gun.

You see, I have a small balcony in the city. I’ve tried growing flowers/ vegetables for the past few years as a hobby. I also have cloth padding on my lounge chairs. Every year, almost everything gets destroyed. This year, I actually grew corn and I was really proud of it. Didn’t think squirrels would be interested in corn…and of course, I was wrong. Anyways, the corn was about 4 ft tall, when I came home, and noticed that the stems had been chewed almost all the way through. The lettuce had also been ruined (but they hadn’t bothered to eat it, just dug it up!) and there was dirt everywhere. But what baffles me is that there are community gardens in my area…how are those people able to grow anything?!

I hate those buggers. This is war.


Jacqueline July 28, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Just to be clear, I was sortof kidding about using the bb gun. But it’s a good fantasy! Anyways, I’ll try the cayenne pepper technique by sprinkling the powder on the soil. Hope it works!


lyn marshall November 13, 2009 at 7:02 am

I have a problem with squirrels in my garden. My own fault as I have a love of garden birds and leave bird seed etc hanging from my trees. My Jack russel dog sees them off when she is in the garden. Has anyone got any ideas of how I can still enjoy my birds without the pesky squirrels eating all the food. Ir’s costing me a fortune.


Christina Salwitz November 13, 2009 at 9:29 am

A client of mine has started coating selected favorite squirrel climbing locations with Crisco and Cayenne Pepper. Worked like a bomb for her! Provides hours of entertainment as well.


Fern November 13, 2009 at 10:04 am

LOL Christina! I can imagine the shock those squirrels get when the pole is slippery.

Cathy April 21, 2010 at 9:00 am

Was getting upset with the squireels also and decided to turn to the inter net and was glad Im not alone feeling the same as every
one else . Tried regular pepper to see how that works. if not will go hot. Was almost ready to close in my porch. I like them at least I used to. Thought of a sling shot but dont like to use it incase I break my own pots.lol Or getting to be knowen as the crazy lady lol.


Kathy April 21, 2012 at 6:20 am

Squirrels are digging up my lavender, bell peppers, jalapeño peppers and my cucumbers. These are all in pots in my yard. I also have a dog so the I’d like to know if the cayenne pepper is gonna affect her paws as well before I try it. With a couple dozen trees in my yard alone there isn’t any way of losing the buggars.


Cheryl May 27, 2012 at 7:45 pm

I have found that larger landscape stones in the tops stop them in my flower pots. Hopefully it will
do the same in my veggies.


P a r b July 1, 2012 at 10:42 am

I am placing pine cones in the pots. Hopping this will save my plants


Daria May 14, 2013 at 6:23 am

For five years I had no squirrel intruders in my large planters in central Sunshine State but recently they made a lot of damage on my plants, especially seedlings. I’ll try cayenne first and see if that makes any difference. Thank you for useful article and discussion! :)


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