So how to keep squirrels and rabbits out of the garden? How about those other rodents, such as voles…? Rabbits are not rodents, and while cute and sweet, you may want to swear instead of coo when they demolish your dinner.
Squirrels, rabbits, lagomorphs and insectivores… garden pests are plentiful, and while we love all animals, we don’t love it if they decimate our precious garden. The good news is that there are natural solutions to keep squirrels and rabbits out of the garden.
Rabbits are lagomorphs not rodents. Shrews, moles, and hedgehogs are also not rodents, they are classified as insectivores.
Check this out if you need information on deer deterrents.
Cute Little Devils!
The idea of squirrels scampering up nearby trees and playing in the limbs, or little bunnies hopping through your garden can be sweet and fun to watch. But those cute critters are opportunistic feeders. When the squirrels take a few bites from each of the ripest tomatoes—like our squirrels did—or rabbits munch away your garden greens, they’re not so cute anymore.
Voles, woodchucks, squirrels, gophers, mice, moles, and other little creatures can wreak havoc on the garden. So what are you peaceful, animal-loving gardeners to do when Peter Cotton-Tail comes thumping through your vegetable patch, or worse, voles tunnel below ground to feast on your roots?
Stick with us. There are a number of solutions to consider. But first, we need to identify what’s eating your garden plants.
What’s Eating My Garden?!?
If you’ve ever found a garden plant shriveled up for no apparent reason, press upon the soil with your toe, only to have the plant drop into a tunnel below, you’ll agree these harmless critters aren’t so harmless.
Assessing What’s Eating Your Plants
If you don’t already know what kind of animal is disrupting your garden, finding out should be your first step. If you identify the creature you can learn more about their habits and behavior so that you can find the best solution to protect your garden.
Knowing what these creatures eat (insects, plants, whatever) can guide you to taking the more appropriate action. Both moles and voles may occupy tunnels but vary in their feeding habits, so the plant damage is different.1
Signs of Rabbit Damage to Plants
What Does Rabbit Damage to Plants Look Like?
- Clean angled cuts on plant stems and shoots
- Plants may be eaten to the ground (although deer do this too)
- Leafy greens like lettuce eaten to the ground
- Rings of bark eaten around the first 2.5 feet of trees
To confirm your suspicions, look around for the ubiquitous 1⁄4 to 1⁄2-inch round fecal pellets that rabbits seem to drop constantly. The presence of their characteristic footprints, consisting of an alternating pattern of small front feet and large back feet, is another clue to the identity of the culprit.https://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/4816/keeping-rabbits-out-of-the-kitchen-garden
Next is a video on installing a garden fence.
Garden Pest Solutions
Picket fences have that country charm, but these may only keep the dogs out. If you have cats or other creatures prowling, crawling, scampering or digging about, you need something more heavy duty.
Taking the time to create the proper fencing barrier up front will save you a lot of grief in the long run, and once it’s up, it should last awhile.
TIP: Don’t Use Rabbit Fencing
In our sleuthing of fencing products, rabbits can easily squeeze through those 2 by 3 inch holes. Some “rabbit fencing” has a lower section with tighter mesh but according to customers, the rabbits just jump through the upper section with the larger openings. It pays to read the reviews before buying a product.
Most of the so called “rabbit fencing” is ineffective against rabbits.
The 6-minute video clip below by Kenny Pointe offers a quick and concise how-to tutorial.
For garden fencing, here again, chicken wire is a relatively inexpensive option. Stretching woven wire fencing between posts (using a strand of wire to tension the bottom or forming an “L” and burying as such like the gentleman does in the above video) can discourage garden raiders from burrowing under your fence.
If you don’t like the look of a wire fence, or perhaps you’re building an urban garden and your neighborhood code is particular about fencing, there are still attractive DIY options that are less expensive.
Cute but Functional: you can choose a cottage picket fence or rustic wood fence and just use the wire to line the lower section, up to as high as you need it on the inside.
If you’re near woods, you can even use sticks from branches for a real country feel. Sure, these won’t last and they will rot, but they will hold up for awhile, especially if you anchor them with some solid posts. Then it’s relative easy to replace pieces as they wear out. These are just decorative “place holders” for stapling the mesh.
