Sunday, January 21, was Squirrel Appreciation Day. What? I’m supposed to appreciate these fuzzy little things that destroy my garden? Well…Yes.
The word ‘squirrel’ comes from the Anglo-Norman word esquirel with roots in the Greek word skiouros meaning ‘shadow-tailed.’ A group of squirrels is called a “scurry” (a Scurry of Squirrels—appropriate). They are native to every continent, except Antarctica and Australia. While there are squirrels in Australia, they were introduced there, but not native to there.
Squirrels are members of the rodent family but are particularly closely related to chipmunks, groundhogs, and prairie dogs.
Squirrels are omnivores—meaning that while they do eat mostly seeds, nuts, bulbs, fungi, and fruits, but will also eat insects, eggs, caterpillars, etc. Because they bury so many seeds and nuts and fail to come back for them, they help to disperse plant material in an area (such as my yard in the spring with three million acorns coming up in my lawn, garden, and containers).
Squirrels are born in litters of two to eight. Babies are called “kits” or “kittens.” They depend totally on their mother for two to three months before venturing out on their own. They don’t go far, however. They usually wind up living within two miles or so from where they were born.
The smallest squirrel is the African Pygmy Squirrel, which is about the size of a mouse. The largest squirrel is the Indian Giant Squirrel, which can grow up to three feet in length and weigh up to 4 pounds. Our common gray squirrel grows 15 or 20 inches long with the tail adding another 6 to 9 inches, and weighs one to one and a half pounds.
While they can be a problem in the garden, they are easy enough to deal with. Any repellent (granular or liquid) that contains cayenne or capsaicin is very effective against squirrels. You can actually mix crushed red pepper flakes in your bird seed to repel them from bird feeders (the birds cannot taste the heat).
To keep them away from your green tomatoes: They tend to go after smaller green tomatoes (because they are a size that is easiest for them to handle. They do not eat the tomato, they take a bite or two, suck the juice and seeds out, and drop them. Spray your tomato fruits with Hot Pepper Wax—a spray that contains capsaicin. Then provide an easily accessible water source within 15 or 20 feet of your garden. If you spray the tomato but forget the water source, they may go after the moisture content in the tomato anyway if the weather is hot and dry.
To keep them from digging up bulbs: Plant tulip bulbs (their favorite) around 10 inches deep. Squirrels dig but do not tunnel. Plant deep and they’ll leave them along. You can plant daffodils right on top of the tulips, at six inches deep. Daffodils are toxic so squirrels won’t bother them anyway.
If they come along behind you and dig up seedlings you just planted, keep in mind that they’re digging because the soil is loose and easy to dig in. They’re not usually after the seedlings. Keep them from digging by generously sprinkling the soil with crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper after planting to deter them.
Keep tree branches trimmed at least six to eight feet away from your house, so squirrels are less likely to chew through vents and make a home in your attic.
You know, once you learn to live with them, they are fun to watch.