Chipmunks may look small, but the ground-dwelling rodents can cause big problems for potted plants. For example, chipmunks seek out and dig up newly planted bulbs -- a favorite food for them -- and also nibble on tender shoots and leaves. Deter and repel chipmunks to protect your container garden from being wiped out.
Clear the Way
Things You'll Need
Chipmunks stay away from open spaces. They scurry from hiding spot to hiding spot, which keeps them sheltered from predators such as hawks and cats. Modify the landscape around your potted plants to repel chipmunks, forcing them to seek more hospitable, welcoming yards.
Cut back thick shrubbery, dense ground-cover plants and tall stands of grass. Don't allow plants to create one, long sheltered path. For example, create a break between a hedge and a nearby patch of ground cover, forcing chipmunks to move into the open.
Keep the landscape free of debris. Get rid of woodpiles, rake up fallen leaves and put away unused garden tools. They serve as common hiding spots for chipmunks and other pests.
Keep several feet of clear, plant-free space around all potted plants. Consider moving the potted plants onto patches of gravel or placing them on an open hardscape surface, such as a patio deck.
If you use pruning shears or a different tool to cut back dense foliage, then wipe the tool first and between cuts with rubbing alcohol. It sterilizes the tool, preventing the spread of plant diseases.
Grow Chipmunk-Resistant Plants
As you decide which kinds of plants to grow in containers, consider plants that are chipmunk-resistant. They tend to have a bitter taste, which makes them less appealing to many kinds of animal pests, including squirrels and deer. Dozens of chipmunk-resistant options do well in containers. Example perennials include:
- English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), which is perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8.
- Douglas iris (Iris douglasiana, USDA zones 6 through 10).
- Large-flowered star tulip, also called Monterey mariposa lily (Calochortus uniflorus, USDA zones 3 through 7).
- Drumstick allium (Allium sphaerocephalon, USDA zones 4 through 11).
Set Up a Mesh Barrier
After planting bulbs or seeds in pots, and ensuring those pots have bottom drainage holes, cover the pots with mesh hardware wire. For the best results against chipmunks, the gaps in the wire should be 1/4 inch wide. Cut the wire so that it closely fits the circumference of each pot. Plants can sprout through the wire's openings, but the wire deters chipmunks from digging into the potting soil to get at the underground bulbs.
For aesthetic purposes, dust the wire mesh with a light layer of potting soil or mulch to hide it. No one needs to know the mesh is there.
Repel with Tastes and Scents
Like squirrels and other rodent pests, chipmunks are sensitive to a wide range of repellents. They include scent deterrents that mimic the odor of a predator to keep chipmunks at bay and taste deterrents that irritate chipmunks if they try to snack on treated plants. Try these tactics:
- Sprinkle a handful of used kitty litter around potted plants. Cat urine sets off predator alarms for chipmunks.
- Hang a mesh bag full of human hair or dog fur from the branches of each potted plant or from a stake stuck into the soil of each plant's pot.
- Dust the leaves of each potted plant with dried cayenne pepper. After one unsuspecting nibble, the chipmunks will stay away.
Mothballs are commonly suggested to repel chipmunks. Although it's true that the odor emitted by mothballs deters a wide range of rodents, using mothballs for such off-label purposes is illegal and very dangerous. When used in a garden setting, the chemicals in mothballs could poison children, pets and wildlife.
Joshua Duvauchelle is a certified personal trainer and health journalist, relationships expert and gardening specialist. His articles and advice have appeared in dozens of magazines, including exercise workouts in Shape, relationship guides for Alive and lifestyle tips for Lifehacker. In his spare time, he enjoys yoga and urban patio gardening.