Squirrels and Tomatoes

Sunday, July 8, 2018 1:09 PM

Squirrels and other animals are eating my tomato plants.  Help!  What can I do?     Melissa R., Tulsa

Keeping animals out of tomato plants can be difficult, and methods vary depending on the animal.  For example, keeping deer out with a fence can be tricky because they can jump a fence shorter than about 9 feet.  A barking dog is often the best deterrent for deer, and cats can be effective protectors against squirrels and other small animals.  For some burrowing animals, a fence must be buried several feet deep to keep them from digging under it.  And, for highly intelligent and adaptable raccoons, only a full cage may keep them out of tomato plants.  Fake owls or snakes can help keep rabbits at bay.

With their acrobatic maneuvers and feisty chattering, squirrels often inspire smiles and laughter.  But for gardeners who find beds dug up and tomatoes chewed, these bushy tailed critters aren’t a source of anything except frustration and a fervent desire to figure out ways of keeping squirrels out of the garden.  They sometimes eat part of a tomato and leave the rest behind.  Other times, they eat the entire fruit.  Other favorite meals of squirrels include beans, squash, cucumbers, and eggplants.  And, occasionally, squirrels will unearth young potted plants in their quest to bury nuts.

Like other rodents, squirrels have long incisor teeth that never stop growing, so they tend to gnaw on all sorts of materials to keep those teeth on the short side.  Various anti-squirrel techniques are recommended, depending on your preferred plan of action.  Here’s a listing from harmless to harmful:

Clean Up: The sight and smell of fallen fruit, nuts, and seeds can lure squirrels to your yard for feeding. Clean up these items beneath trees and birdfeeders.  Make sure trash can lids fit securely to keep squirrels from discovering treats in the garbage.

Structure: Erect a fence.  Wire fencing such as hardware cloth, plastic bird netting, or chicken wire can keep squirrels out.  Be sure to bury the wire deep so they can't dig under it; keep the wires close together so they can't squeeze through it.

Annoy Them:  Bother the squirrels by using motion lights or commercial devices that make high-frequency sounds.  Surround the garden with unpleasant repellents, such as garlic, ground hot peppers or urine from predators such as wolves.  Search online for products that contain capsaicin, the ingredient that gives hot peppers their heat.

Scare Tactics:  Having an outdoor dog or cat will drive squirrels away.  Barn owl houses also scare squirrels away because owls are known to eat squirrels.  Many have success simply with fake snakes.

Permanent solutions: If all else fails, consider commercial traps or poison.  Place bait, such as peanut butter or sunflower seeds, in a live trap.  When a squirrel is captured, release it far away from the garden.  If you are not opposed to killing squirrels, you can also use poison bait traps but be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions.

For additional assistance, call the OSU Extension Office at 918-746-3701 to speak to a Master Gardener.