Hostas (Hosta spp.), which grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, decorate semi-shady gardens with large foliage and delicate seasonal flowers. Many pests -- including deer, slugs and squirrels -- like to feed on the succulent leaves and stems of these bushy perennials. A small arsenal of tips and tricks can help prevent squirrel damage to prized hostas.
Squirrels don't feed voraciously on hosta, nor do they actively seek it out. A few circumstances lead to feeding. For instance, squirrels will eat young, tender plants as they emerge. They will also feed on the water-rich foliage during a drought, leaving small stems poking up from the ground. They're not picky about which hosta variety they go after.
Placing small plant cages -- sometimes called tomato cages -- or fences around hosta plants will prevent some animals from feeding on them, including squirrels. Metal mesh cages and fences, however, may not be the most aesthetically appealing option nor the most economical. One point in their favor is they are simple to construct.
Place metal garden stakes around the area with hostas, spacing them no more than 4 feet apart. The stakes must be as tall or taller than the hostas. Attach poultry wire or wire mesh fence (with less than 1/2-inch holes) to the stakes. Drape bird netting over the top of the fence and attach it with clothespins or other clips.
Squirrels may dig up hosta roots or young, tender, recently planted hostas. To stop squirrels from digging, install a layer of hardware mesh just under the soil surface. Lightly scrape away the first inch or so of soil and place the mesh around the hosta. Re-cover with the soil and mulch.
Be aware that young hostas will continue to grow wider at their bases as they age, so check the mesh throughout the growing season to ensure it isn't blocking growth. Simply move it out away from the base of the hosta as the plant grows. You can also dig a small trench around the root base of hostas and make an under-the-soil wire mesh cage.
Some like it hot, but squirrels don't. The capsaicin in a hot sauce solution sprayed on hostas will burn squirrels' paws, lips and tongue as it does humans' and its smell also repels squirrels.
To create the solution, boil one chopped yellow onion, one chopped jalapeno and 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper in 2 quarts of water for 20 minutes; strain the mixture with a cheesecloth and let it cool. Place the solution in a spray bottle and spray the hosta every three to five days and after each time it rains.
Quench Their Thirsts
The leaves of hosta hold a lot of water, making them a delectable treat for squirrels during drought. If you notice squirrels are attacking hostas when it hasn't rained a lot, consider placing additional water sources around the yard for them. A bird bath put in a convenient location will attract not only squirrels but also songbirds and sometimes butterflies.
Feeding stations for squirrels may also keep them away from young, tender hostas in the spring and early summer. Place special squirrel feeders throughout the yard and fill them with squirrel favorites such as nuts, corn and sunflower seeds.