Physical barriers offer your best line of defense for keeping squirrels out of your flower pots; other methods may or may not work to thwart the rodents from eating plants, digging in the pots and strewing dirt over your deck or patio. As you work to eliminate the damage caused by squirrels, realize too that their digging and caching of seeds and nuts for later use make them valuable parts of the overall ecological system, helping to aerate soil, propagate new trees from the seeds they bury and providing food for large bird and mammal predators.
Barriers to Prevent Digging
If squirrels dig in your pots, cover the soil with flat rocks or broken pieces of other flower pots or wire mesh. Heavier rocks and pottery work better than lightweight pieces because the squirrels will be less able to lift them. Bury wire mesh or screening about 6 inches below the ground so the squirrels don't simply lift it off as they would with light rocks.
Barriers That Cover Plants
Certain ground squirrels eat flowers and plants as well as dig, so you need to prevent them from getting at both the plant and the soil. Use a wire farm basket for low-growing plants, making sure that it comes to the edge of the flower pot. If damage occurs in the night, as would happen with Southern flying squirrels, for example, drape tall plants with wire mesh screening; use a more decorative barrier if damage occurs during daylight hours, such as bird cages with the bottoms removed.
Homemade remedies that might discourage squirrels include either a sprinkling of red pepper on your plants or a mixture of a small bottle of red pepper sauce dissolved in 1 gallon of water with a teaspoon of dish detergent, as exterminator Rick Steinau suggests in his Ask the Exterminator website. Apply either repellent to the leaves and the soil of the plants, reapplying periodically to refresh the scents and taste and after watering.
Commercial repellents use either taste or scent to discourage squirrels from digging into flower pots or eating plants. For example, products containing the chemicals denatonium or thymol come in ready-to-use formulas; spray enough of the product on the plant's leaves so it drips off, apply a second coat in three to seven days and reapply after heavy rains. Products with rotten eggs, pepper and vinegar also come ready-to use and need complete coverage and reapplications after rain. Wear protective gloves and eyewear when spraying chemical products, spray only on calm days without wind and don't use the products on edible plants during the fruit-bearing season.
For more information on squirrel deterrents, visit How to Keep Squirrels Out of a Garden.
Susan Lundman began writing about her passions of cooking, gardening, entertaining and recreation after working for a nonprofit agency, writing grants and researching child development issues. She has written professionally for six years since then. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.