Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
July, 2009
Regional Report

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Owls and predatory raptors are the very best way to eliminate rodents from your garden. (Photo courtesy of John Schuster.)

Squirrel Control

Are squirrels driving you to drink? Are tree squirrels digging up your bulbs and helping themselves to your bedding plants? Are ground squirrels excavating your fields and pastures?

I lived with a garden full of squirrels for 14 years, so I know what a bother they can be. Have they damaged your trees by ripping the off the bark yet? I had one large family of squirrels living in a redwood tree. They created so much traffic with their constant running up and down the tree that they actually wore the bark down to the cambium. I finally put a barrier of aluminum flashing around the trunk, but the squirrels just leapt over it.

Squirrels are protected somewhat by state or local regulations, so prevention is probably the best method of dealing with these endearing vermin. Planting bulbs in the ground surrounded by a handful of crushed granite works sometimes. Bulbs in pots can be protected by placing chicken wire over the surface of the soil. Lovely, right?

There are many repellents on the market, including organic ones containing natural deterrents like garlic. Repellents containing methal nonyl ketone and thiram work as deterrents due to their odor; follow label directions to the letter if you choose to use these chemical repellents. Although moth crystals and mothballs have been used to control squirrels, I wouldn't recommend it as they're not labeled for that use.

Other Methods
You can net your plants to keep squirrels out, but that doesn't look so nice. A big dog or stealthy cat left in the yard will usually do a good job of keeping squirrels on the other side of the fence. We had a huge neighborhood cat that we called "Squirrel Killer" for obvious reasons, but there were still plenty of squirrels even when he was on patrol.

My boss used rat traps baited with nuts and peanut butter, but unfortunately, he caught as many blue jays as he did squirrels with this method so eventually gave it up. Besides, I don't want to kill them, I just want them to go elsewhere.

If tree squirrels are entering your yard via overhead wires, you can have the telephone or electric company place a length of PVC pipe over the existing wires; when the squirrels try to walk on the wire, the PVC spins freely and drops Squirrel Nutkin to the ground.
Unfortunately, if you live in a neighborhood with interconnecting trees, squirrels have free access to your yard.

Bring in the Professionals
My favorite method of rodent control is to install an owl nesting box somewhere in your yard. A baby owl will consume two to four rodents each night, and with the normal clutch of three to four babies per nest, well, you do the math. If you have a rodent problem, you won't have it for long if you can get a family of owls to take up residence.

Owls don't hunt within a 200 yard perimeter of their nests, so the box should be placed in a far corner of your property, otherwise you are only helping your neighbors control their rodent population. The nest box should be large enough to accommodate a family of three or four babies with a hinged side for cleaning the box at the end of the nesting season. Redwood chips are the preferred nesting material. Place a one inch layer across the floor of the box. The entrance hole should be placed facing east, toward the rising moon. The nesting box can be nailed to the trunk of a tall tree or placed on the top of a pole. It needs to be at least 20 feet off the ground to entice local owls to take up residence. If you use a pole, secure it in the ground with concrete.

Here's the rub; ground squirrels and tree squirrels are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. Owls hunt at night but will sometimes get lucky at dawn and dusk. To get the very best best squirrel control, set up raptor perches. Hawks and falcons do an amazing job of rodent eradication. These predators like to sit up high and watch for rodent activity on the ground. Provide a perch for them and say goodbye to your squirrel problems!

Squirrels are a part of our natural world and many people enjoy watching their jolly antics. If you only have a few squirrels in your garden, live and let live. However, if they are driving you "nutty," try an owl nesting box in combination with a raptor perch. At least the birds will thank you...

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