Countryfile: Tom Heap learns of threat posed by grey squirrels
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There’s nothing worse than finding tiny bite marks in your homegrown tomatoes, especially when entire vines have been spoiled by pests. Squirrels are a likely culprit for nibbling on the juicy red fruits, and it’s likely that they’re eyeing up other tasty plants in your garden too. While it’s not always easy to stop squirrels from visiting at all, there are a few ways to bid farewell to damaged fruits, vegetables and greenery in your garden.
Squirrels are quick on their feet thanks to their long flexible bodies and bushy tails, making them near impossible to catch eating your tomatoes before they scurry away.
Fortunately, unlike most rodents, squirrels are active during the day and are a little easier to look out for if you think your plants have fallen victim to these hungry pests.
Though they often take just one small bite from juicy tomatoes, squirrels are prone to stealing entire fruits from the tall plants, so it’s crucial to get them under control to protect your crop.
Gardening experts at Henry Street Garden Centre have shared the best tricks to stop squirrels becoming a “serious nuisance” in your garden beds and plant pots.
Tomato plants grown in pots are very easy to protect with a few bamboo sticks.
Place the stakes with the pointed edge facing upwards to stop squirrels in their tracks.
According to the the experts at Henry Street Garden Centre, the sharp edges are enough to deter hungry rodents and leave your tomato plants to “flourish”.
The strong smell of coffee grounds is very off-putting for squirrels, and is commonly used to protect plants.
Simply mix in fresh, dry coffee grounds into the top layer of soil for a scented deterrent that won’t harm the busy-tailed rodents.
As well as keeping squirrels away, coffee grounds act as a great nitrogen-rich fertiliser for even better tomatoes.
Chilli pepper spray
Harsh chemicals should be always be avoided when it comes to homegrown fruits and vegetables but there are plenty of safe alternatives, including chilli peppers, that can be used instead.
Squirrels have sensitive senses and do not like the taste or smell of capsaicin, the active component of chili peppers, and will try their best to avoid it.
To make your spray, finely chop 10 cayenne peppers and add them (including the skin and seeds) to one gallon of water in a large cooking pot.
Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes to infuse the water, and leave it to cool.
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Capsaicin can cause severe irritation upon contact, so it is important to keep it away from your skin, eyes, nose, or mouth.
Once cooled, transfer the liquid into an empty spray bottle and spray liberally on the leaves of your tomato plants.
This mixture can also be applied to the borders of your garden to stop squirrels from venturing into your vegetable patch or pots in the first place.
If you don’t have any fresh chillies, you can always dilute a small bottle of store-bought hot sauce with a gallon of water instead.
Always mark the container clearly and put it out of reach of children and pets when not in use.
For an instant solution, dried chilli products will work instead.
Simply sprinkle dried hot pepper flakes or cayenne pepper powder around the garden in place of the spray solution to deter hungry squirrels.
Instead of spraying your tomato plants and other fruits, companion plants can be used to naturally ward off these tomato-eating rodents.
According to the experts at Treehugger, squirrels do not like the taste of mint, marigolds, nasturtiums or mustard.
All of these are perfectly safe to plant next to tomatoes, and some experts believe that they can even improve the quality of the fruit.
It is best to plant companions in pots or containers to create a barrier between the roots.
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