Patriots, one of the more frequent questions asked on our Ask the Experts page is how to keep skwerls from ravaging gardens and fruit trees.
See slobbering chitterbox eat an apple
Video credit: Newport Film on YouTube
You can make a garden skwerlball resistant although it isn't easy and the effort can be costly. The formula for success varies but usually includes heavy gauge wire, a hungry cat, and some red pepper spray.
Unfortunately for urban and suburban gardeners, the bushytail horde has the upper hand when it comes to fruit trees. Here is our expert's usual response to those asking how to stop skwerls from eating all their fruit:
I assume you live in an urban or suburban environ...
I have the same problem with pears, lemons, and oranges, but I live within city limits so I can't shoot them and I can't poison or trap them without a permit. Besides, I won't shoot something I'm not going to eat (plus you can't shoot out of season), poison is a cruel death, and for every squirrel you trap and relocate, there are 10 waiting to take its place.
There are expensive commercial products, mostly predator urine-based sprays and red pepper-based sprays. These have limited if any effect and must be reapplied on a regular basis. While generally ineffective, the look on friends and relatives faces when you hand them an apple and tell them you saved the crop with weasel whizz is priceless.
I have cats that keep the squirrels out of the garden and in the trees (where they can eat all the fruit). Unfortunately, the cats object to being leashed in the trees themselves. Some dogs don't mind being leashed to a tree, but draw the line at being leashed in the tree (besides, most dogs aren't as nimble as cats).
The best luck I have, and this only applies to the oranges, is to provide the bushytail horde with a ready supply of seed/nuts (they only like the expensive ones), and they *may* leave the oranges alone, or at least leave me 5-6. Nothing I do stops them from eating the pears, which they eat long before any mature. They aren't crazy about lemons, so they save them for last or maybe they're really saving the best for last?
Note: I've tried leaving a watermelon and other water-laden fruit out hoping they are more interested in water than the fruit itself. No luck, they just eat the watermelon, then my fruit.
A friend suggested that I find fruit they won't eat and plant that instead. No one has ever found a fruit squirrels won't eat. I had a kumquat tree. They ate the whole thing, which was ok because I don't care for kumquats.
Some of the more amusing solutions...
1) Cover a tree with netting. It can't be bird netting regardless of what the "experts" say. Squirrels will tear it to shreds and use it to line their nests. Netting won't work unless you use a very heavy gauge mesh, metal works best, but don't use aluminum. Squirrels eat aluminum, I'm not kidding. Bonus: installing and removing heavy gauge netting from trees is good exercise.
2) Mothballs are supposed to work. I tried it. The squirrels like to play with the mesh bags I hang until the bags fall from the tree. Then they eat the fruit.
3) Hang one or more fake owls in the tree. The ones with bobbing heads are supposed to work best. This may work for 24-48 hours, then the squirrels sharpen their teeth on them, eat the fruit, and run off with the bobbing head. Note: the electronic version can't differentiate between a pest and a leaf blowing in the wind. You can also use rubber snakes or any other fake predator. Use enough and this has the potential to make your house a neighborhood curiosity. Charge admission to offset the price of the plastic and rubber animals.
4) Ultrasonic devices. These may work in a small enclosed space, but abandon all hope that the device will work in a tree (although it may give birds seizures).
5) Strobe lights. I suppose this option works best if you also blast experimental psychedelic 60's music at the same time. It's important to do this 24 hours a day, more so if you have flying squirrels in your area (but also to discourage other nocturnal pests like rats).
6) Find some road kill squirrels and hang them in the trees (no comment).
Unfortunately, homeowners insurance does not extend to squirrel damage. In fact, some policies specifically exclude any kind of squirrel damage from coverage. So, don't expect to recover any of the expense of implementing an anti-squirrel plan. Likewise, the IRS frowns on squirrel-related deductions at tax time.
I don't want to be totally negative about this. With considerable effort you can figure out what combination of the above solutions work best for you. In the end, you'll probably spend US$1000.00-$3000.00 to harvest a bunch of half-eaten fruit that costs five bucks at the store.
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