How to Keeps Squirrels off Your New Seedlings

I used to hate squirrels. Then my daughter raised and released some orphans and I began to recognize their charms and place in the ecosystem. They’re native and gardeners too — of forests. I can share my garden with them.

But I still shake my fist in anguish when they forage through my newly planted beds, uprooting seeds and plants all over the place. I can understand why they are attracted to the fresh, loose earth. Still, I need an alternative to having a 9′ x 3′ section of bed only produce 8 carrots.

Photo Caption: Scraps of fencing, mesh, and hardware cloth are perfect foils for digging animals.

This year I’ve skipped the heartache of all pits and no plants by placing segments of hardware cloth and chicken fencing over areas where I’ve direct-seeded. It’s working! The squirrels have dug next to the wire covers but the seedlings remain unmolested.

Photo Caption: If you plan to lift the covers off, do it before the leaves get much bigger than the holes in the mesh.

You can leave the mesh in place all season but I am choosing to remove mine once the plants are dense enough to handle mulching. Mulching protects the plants from digging, conserves water, and reduces my labor by allowing me to compost in place.

This technique has some success protecting roots from the tillage of chickens, too. However, anything green that pokes up through the mesh will get snacked on.

Eliza Lord

I'm a Greenville, SC native (the Appalachian foothills) who wears the hats of Greenville Master Gardener & Upstate Master Naturalist. I love to write about food and sustainability.

13 thoughts on “How to Keeps Squirrels off Your New Seedlings”

  1. Donna - March 19, 2012 4:20 pm

    Always looking for squirrel deterrents. I am glad you noted this. But do you have any advice on them debudding and eating lilac, and hydrangea. They have been eating sedum too for weeks. I am left with very little. Never before have they done this. I put the birdbath out early, hoping no freezing temps come, thinking they may be needing water. Any ideas?
    Donna´s last blog post ..May I Introduce, Doctor Bee

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - March 28, 2012 8:55 am

      I don’t know, although I bet a pepper spray would change their mind about the tastiness of the buds.

  2. Janet, The Queen of Seaford - March 19, 2012 6:56 pm

    Brilliant! I still think squirrels are a pain.
    Janet, The Queen of Seaford´s last blog post ..Fantastic Foliage Follow Up

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - March 28, 2012 8:54 am

      I find them very entertaining… and so do my indoor cats watching them through the window. :)

  3. RecycleBill
    Twitter: veggiestalker
    - March 19, 2012 9:03 pm

    I’ve had excellent results with using plain old ground black pepper sprinkled where I don’t want squirrels, rabbits, dogs, cats and other mammals to dig, pee or munch. Squirrel’s find the nuts they bury in the Fall by smell– a whiff of black pepper sends them elsewhere to search for old nuts.

    I feed my squirrels bread from my hand– took me months to get them to do it.
    RecycleBill´s last blog post ..It’s Called Fertilizer

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - March 28, 2012 8:53 am

      Neat! I’ve heard of people using hot peppers, but black pepper sounds like it would last longer.

  4. Alistair - March 21, 2012 2:37 pm

    I miss the visits from the Squirrels Eliza. It took a long time for two greys to find their way to our garden. A couple of years ago the council folks carried out a cull of the greys saying they were threatening our native red squirrels. The reds generally stay in the woodland areas and seldom visit gardens. However, the greys may be a threat, just not fully convinced.
    Alistair´s last blog post ..Sarcococca Hookeriana Var. Humilis

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - March 28, 2012 8:52 am

      I feel sad when I think of gray squirrels, which are native to my area, being a problem in other countries. I’m sorry you haven’t seen any squirrels lately!

  5. Helene - March 21, 2012 10:55 pm

    The squirrels are attacking the window boxes in my front garden. Every time I plant some new plants, they are there digging them up and spreading the soil everywhere. For a while they were happy with a peace offering of some peanuts, but now they burry the peanuts, instead of eating them, ruining my plants in the process! Smart thing about placing the mesh on the seedlings, but not really an option for the poor flowers in my window boxes…
    Helene´s last blog post ..The troublesome corner

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - March 28, 2012 8:51 am

      Next season you could try placing chicken wire covers inside your boxes and allowing seedlings to grow up through them. Then you’d have a wire cover to keep the squirrels out under your plants.

  6. Curbstone Valley Farm - March 23, 2012 1:09 pm

    Our squirrels mostly go after our fruit trees, the rascals. I wish we could mulch to stop digging, but our other critters, mostly voles and gophers, seem to love hiding in the stuff! Glad your wire mulch is keeping the squirrels at bay long enough for your seedlings to take hold though!
    Curbstone Valley Farm´s last blog post ..Lotus & Minnie: Just Kidding Around

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - March 28, 2012 8:50 am

      Voles and gophers sound like bad news. We have voles here but they mostly cause problems for shrubs like azaleas. I never see their holes in my garden.

      On the other hand, I end up with an overpopulation of roly polies when I mulch and they occasionally decide young seedlings are a real treat.

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