Lawn & Garden Gardening Garden Pests

Solved! How to Keep Squirrels Away From Pumpkins

Are squirrels eating pumpkins in your outdoor fall displays? Here's what you can do to distract and deter the animals without harming them.
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how to keep squirrels away from pumpkins

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Q: Every year, we decorate our front porch and walkway with carved jack-o’-lanterns. Last year, squirrels invaded and chewed them to pieces! What can we do to keep squirrels from eating pumpkins on our porch?  

A: Forget Halloween goblins, wily witches, and eye-patched pirates! Squirrels may actually be the toughest tricksters you’ll be dealing with this autumn, but it’s not too hard to know how to keep squirrels away from pumpkins and other plants that are popular for seasonal decor.

“Squirrels have a keen sense of smell,” says Sara Ochoa, a veterinarian in West Monroe, La., adding that spicy or strong-smelling products “tend to keep them at bay.”

Squirrels are drawn to pumpkins because they instinctively know that “these nutritional powerhouses provide hydration, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that benefit squirrels,” according to Gainesville, Fl., veterinarian Luana Factor. However, “it’s best to discourage excessive consumption,” says Tommy Wylde, wildlife expert and creator of Floofmania.

The following techniques will help you humanely discourage those fluffy-tailed rodents as well as other pests, whether on your porch or in your pumpkin patch. You’ll also learn what not to do to keep unwelcome animals away from your festive display.

Get the pumpkin guts out.

Be conscientious when carving to cleanly remove all the seeds and stringy stuff from inside the pumpkin, because the insides are what squirrels crave. The more guts you get rid of, the less tempting the pumpkin will be to scavenging pests. Plus, reducing moisture will stave off bacteria, so your jack-o’-lantern will probably last longer.

Use pet hair as a deterrent.

how to keep squirrels away from pumpkins

“Sprinkle pet hair around pumpkins,” says Factor, “because it functions as a natural warning sign.” Squirrels will be alarmed, worried that there may be a potential enemy nearby. Placing your pumpkins on a blanket your cat or dog has slept and snuggled on might also trick the squirrels..

Never use pet waste to thwart pests. Your pet’s waste is a health hazard that must be disposed of properly. That said, some commercial repellents do mimic the smell of animal urine to con squirrels into avoiding the area.

RELATED: How to Get Rid of Squirrels

Integrate an owl decoy into your fall display.

decoy oil with squash gourds outside in the forest

Don’t have a dog or cat on the premises? Work a statue of an owl—a primary squirrel predator—into your fall display. Some of these bogus birds of prey boast flashing eyes and screeching sounds to make pests really think twice about approaching. Because the owl is a popular Halloween icon, it won’t look out of place in your outdoor fall decor. The owl can spook trick-or-treaters and interloping squirrels!

Put out bowls of vinegar.

Squirrels are turned off by the strong smell of vinegar, so place small bowls of it nearby. Don’t douse gourds in vinegar, though, because the acetic acid is likely to damage the skin of the fruit. Avoid using toxic chemicals like bleach, ammonia, and naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene (common ingredients in mothballs) around your decor. These harsh substances can harm wildlife, pets, and people, so they’re not worth the risk.

Sprinkle pepper flakes or hot sauce.

“Squirrels have a particular aversion to capsaicin, the spicy compound found in hot peppers,” according to Alex van der Walt, a veterinary student at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. She suggests liberally sprinkling cayenne in your garden (it won’t harm pumpkin vines or leaves) or around the perimeter of your pumpkin display to create a barrier squirrels will be loath to cross.

For a DIY repellent, blend crushed hot peppers with some water, then add a drop of dish soap to make the solution sticky. Pour into a spray bottle and spritz gourds well, repeating every other day or so to keep squirrels from your gourd display. The other option is to simply douse pumpkins with commercial hot sauce, which might actually work well if you want your Halloween display to look like something out of horror movie. If you use hot peppers or sauce, be sure to wear work gloves or wash your hands well after contact with hot peppers or you’ll get a nasty surprise the next time you rub your eyes.

RELATED: How to Keep Squirrels Away From Bird Feeders

how to keep squirrels away from pumpkins

Make a minty spray to discourage them.

If you fear that children or pets could breach the hot pepper defense, there is a sweeter alternative: peppermint. Spray gourds with a solution made of a few drops of peppermint essential oil and water. Or simply pop some unwrapped peppermint candies inside a jack-o’-lantern.

PRO TIP: Plants That Can Keep Squirrels From Eating Your Pumpkins

“Plants like marigolds, mustard, and mint give off scents that squirrels typically steer clear of. It’s a win-win: Your display gets an added dash of color and fragrance, and your pumpkins stay untouched.”
—Dr. Sara Ochoa, veterinarian in West Monroe, Louisiana

Set squirrels up with an alternate food source.

If you’re the sort of animal lover who prefers to encourage the little varmints, you can set them up with nuts and seeds placed strategically away from your decor. You’ll have to keep replenishing the supply, of course, once word of your generosity hits the squirrel grapevine. There will be more squirrels stopping by for a snack.

squirrel eating feed on fence next to feeder in the woods

RELATED: 7 Important Things to Know About Your Squirrel Feeder

Put them off with coffee or garlic.

Garlic and coffee are two other natural substances that have odors known to make squirrels say sayonara. Sneak fresh garlic cloves or coffee grounds into a carved pumpkin and other decor near the pumpkins, and replace regularly to maintain the unappealing pungency.

Coat gourds with Vaseline or lacquer.

Slather petroleum jelly over pumpkins, whole or carved; the gooey stuff is a total squirrel turnoff. What’s more, in dry climates the Vaseline may act as a moisturizer to prevent pumpkin shriveling. Alternatively, in damper environments you can spray lacquer on gourds and let it dry to a hard shell. Squirrels will be stymied by the strange surface and move on.

RELATED: How to Preserve Pumpkins Without Harming Wildlife

Pot aromatic plants near your pumpkins.

Because squirrels are so smell-sensitive, Ochoa suggests adding odiferous plants to your fall display. “Plants like marigolds, mustard, and mint give off scents that squirrels typically steer clear of,” she says.

Place pots of these plants near your pumpkins because “it creates a natural barrier without causing harm to our furry invaders,” says Ochoa. “It’s a win-win: Your display gets an added dash of color and fragrance, and your pumpkins stay untouched.”