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"Squirrels? Rabbits? What's eating my Plants?!"
Q. Mike: This morning to my surprise I saw a squirrel attack and devour my yellow and red tulips. Do squirrels normally eat tulips? And what can I do about it? Thanks!
    ---Ron in Cherry Hill, NJ
So many of my tulip stems are headless. Is there anything I can do to protect them? I don't know if it's the squirrels or rabbits eating them.
    ---Sharon in Skokie, IL
A. EVERYTHING eats tulips, Sharon—squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, deer, groundhogs…the list of malicious masticators is virtually endless! But you don't need a positive ID—just a good strong deer repellent! Spray it on the emerging greenery as soon as it pokes up next Spring, and reapply weekly.

Q. Every spring we wait for our tulips to bloom, but the squirrels get them first. One year we spread human hair to repel them; it worked somewhat, but we never repeated it, hoping they wouldn't do it again. The main problem is our mean middle-aged fat unmarried neighbor who feeds them peanuts. (She has been sabotaging our garden for years; now the squirrels are working for her!) They bury the peanuts in our garden and then dig up our herbs and flowers, presumably looking for the buried nuts. The squirrels are getting more and more aggressive. Please help us.
    ---{Name Withheld} in Philadelphia
A. Yes, your neighbor is the problem; squirrel feeders cause misery for every gardener in the neighborhood. They don't need the extra food, and so they bury most of these gifts, generally removing those senseless things you planted in the process. But they quickly forget where they bury anything. (A recent science report said that squirrels have an attention span of about 20 minutes; that would be, what? Twice as long as the average American male?) And so they tear up your landscape on treasure hunts later.

Your nonchalance isn't helping. You stopped spreading the hair that seemed to help, hoping that the squirrels would change their stripes? Ha! "Ask not what your tulips can do for you—ask what you can do for your tulips!"

…Like having a big bottle of deer repellant ready next season. This year, get a roll of chicken wire and use it to cover your beds. Push it down into the soil where you won't see it, but where it will prevent digging from above. Use tin-snips to cut holes in it for your plants. This will also keep cats from using your beds as litter boxes.

Or consider getting "The Scarecrow"; this neat-looking motion-activated sprinkler shoots cold water at garden intruders, like squirrels and cats; it also works on bigger pests, like deer, groundhogs and Canada geese. And, of course, if your neighbor does come into your garden seeking to make mischief, it would rinse her down as well.

As satisfying as that mental image may be, I urge you to instead make peace. Her weight is not an issue here, name-calling isn't going to help, and warring neighbors makes for a lousy life. Present her with a nice new squirrel-proof bird feeder and ask nicely if she could move to feeding beneficials instead of bandits. Explain that the squirrels are becoming aggressive, that they savage gardens, and that you don't want to have to trap them, but you are prepared to. (Have the details we provided in a Previous Question of the Week handy) Assure her that they'll still provide hours of fun as they relentlessly try to get into the feeder. Maybe offer to grow a few plants for her. Make love, not war.

At least with her—you can do what you want to the #@%& squirrels.

Q. PLEASE HELP! We are DESPERATE! Squirrels have eaten half the tomatoes that we "babied", and we are sick! Something eats the beans when they come up too. We can't afford to fence the garden at this time, and appreciate any help you can give us.
    ---Gerri in Cleveland, Texas
A. Ha! The only kind of fencing that can keep squirrels out is the 'cage' design—including a roof made of fencing—we described in a Previous Question of the Week called " The Ultimate Squirrel Solution".

Now, you're in oh-so-dry Texas. Desperate squirrels and birds will sometimes attack tomatoes just to get a little moisture. Try putting out big pans of water or birdbaths and see if they're just looking for a drink. And your tomatoes should be growing inside big cages; secure some fencing to the top of each cage and you'll protect the tomatoes inside.

Of course, that doesn't help your other crops. And you don't want to spray nasty tasting repellents on your food. So I'd say your choices are trapping, a motion activated sprinkler, or a Jack Russell terrier or similar high-energy 'ratting dog'; they greatly enjoy keeping tree rats at bay.

Q. I haven't had too many problems in the past but it seems that there are more rabbits than usual in our yard. I don't usually uncover my cole & lettuce crops until they have some size to them. What else can you suggest? Thanks,
    ---Roger in Villa Grove, Illinois
Roger! "More rabbits than usual"? Oy! ONE visible bunny is too many if you want to be the one who eats those greens! Rabbits can be serious pests—they let them get out of control in a Chicago park a few years back and the rabbits literally ate the park! Luckily, American rabbits don't burrow, so the simplest fence will stop them; it only needs to be a few feet high. Bury a few inches underground so they can't push under it.

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