If you’ve ever been disappointed to find a tiny bite mark in one of your homegrown tomatoes, your plants have probably fallen victim to a squirrel.
Animals often eat fruits and vegetables from the garden if they’re thirsty. Other wildlife like deer and rabbits may also have a taste, but you can tell when squirrels are the culprits because they often take just one small bite. Occasionally, they’ll take a whole tomato. Always, though, their attacks take place during the daytime
Your pet could be one of the best ways to shew away tomato robbers. After all, it’s in a dog’s nature to chase squirrels. Consider training your dog to bark at squirrels without chasing them, though, if you think it’s at risk of running out of your yard or actually catching up to and harming squirrels.
Another way to use your pet to deter squirrels is with their hair. Dog hair is a natural repellent against gophers, chipmunks, squirrels, groundhogs, deer, skunks, and rabbits. The next time you brush out your canine’s coat, collect the fur and stick it near your tomatoes.
Hot Pepper Spray
Some people swear by hot pepper tea as a pest deterrent. Squirrels have sensitive senses and do not like the taste or smell of capsaicin, the active component of chili peppers. Here’s the most impactful way to create a cayenne pepper spray.
10 cayenne peppers
1 gallon of water
6 cloves of garlic (optional)
Wearing protective gloves, finely chop 10 cayenne peppers.
Combine peppers—seeds and skins—a gallon of water, and six cloves of garlic (optional) in a large pot.
Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes.
When the liquid is cool, transfer it to a spray bottle.
Spray around the border of your garden and on the leaves of the plants.
You can also simply dilute a small bottle of store-bought hot sauce with a gallon of water, or sprinkle dried hot pepper flakes around the garden instead.
Alternative Food Source
If you can’t deter squirrels from your garden, you can at least divert them away from your tomato plants. For instance, if a squirrel sees a bird feeder with its favorite treats—nuts and seeds—it might go for that instead of your vegetables.
Of course, you don’t necessarily want squirrels to steal all your bird food, so you can buy a squirrel-specific feeder or set up your own DIY decoy food stations instead. Healthy, squirrel-friendly snacks include unsalted nuts, chopped apples, carrots, spinach, bean sprouts, and celery. For a more sustainable way to provide an alternative food source, consider planting their favorite trees (oak, beech, sweet chestnut, and hazel) in your yard.
You’ve heard of gardeners using scarecrows to keep birds out of their veggie patches. For a squirrel problem, owls make a more effective decoy. Squirrels are naturally afraid of owls and other raptors because they prey on rodents. The only caveat to using fake owls as a squirrel deterrent is that you’ll have to move them often.
Again, squirrels have sensitive noses. They can sniff out a female in heat from up to a mile away. This strong sense of smell also helps them avoid predators, and you can use it to your advantage by spraying actual predator urine around your garden.
Many garden centers sell fox and coyote urine just for this purpose. It works mostly in rural areas, where squirrels are cautious of these animals. In cities, they may not be as familiar with—and therefore not as afraid of—the smell. You should spray the scent around your garden weekly and always after it rains.
Fencing and Cages
The simple most fail-proof way to protect your tomatoes from pests is to fence them in. This is an easy DIY project virtually any home gardener can install. Depending on the layout of your garden and the number of tomato plants you are growing, you can build single cages to protect individual plants a larger cage that will cover a small bed.
However, there’s a caveat: Tomatoes grown in roofed cages must be determinate tomatoes, or “bush” tomatoes, which grow fewer than four feet tall. Always make sure your fence is buried six inches in the ground to prevent squirrels from digging their way in.
The rodents reportedly do not like the taste of mint, marigolds, nasturtiums, or mustard. Thankfully, these make great companion plants for tomatoes—and you can reap the rewards of adding to your homegrown bounty, too.
Beware that mint is a spreader. If you plant it with your tomatoes, it’s liable to take over the entire bed. The best way to avoid this is to plant them in containers or create an underground barrier to prevent the roots from spreading.
No squirrel wants to be sprayed with water while trying to sneak a bite of a tomato. That’s why sprinklers work as a natural pest deterrent. The motion-activated kind is particularly effective because they punish the squirrel just as soon as it steps into the forbidden zone, over time training the animal not to come into your garden.
Tomatoes aren’t a squirrel’s favorite food, hence why you’ll often find that they’ve only taken a single bite. What they’re looking for, more likely, is a sip of water. Squirrels can get dehydrated on hot summer days and look for extra ways to satisfy their thirst through food.
What to Consider When Planning a Wildlife Pond
Set out a bird bath or something similar and fill it with fresh water daily to keep them quenched. Know, however, that water may attract other wildlife to your garden as well—which we will count as a bonus.