Is it getting squirrelly
around you?
Suggestions can help control pesky mammals

March 18, 2011

by Gerald Bludau , Victoria County Master Gardener

edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Gardeners' Dirt
PHOTOS BY JOE JANAK/VICTORIA COUNTY EXTENSION AGENT
Hungry for food in early spring, squirrels can resort to eating bark from limbs.
Bark eaten from trees can cause limbs to weaken, break and die.
LEFT:
Limbs will eventually split, completely break apart and can fall.
RIGHT:
Squirrel-damaged limbs can also remain dangling in tree with dead foliage.  They are not only unsightly, but can also be harmful if they should fall.  Joe Janak, Victoria County Extension Agent reported a lady in Victoria complained of numerous oak limbs breaking in her yard;  some up to 4 inches in diameter.  Squirrels were eating the bark causing the limbs to break.
It was a cold, dreary December morning in 1957 when my brothers and I were walking through a creek bottom. One was carrying a .22 rifle; another a long bamboo pole, when we spotted a leafy nest in a tree. We maneuvered the pole below the nest and gave the nest a gentle nudge when out popped a squirrel.

"Bam" one down. Another nudge, another squirrel. "Bam" another down.

This, my gardening friend, is squirrel control. I would like to add that these squirrels tasted very good when my mom fried them along with biscuits and cream gravy.

I don't think this method of squirrel control is well accepted today. So, what do we do to control these "bushy tail" critters? Here are some problem areas and some suggestions that may help in your gardens, yards and homes.

TYPES OF SQUIRREL DAMAGE


Homes: Squirrels are notorious for chewing their way into our homes and attics. They can also chew the insulation from electrical wires, causing a fire hazard.

Trees: Squirrels probably cause more damage to fruit and nut trees than anything else. They love pecans, peaches, pears, apples and other fruits. When food sources are low in the early spring, they also chew and eat the bark around tree limbs, especially pecan limbs, causing the limbs to die and break, disfiguring a tree.

Gardens: Squirrels don't usually pose a problem to most gardens unless you are growing sweet corn. I've never experienced damage to any other veggies.

Bird feeders: Squirrels love to steal from bird feeders. It is amazing to watch the acrobatic maneuvers they make to get to bird feed.

SQUIRREL CONTROL


Homes: If you have encountered squirrels in your attic, you can make sure your attic is protected by covering their entry holes with metal sheeting or hardware cloth. Their major point of entry is under the eaves and gables of your home. Installing plastic or PVC pipe over wires will prevent squirrels from traveling via wires. Trim limbs 6-8 feet away from buildings to prevent squirrels from jumping onto roofs.

Fruit and Nut Trees
: Many of us have pecan and fruit trees in our yards. If your trees can be isolated from power lines and roof tops from where squirrels will normally jump, you can place a 20-24 inch piece of metal flashing around each tree trunk. This prevents the critters from climbing up the trunk.

If they are coming down power lines and jumping from tree to tree, you may have to prune some limbs to impede their travel.

Some of the damage to fruit can be prevented by using bird netting available at garden supply stores. Purchased in 7 feet x 100 feet rolls, I recommend cutting the appropriate length, draping it over the tree and tying the loose ends around the trunk of the tree.

Garden: About the only thing gardeners can do to assure themselves they get some sweet corn is to plant enough, one for you, two for the squirrels, one for you, three for the squirrels and so on.

Bird feeders: Squirrels are attracted to the seed in bird feeders. Try to use squirrel-proof feeders and provide alternative food sources. Oh, and don't buy squirrel feeders or ears of corn. You're just helping to increase their population.

The most successful method I have found in controlling squirrels is to trap them. You can find metal traps at local nurseries and feed stores. The best bait to use is whole pecans. I usually drill a small hole through the pecans and place a wire through two or three and tie them in the back of the trap.

Now that you caught a squirrel, what do you do with it? The humane thing, you say, may be to release them in the countryside, or you may do otherwise to eradicate them.

But don't release them in the countryside unless you have permission from the area landowners. How would you like someone to release squirrels on your property?

An Internet search for squirrel control will yield many sites offering traps, scare-crows, scent repellents, electrical hot wires and other aids to prevent squirrel damage.

Controlling squirrels is not going to be easy. It is an ongoing battle. But with diligence and persistence, you can have success in controlling these critters.

Just remember, as you drive the streets of Victoria and you see a squirrel lying dead in the street, smile. If you happen to see a squirrel playing in the street, accelerate.

Just kidding.
FOR MORE INFO
Go online; search "squirrel control." View various sites on control methods.

WHAT SQUIRRELS CAN DAMAGE
Homes and attics
Fruit and nut trees
Sweet corn in gardens
Bird Feeders

EXCLUSION, CONTROL METHODS
Metal Sheeting
Hardware cloth
Netting
PVC pipe placed over wires
Hunting - not approved in city limits
Trapping
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.