Squirrels may look cute and fuzzy, but they can wreck havoc in any yard -- eating young foliage, stealing fruit and vegetables, and digging up newly planted flower bulbs. Fortunately, you may have a few items in your home that can naturally and safely repel squirrels and protect your yard from these pests. When using a scented repellent to deter squirrels, reapply the repellent after heavy rains or after a couple weeks because its scent wears off.
Mint Oil and Mint Plants
Mint oil is commonly used in commercially prepared squirrel deterrents. Its strong scent offends the sensitive noses of squirrels and drives them away from the scented area. Dab a few drops of peppermint oil onto cotton balls, and scatter the cotton balls throughout your landscape to repel squirrels and other rodents.
Placing mint plants (Mentha spp.) in a garden also can help discourage squirrels from foraging there. Mint is perennial throughout U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9. It grows very vigorously and creeps into unwanted areas of the landscape, however. Grow mint in containers to prevent it from spreading uncontrollably, and move the containers as necessary into areas where you notice squirrel activity.
Apple Cider Vinegar
The acidic, pungent odor emanating from vinegar -- specifically apple cider vinegar -- creates an invisible barrier that keeps squirrels at bay. Using vinegar to repel squirrels typically works best in small, enclosed spaces, such as outdoor garden sheds and landscapes shielded from wind.
Soak rags in apple cider vinegar, and place the rags where squirrels frequent. Alternatively, pour apple cider vinegar into a spray bottle, and spritz it onto hard surfaces, such as on plant pots, to keep squirrels from digging into the containers' potting soil.
Vinegar's effectiveness varies from squirrel to squirrel, and some squirrels may not be bothered by it.
Squirrel repellents typically work by having either offensive odors or offensive tastes. Some spices combine both deterrent factors. Ground hot peppers and ground garlic cloves are commonly used to rid gardens of squirrels. After combining equal portions of ground pepper and ground cloves, sprinkle the mixture onto plant beds. The scent of garlic deters squirrels, and if the squirrels are especially persistent, the hot pepper irritates their taste buds.
Spice plants also can defend the landscape from squirrels, rabbits and other garden pests. Try growing garlic (Allium sativum), onion (Allium cepa) or both as a border around garden beds. Garlic is perennial in USDA zones 3 through 8 while onion is biennial in USDA zones 3 through 9.
Because squirrels are near the bottom of the food chain, their fear of predators can be a strong deterrent and successful way to scare them away from a garden. Although commercially prepared squirrel repellents often include the urine of foxes and similar predators, a similar effect can be achieved at home by using dog hair or used cat litter. Scatter used cat litter in a border around a garden. Alternatively, collect dog hair -- either from a pet or from a neighborhood dog-grooming company. Place the hair in mesh bags, and use garden twine to hang the bags on trees and shrubs near the garden.
Mothballs are sometimes used to remove squirrels from a yard. The fumes from mothballs' chemicals irritate squirrels and other rodents. Those chemicals, however, also can poison children as well as pets and other animals. Avoid using this common, yet ill-advised, squirrel-deterrent method.