Grey squirrels are now very common in the wild. Although their antics and acrobatics are quaint and great fun to watch, they can cause severe damage to numerous plants in the garden.
Although both red and grey squirrels will damage plants, the red squirrel is now rare and rarely seen anywhere in the UK. As a result, the grey squirrel has taken the mantle of being the disturber of peace and very much maligned for its destructive habits. The red squirrel is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
Grey squirrels are active throughout the year and can be found in gardens at any time.
Squirrels damage and eat a wide range of plants, including ornamentals, fruit and vegetables.
- They severely damage or even kill trees and shrubs by stripping the bark. This tends to be more of a problem in winter when other food sources are scarce.
- They eat a wide range of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and even flower buds.
- They dig up and eat bulbs and corms, especially tulips and crocuses.
- They damage lawns by first burying and then digging up winter food they have stored.
- They raid wild bird feeders.
- They gnaw on anything plastic, including hosepipes and netting.
Treatment and control
Unfortunately, it is not possible or feasible to stop squirrels from entering the garden. It is possible to cover plants individually with wire-mesh netting to prevent squirrels from getting at particularly susceptible plants – although this might mean covering everything!
Fruit and vegetables can be protected in a wire mesh fruit cage.
Bulbs and corms can be protected by placing a layer of wire mesh in the soil a few inches above where they are planted.
The bark of the main stem of trees and shrubs can be protected with spiral tree protectors or individual caging.
Trapping is a possibility, but other squirrels are likely to move in soon afterwards, so the garden won't remain squirrel free for long.
Animal repellents and scaring devices are usually ineffective, and will probably only provide short-term protection.
Some people have success by feeding peanuts from a tree or elsewhere at the bottom of the garden or far from the main plant displays. Wild bird food can be fed from a squirrel-proof bird feeder.