6 Ways to Keep Squirrels From Eating Your Tomatoes

Squirrel standing on a fence and stretching to steal tomatoes

Julien C / Getty Images

Has this ever happened to you? When you go to the garden to pick that plump tomato you thought needed one more day to ripen from a bright pink to fire-engine-red perfection you found it:

a. chewed on one side

b. lying on the ground in a pulpy mess

c. missing altogether

You don’t need a degree in horticulture to figure out what happened. A squirrel beat you to it. The sneaky little thieves are the bane of backyard gardeners everywhere.

If you think you’ve tried every trick in the book to keep them from raiding your tomatoes but failed more times than not, here are a few tricks you may not have thought of. These tips come from a question we posed to home gardeners through social media and to an agriculture extension service. We asked them about the combat tactics they’ve used, no matter how crazy, in the ongoing Squirrel Wars.

Here are the answers (at least the ones we could publish!). Check out the following tips to keep those hungry squirrels at bay:

Get cagey with the little critters

caged tomato plants
Rex Hammock / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

They’re resourceful little scoundrels, right? You can be shrewd, too. Try caging them out. If you're feeling ambitious you can create a setup with framed chicken wire. Or you can erect a simple wire cage with a bird-netting roof. This is an easy, do-it-yourself project virtually any home gardener can install. Depending on the layout of your garden and the number of tomato plants you are growing, you can build single cages to protect individual plants or you can build a larger cage that will cover a small bed (example, 6 feet by 6 feet, 36 square feet). There’s one caveat: Tomatoes grown in a roofed cage must be determinate tomatoes. Determinate tomatoes, also called "bush" tomatoes, only grow to a compact height (less than 4 feet) and all the tomatoes ripen at or near the same time.

For individual plants, purchase a 6-foot length of wire hardware cloth. Form the hardware cloth into a circle, and use pliers to loop the strands on the cut end into the wire squares on the other end. Bend the strands and secure them with the pliers to the squares in the hardware cloth so the newly formed fence will stay in the form of a circle. Place the circular fence on the ground around the tomato seedling. Drive a small stake into the ground beside the fence and secure the fence to the stake to keep the fence in place. Place a piece of bird netting over the hardware cloth cage and secure the netting to the cage with garden twist ties.

Get a border collie

Border collie sitting by plants in a vegetable garden
Westend61 / Getty Images

A gardener and dog lover in eastern North Carolina says that in the past she’s had a dog door that opened to a fenced yard. She said all she had to do was say "squirrel," and her two border collies blasted through the door in a dead barking run. “No squirrel was harmed, the dogs got exercise and my garden stayed safe.” Now that’s a win-win-win!

Scare the you-know-what out of them

How do you do that? Put out some predator pee. Preferably, the thinking goes, from a wolf. Luckily, you don’t need your own wolf. You can order it online. Just enter “wolf urine” in your web browser, and you’ll find several sources. Supposedly it will keep any varmint on four legs — from a vole to a moose — out of the garden. If you go this route, you can probably forget using the cat or border collie trick. If other members of your family are not as enthusiastic a gardener as you, you might also find a storage place for the predator pee other than in the kitchen. Depending on the urgency of your squirrel problem and the ripeness of your tomatoes, you can even request express delivery.

Mix 'em a cocktail

A pile of chili peppers
Adam Baker / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Some people swear by a hot, red pepper tea. Mix up a batch and spray it around the border of the garden and leaves of plants in the garden. People who’ve brewed this concoction swear that unwanted critters won’t go near their tomatoes.

Here’s a hot pepper tea recipe to consider:

  1. Start by putting on rubber gloves like the kind you might use to protect your hands while washing dishes and a long sleeve shirt.
  2. Buy four fresh cayenne peppers, cut the tops off and throw away the green stems. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and chop coarsely.
  3. Place the chopped peppers and seeds in a container and add 1 1/2 cups of hot water and 1/2 cup of white vinegar. Seal tightly and let the jar sit for four days, shaking gently 2-3 times a day.
  4. Place a strainer in a funnel and place the funnel into a spray bottle. Pour the pepper mix into the container, discarding the chopped peppers and seeds that have collected in the strainer.
  5. Add 1 teaspoon of dishwashing liquid and 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the spray bottle. Screw the spray lid on tightly and gently shake the bottle to mix all the ingredients into a light emulsion.

Warning

Capsaicin, the hot component of peppers, can cause severe irritation upon contact. Avoid getting the hot pepper tea on your skin or anywhere near your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you store the tea, clearly mark the container and put it out of reach of children and pets.

Spray in the garden, preferably in the morning when the air is still. Take 'em to court!

Black and white cat sitting in a flower bed
Elizabeth Livermore / Getty Images

A former newspaper reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says a Georgia Supreme Court justice told her that he endorses the cat tactic. He said he also uses another trick: He plants three times as many tomatoes as he needs: a third for the squirrels, a third for the deer and a third for himself.