If you decide to build your fencing, your local home improvement store can be your best bet for all your materials.
TIP: If time is an issue, order what you need.
You can save a lot of time by ordering your supplies online via your local home improvement store. Some of the local home stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot in our area, will shop your list for you. Fax them your supplies list and let them shop for you for free, then stop by to pick up your order!
For individual plants, you can place chicken wire around the plants you want to protect. That may work for rabbits. You will need to bury a bowl-shaped piece of hardware cloth 6 -10 inches under the plant’s main root system to thwart burrowing animals. It’s not the most attractive option and it takes more work but it works for those few special plants under attack.
Squirrels deserve their own heading. Cute little bushy tailed bright-eyed, fun to watch… until they raid your tomato patch. Seeing the bandits, nip off with our pride and joy and almost-ready best tomatoes and suddenly, they’re transformed into conniving, thieving limb rats. Grrrrrr!
Fences are ideal, but may not be practical if you have a large area. Trapping, AirSoft “tapping”, tangle foot, pepper coating, fake raptors and snakes, urine products, used cat litter… we’ve been through all of these with some marginal success.
Our cat has likely been the best deterrent, when she decides to stake out the garden which to her is only a part-time job when it’s not raining. For the best protection, Mother Earth News advises using a 2-strand electric fence.https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/whos-raiding-your-garden.aspx
What we’ve found works the best in our garden is a motion activated sprinkler. We have several of the Hoontz brand and they’re working really well.
To Make your garden less appealing to critters
- Clear out brush piles and tall grass that make cozy nesting places
- Cover compost piles
- Clean up bird seeds to remove a food magnet for raccoons and squirrels
- Cover access to under porches and decks to get rid of sheltered homes and hiding places
- Place repellent plants in and around your garden
Rabbit and Squirrel Repellent Plants
There are some plants that squirrels don’t care for. However, some people have varying degrees of luck with virtually all remedies.
Some people say hot peppers and mothballs work, others say it didn’t do anything.
So while there are no guarantees, if you’re going to be growing some of these plants for use anyway, it’s work strategic placements for a better chance of deterring the varmints from dining on your precious fruits and vegetables.
We favor those with double duty: plants that repel while also being edible, medicinal, beautiful or otherwise useful. Plant these as companion plants in and around your crops as well as perimeter plants around your garden. Many of these also serve to repel deer or deter squash bugs and other garden pests.
However, don’t stop with plants. Keep on applying other solutions here too. The more options you try the better your chances or keeping squirrels, rabbits and other rodents away from your plants.
Plants that Repel Rodents
- Alliums –
- Castor plants – these are even called “mole bean” plants because they’re known to help with moles. They are an attractive plant with interesting leaves and lovely flowers.
- Lantana – a favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies
- Marigold – marigolds are also helpful in repelling mosquitoes
- Hot pepper plants
Rabbit, Squirrel and Rodent Deterrents
Coffee Grounds – the All Around Best Pest Deterrent
Even if you’re not a coffee drinker, using coffee grounds to deter squirrels and other critters is worth trying. Most coffee shops are glad to save some old grounds for you and some even have regular coffee ground pick up days.
if you are coffee drinkers like we are, then you’ll probably have plenty of coffee grounds to use. We have a Keurig coffee/tea machine with refillable K-cups, which is great for quick cups. However, we prefer the French press in the mornings with fresh ground organic coffee. We buy 5 lb. bags of Ruta Maya organic coffee from either Amazon or Costco.
We toss our coffee grounds from our french press directly into our kitchen countertop compost bin. We give it another swish with clean water and pour that in as well then dump it around the plants before it’s too full.
You’ll want to pour or sprinkle old coffee grounds liberally around the base of your plant, and/or the perimeter of your garden bed. They can be either dry or wet like ours often is.
Off season, we add coffee grounds to our compost. Once the fruits and vegetables start growing, you can spread it directly around your most vulnerable garden plants, taking care to rotate which ones get it. The theory is that the odor and coarse coffee grains are both deterrents.
