Q: We like to decorate our front porch and walkway with carved jack-o’-lanterns, but the last two years, squirrels invaded and chewed them to pieces! We don’t want to harm the creatures, just deter them. What can we do to keep squirrels away from our pumpkins?
A: Forget Halloween goblins, wily witches, and eye-patched pirates! Squirrels are clearly the toughest tricksters you’ll be dealing with this autumn, but it’s not too hard to keep squirrels away from pumpkins and other plants that are popular for seasonal decor. 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, and you’ll also learn what not to do to keep unwelcome animals away from your festive display.
Get the guts out.
Be conscientious when carving to cleanly remove all the seeds and stringy stuff because that’s 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.
Related: 7 Important Things to Know About Your Squirrel Feeder.
Try the hair of the dog—literally.
Got a pooch? Consider placing your pumpkins on a blanket your pet has slept and snuggled on. Squirrels will be alarmed by the hair and dander, a sign that there may be a potential enemy nearby. Squirrels may be equally repelled if they detect a feline presence. But 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 taking a powder.
Deter with a decoy.
No 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 should merge easily with your motif to amuse your guests and spook trick-or-treaters.
Related: Squirrels in the Attic? – Solved!
Disinvite with 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 its 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 if mishandled, so they’re not worth the risk.
Put ’em off with pepper.
Capsaicin, the natural component in chili peppers that makes them hot, ought to send squirrels packing—if not at first sniff, then surely at first nibble. Liberally sprinkle 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 at bay. Or simply dose pumpkins with commercial hot sauce. Just 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: Squirrels in Bird Feeders? Keep Them Out with 10 Tips.
Discourage with sweets.
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. 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 replace regularly to maintain the unappealing pungency.
Coat your decor.
Slather petroleum jelly over pumpkins, whole or carved; the gooey stuff is a total squirrel turnoff. What’s more, in dry climates the jelly may act as a moisturizer to prevent 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: The Best Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder Options for Your Home
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.