Sunflowers and Squirrels

It’s a losing battle, the one we gardeners face against the squirrel menace. As the mammoth sunflowers we planted this summer approached the harvest stage, I tied some paper bags over the flower heads to prevent squirrels and birds from eating all the seeds. Mostly, it has worked. But, as you can see from the animation above, one pesky squirrel managed to figure out how to open one of the bags. Perhaps he used the adjacent tomato cage for extra leverage.

Maybe this bag worked because the Whole Foods logo scared the squirrels away with the thought of high prices and angry Pruis drivers.

I thought I had solved the problem by putting one of those ubiquitous and annoying cloth eco bags over the sunflower. Not even the City of LA logo on that eco bag scared them off.

So what to do about the squirrels? Tight bird netting on fruit trees works but is a pain in the ass to attach and remove. Commercial orchardists trap and kill. Hmmm. Along those lines it looks like we have yet another excuse to link to that squirrel melt video . . .

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  1. Damn squirrels, I had a major squirrel problem for a while, we have a huge macadamia nut tree in our back yard and the squirrels would destroy all the nuts. Those hard shells, once they’d been cracked by the squirrels and dropped on the ground, it would be impossible to walk barefoot unless you like walking on broken glass. and then even if you wear shoes they’d get stuck in your soles. With the dogs and the cats and pruning away from the house and the electric wires, they’ve finally disappeared. I hate pruning that thing too because the leaves are all very prickly.

  2. My mom always plants a large garden, and loves tending it. She always has more than she and my father need, so she ends up giving the food away to needy families. This year the squirrels and deer frustrated her so much, she pulled up everything but a few tomato plants. They trapped and removed chipmunks and moles, but were defeated by the squirrels and deer. 🙁

  3. The squirrels eat all my pecans while they are still green and this year they ate all my peaches before they were even close to being ripe. Normally I am able to at least rescue a few peaches and ripen them inside, but this year was a peachpocalypse 🙁

  4. I think trapping and killing them would be fine, if you used the meat. It could feed your cats and dogs (for those who own them) or yourself (for those that eat meat). Talk about a sustainable local diet!

    I wrote a piece a few years ago on eating your pests. It included links to recipes online for house sparrows and other bird psts, as well as insects and spiders. I sampled pack rat in college, but what do you expect from a wildlife major?!

  5. I gave up on sunflowers. The squirrels would just chew the heads off the plant and drag them away even if the heads were twice their size. I hate squirrels.

  6. Jessie beat me to it – I was going to suggest drawstring bags, too, though I have no experiential data to support it. If they decide to chew the entire flower off and drag it away, you’re out a drawstring bag to boot…

  7. My sunflowers didn’t survive the squirrel attack either. However, my local squirrels seem to prefer the delicacy of the tender sunflower bud, pulling down the stalk with their nimble little hands and chomping the buds right off. Jerks.

  8. I have been pretty successful with the have a heart traps, however it is illegal to trap and relocate without a permit. They love my avocados, peaches and oranges. I battle them every day, right now I thing that I am winning.

  9. I arrived at my mother’s house in Memphis, TN, with my two children when my little brother, about 22 at the time, was skinning squirrels in the back yard. My mother warned me what my brother was doing as my three-year-old son, Jeffrey, went to the back door. I did not mind him seeing dead animals.

    After a bit, he came back in. “Mama, Uncle Gary is taking that squirrel’s clothes off and there is catsup inside the squirrel.

    I explained “skinning,” “blood,” and “meat to eat.” Jeffrey just said, “Oh.”

    He was not upset at all. He continued to eat meat and did not worry about what he saw. I think he had no aversion to the whole process because I explained it to him in a matter-of-fact manner. No revulsion was expressed by anyone in the family, per my instructions.

    We tried hard not to laugh at his analysis of the scene he saw.That comment of his was whispered around as each family member came in that day and evening.

  10. I had big bites taken out of my heirloom tomatoes. Apparently the culprits here in South Texas are squirrels and rats (ugh!). I started picking the tomatoes when they just started to ripen and this cut way back on the problem. Then the heat wave started (100+ degrees day after day) and the plants stopped producing.

  11. That video is crazy. One part Martha Steward and one part crazy hillbilly. I trapped and killed a half-dozen squirrels this year and now have no problem with them. But in case you think I’m home free I still have a serious rabbit and rat problem….the rats seem to multiply too quickly to really control and the rabbits seem too smart to fall into my traps – luckily neither seem interested in the sunflowers – but the corn and tomatoes are another story.

  12. Okay, short of wrapping your sunflower heads in chicken wire, you might try a woven plastic bag and a zip tie.

    Clamshell of hardware cloth?

  13. On our NE Penna property, it isn’t so much the squirrels (we have tons of acorn-spewing oak trees) but the oh-so-adorable chipmunks who raid the garden. I resorted to a 1/4″ mesh gitmo-inspired fortress around and over my strawberries earlier this year. It worked, but it was a lot of work. In response, they’ve upped the ante and for the first time, they’re nibbling the ripe tomatoes. In 26 years here, I’ve never had to have so much as a fence around my garden, but it seems that this year the word is out among the four-footed pickpockets. Forget the cat; he’s more interested in sunning.

  14. I (knock on wood here) haven’t had a problem with the squirrels around my place. They don’t bother my garden nor my bird feeders. I have no explanation for this, but just count my blessings and don’t ask why.

    I am gad that I’m not the only one who classifies those cloth ecobags are “ubiquitous and annoying.” And because people know I am “into the environment” they are constantly giving them to me. It amuses me in a way.

  15. Dudes, your in socal. get a very small chihuahua. Squirrels see them as bigger badder squirrels and head for the hills. I theorize this is because chi’s are actually part squirrel and speak squirrel tongue.
    They also enjoy eating grasshoppers- a crucial part of their traditional diet.
    Nothing protects a garden from the small pests better than a Chihuahua. You are welcome to borrow Ute any weekday.

  16. Squirrels are evil. They are rats with cuter tails. They make food gardening pointless. They take your green tomatoes, eat half of it, and dump the evidence where you will see it. Evil little rats.

  17. People who have trapped squirrels: what do you use for bait? (Other than whatever it is they are decimating in your garden.) This year, I lost all my peaches, about half my grapes, and now they are going for the apples and tomatoes. A super-squirter is the only weapon I’ve used that works, but who wants to sit outside all day with a squirt gun, waiting? They are way more clever and sneaky than I am. Evil, for sure.

  18. I am no fan of squirrels..we have a Zero tolerance policy for squirrels..I made a trap but it did not work due to poor construction..snares does a pellet gun. I am no fan of killing animals but I won’t allow destruction of things in my shed!

  19. Squirrels, my Uncle has fed them peanuts by hand and they tore through his screen door and he wonders why there is a hole in his porch roof? I do not know if he still eats them, but the small amount of meat is not worth the hassle!
    So now the squirrels hang from the tree by their hind legs and grab my just flowering giant sunflower heads with their paws and bite the sunflower head completely off. I do not think they eat all of it or even like it. In a bowl I left out sunflower seeds but they are only interested in the trees? One squirrel spent half an hour

  20. ….Squirrels tried to destroy my bird feeders. I wired them good and these Cardinal feeders with the wide top and wire surround work best. My half barrel of marigolds was occupied by the same squirrel three times in one day. So I chased him/ it off with a hose. Later the female attacked him , as I am guessing about their gender. In the past I used to like the squirrels.
    If they drag many more giant sunflowers down I might by a BB gun and take target practice and roast them! If only my Uncle could train the squirrels to eat the Japanese Beetles? So far I have only seen one praying mantis. My poor “blanket flowers” are under attack. I sorely regret the young oak tree in back that is soon to be overflowing with acorns.
    Surely, most squirrels are mischievous, evil creatures from hell! Oh well, nothing is ever perfect. Just keep trying though someday some generation will get it right. But not the ones destroying beaver dams and scaring deer off. Concrete and steel is not enough. When one day we cannot breathe, it will be TOO LATE!

  21. Successful so far this year! Jul 2015) I surrounded the sun flower bed with old CD’s and DVD’s with the mirror side aiming out. There are every foot or so at a height of 1-2 ft. on a rod or dry wood branch. Best is to drill close to the disc edge and put a string This allows the disc to move with little wind and reflect light in many directions. Even the scarce street night lights produce the sensation of a moving light.
    Let’s see what happens when the winter approaches and the deer come. The are very destructive in this NJ area.

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