People also burn dried used coffee grounds like an incense to deter mosquitoes and other insects. We found that a bit messy and challenging to set up for burning though. If you have a handy way of doing this and find that it works well, please let us know.
Many people find that coffee grounds spread around plants will deter squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and other critters.
Salt discourages small animals while adding magnesium to the soil which can benefit some plants. We always go for natural and double duty plants and products first.
There are a number of predator urine products, and all get between 3.5-4.0 star reviews, so mixed effectiveness, but worth a try. Dried products like this bobcat granules, are easier to spread around and while fewer reviews so far, most are favorable.
Auditory and Visual Rabbit, Squirrel, Repellents
- Noisemakers – Motion activated
- Ultrasonic devices (Some people say they don’t work; others say they do, so read the reviews to be informed first.
- Motion activated water sprayers – we’ve had good results from ours, such that we have several.
- Reflective tape – this has been our most effect deterrent for birds, especially when it’s tied to posts like streamers to keep birds from our blueberry plants too.
- Scarecrows – including
Pet Patrol to Deter Garden Raiders
Having a furry creature of your own can help keep away the critters you don’t particularly want around. Cats can catch mice, rats, voles and gophers, while staying busy chasing the squirrels away.
Most dogs will do their part to chase away anything that moves too… you just need to keep them from “watering” the plants or digging in the dirt! So best to keep them on the outside of the garden if possible.
Most gardeners enjoy nature and wildlife, but simply do not want these little creatures eating their fruits, veggies, or flower bulbs. Hopefully these tips can provide a safe and natural way for you to keep a peace between gardeners and critters.
To get more specific information about the type of animal that is plaguing your garden, Gardeners.com has a deep dive article.
Here’s a list of plants that deter and repel deer that you may find helpful.
Our Most Effective Squirrel Deterrents
In summary, everything we tried help, but none were foolproof. That said, our top most effective squirrel deterrents have been:
- Predator birds – when hawks moved into the neighborhood, they dramatically reduced our squirrel population.
- Multiple motion activated water sprayers set up around the garden
Naturally, it’s hard to control the predator bird population in your area. And, unfortunately, just as they take out a number of squirrels, they unfortunately also prey on some of the good garden birds that we want around.
For more on how to keep squirrels from eating your tomatoes.
Wisdom from the Community
We love to share tips, solutions and gardening wisdom from the GardensAll and Planting for Retirement Facebook communities. So feel free to let us know what you find works best to keep squirrels and rabbits out of the garden.
Sometimes it isn’t about how to keep squirrels and rabbits out of the garden as it is to catch and relocate them.
Critter Relocation Plan
Jonny Amo – Catch and Release
“For squirrels I trap them with a cage trap baited with peanut butter. Works every time. Then I drive them down the coast 5 miles or so and release them.”
Thumbs up on that one, Johnny! We’ve done that with mice for years… calling it the “critter relocation program”. Whenever we have to resort to capturing the critters, our first go to is always a humane approach using catch and release traps.
Colleen Nichols – Trap and Release
I bought one of these [Rugged Ranch Chipmunkinator]. Just throw something they like in the center, (such as seeds, nuts, and fruits), and you’ll catch them.
~Colleen Nichols, homesteader, artist, crafter
NOTE: Always check the reviews before you choose one. What works for one, may not work for another.
How to Keep Rabbits Out of the Garden? Plant Extra!
And lastly, some really sage advice from several Gardens All Facebook fans: “Plant extra.“
One lady plants lettuce all around her perimeter for the rabbits. What they don’t eat, she harvests for her family, but the overall effect is they tend to leave the garden inside of that ring alone.
Sometimes it’s about sharing more than caring if you lose a few. That’s what nature does. It’s easier to do if you have a lot of garden space. But generally, it all tends to work out alright in the end.
You win some and lose some, and each year we gain wisdom wrought from experience to apply to next season.
“Gardeners are alchemists… they know how to turn crap into crops.”
May you keep squirrels and rabbits out of the garden, this and every year!!
G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson