How to keep squirrels out of potted plants

Foul play by furry rodents driving you nuts? Here's how to keep squirrels out of potted plants...

A squirrel in a plant pot outside in backyard
(Image credit: Getty / Stephanie Hohmann / EyeEm (#1207807404))

Woken up to upturned pots? You might be wondering how to keep squirrels out of potted plants. After all, what other cute, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed rodent is capable of such tomfoolery?

There's no need to resort to violence to get rid of these pests when they're caught inside your containers. In most cases, these animals are harmless, so you just need to be clever with your garden ideas to outsmart them.

Lethal poisons are an environmental no-no as 1) they're unnecessary and 2) present a risk to other animals (including out pets). So if you want to know how to keep squirrels out of your potted plants, you've got to think outside the (toxin) box.

We'll show you how to play fair by using household materials, specialist equipment and natural ingredients that squirrels don't like. In some instances, you can even add to your botanical portfolio by planting flowers and herbs that they hate so that they can make a quick exit out of your external space.

How to keep squirrels out of potted plants

1. Use a shop-bought deterrent (or DIY your own)

A woman wearing t-shirt and denim shorts applying Squirrel Mace deterrent spray to container plants on decking

(Image credit: Amazon)

Ever got chili pepper in your eye or scratched your nose after touching one? Yep... it's enough to make us cry. So you can imagine the sting that this hot food brings to squirrels and is one way to keep squirrels out of potted plants.

Squirrels hate spicy foods and scents, so capsaicin (the chemical compound responsible for the heat factor in chilies), can be used to discourage the little rascals. You can either scatter fresh rounds or dried flakes in your potted plants, sprinkle hot cayenne pepper powder around the area, or buy a spray or granules with red pepper extract in it.

Products like Nature's Mace Squirrel Repellent are available on Amazon, and are a non-toxic way of getting the rodents to go away. If you're wondering how to keep raccoons away from your backyard or porch – this may work too.

Garlic can also banish these bushy-tailed animals, so you can either crush a fresh clove nearby or go for a granulated product, instead, for easy application without a crusher. 

Just be sure not to use garlic salt as the sodium content could kill your plants. As a suggestion, these Whole Foods roasted garlic granules from Amazon may seem gourmet, but you can bet that the squirrels will be grossed out by them.

A black and white cat sits between a variety of potted plants on a wooden decking. She is looking away, past the camera and beyond.

(Image credit: Getty / Elizabeth Livermore (Creative #:504294008))

2. Get a cat

Does your furry friend love playing cat and mouse? Then consider this a variant of the chasing game. In all seriousness, owning a feline may ward away squirrels and other garden pests. Their predatory presence alone is a deterrent for the rodents that like to ruin your garden plant ideas.

If your mog isn't up to the extra-curricular activity, their urine might be enough to dissuade your pesky fiend. Rather than trying to collect your cat's pee, use a little used kitty litter to surround your special plants – just don't apply it to flower beds or edible plants.

More team dog? Man's best friend can also chase squirrels away.

3. Pick up some essential oils

As well as being one of the best essential oils that are good for headaches, mint extract is perfect for shooing off squirrels if another pot mess is doing your head in. 

Rather than adding the drops directly to the soil itself, grab yourself some peppermint essential oil on Amazon and soak some cotton balls with a few drops. The menthol scent will be sufficient enough to signal squirrels to scoot off.

Alternatively, a rag soaked in cinnamon or rosemary oil might also do the trick.

A white plate with coffee grounds, stainless steel teaspoon with striped design and plant

(Image credit: Getty/Kinga Krzeminska (#1369145526))

4. Catch them out with coffee grounds

While the smell of java from the best coffee machine is enough to entice us in the morning, squirrels can't be by it for too long. So after you're done using a coffee maker, don't throw the waste in your kitchen trash can. You can use your espresso coffee grounds in gardening to quickly escort these sneaky so-and-sos off your large potted plants.

Don't be tempted to dump your coffee waste directly on the potted plants or on small potted plants, as it can suffocate the plant and can cause fungus to grow. Instead, what you want to do is use a thin ½ inch layer before covering it with a four-inch layer of mulch.

Gardena 38124 ZoomMaxx Oscillating Sprinkler on Metal Step Spike being operated in backyard with food crops

(Image credit: Amazon)

5. Ward them off with water

Getting squirted by water can be fun and refreshing when the weather is hot, but for squirrels, H2O is something they hate. Though it's a little mean, keep the kids entertained and pests at bay with a cheap water pistol.

While there's no need to go gung-ho with a Nerf gun or Super Soaker, these HITOP water guns, available from Amazon can shoot up to 27 feet and are therefore perfect for deterring at a distance.

Alternatively, if you want to take a more grown-up approach, a motion sensor sprinkler will stop them in their tracks (and water your lawn). This Gardena 38124 ZoomMaxx Oscillating Sprinkler we've seen on Amazon is easy to install, and comes with a metal spike to insert into the ground.

6. Make them come to their senses (literally)

High-pitched noises and flashing lights are enough to make anyone feel uncomfortable. So if you're looking at how to keep squirrels out of potted plants use sound and visuals to fend them off.

Though it's hard for us to hear, this Broox Solar Animal Repeller on Amazon emits ultrasonic sound that makes squirrels think twice before scrounging for bits and bulbs in your plant pots. What's more, this particular model, is waterproof and has flashing LED lights which act as 'plant police' to catch your backyard vandals whatever the weather.

7. Arrange large pebbles around your pots

As well as being a pretty way to decorate your plant babies, stones and pebbles provide ample blockage to keep squirrels out of potted plants. 

Large river stones like these from Voulosimi on Amazon will be too heavy for squirrels to move and will still allow rainwater to fall through or, for you to water your foliage as needed.

8. Cover your pots in fabric or metal mesh

If squirrels are being mischievous and using your pots to bury nuts or dig out your plant seeds, it's time to get physical. But before you retaliate with violence, we just mean finding a physical barrier to cover your potted greenery.

While some recommend chicken wire, others say that the rodents are smart enough to squeeze through the hexagonal poultry mesh. So if you really want to discourage them, a finer mesh-like garden netting from POYEE's Amazon store may perform better as a barricade. This durable material can be cut and is UV-stable so won't break down in the sun.

A wooden piano-shaped squirrel bird feeder

(Image credit: B&M)

9. Distract them with food

Like many animals, squirrels are food-motivated, so if you're finding them in your potted plants, create a more appetizing space for them to use. As well as a way to keep squirrels out of potted plants, adding a feeder can also attract much nicer wildlife like birds into your backyard, so you can enjoy a beverage while birdwatching.

This piano squirrel feeder by B&M is a novel decoration that will make for an entertaining watch as they snack while sitting on the stool.

10. Give them a sharp warning with forks or sticks

There's no need for lethal weaponry when you want to know how to keep squirrels out of your potted plants. You just need to look in your cutlery drawer for cheap household deterrents.

If you've got some bamboo kebab skewers spare from your backyard bbq, or if you kept the plastic forks from your recent takeout, stick these in your soil to top your crop criminals coming close. Though they won't harm squirrels, it may be enough to stop them from sifting through the earth.

11. Scare them off with shiny objects

While magpies love a reflective object – squirrels, on the other hand, despise them. So for a cheap way to get a grey or red squirrel to bugger off, try using reflective tape we found on Amazon

Be warned however, that you might also scare off birds using this holographic material, but it is a 2-in-1 method for frightening off fluffy rodents and can be used to get rid of pigeons on your balcony or patio.

For a kitsch alternative that kids will love, try mylar pinwheels which spin when the weather is breezy. Visit the Hausse Store on Amazon where you can buy a pack of ten to distribute in and around your most precious pots.

12. Grow plants that squirrels hate

And our last tip on how to keep squirrels out of potted plants? Grow more plants! OK, this might sound counterproductive, but by choosing varieties that squirrels hate, you can add to a beautiful backyard collection while keeping Sciurus carolinensis at a safe distance from the plants you want to protect.

With help from RHS, you can learn how to grow alliums (part of the onion, shallot and scallion family). But unlike the eye-watering veggies, these purple flowers will add color to your backyard.

Other flowers that squirrels aren't fond of include our springtime fave, daffodils, fragrant hyacinth and geranium. Scented geranium aka citronella should also be on your gardening list if you're wondering how to get rid of mosquitoes in and outside of the home.

What is the best way to repel squirrels?

'Unlike some other yard wildlife, squirrels are not that skittish and it can be tough to scare them off once they are used to people,' says Lisa, aka The Practical Planter.

'Short of standing guard and chasing them, there aren’t that many things that will drive out squirrels. Hanging a few foil pie plates is a classic one, letting them clatter around unpredictably in the breeze. Another choice is to mount a plastic owl or hawk model on a nearby perch.'

Ready to tell squirrels to hoot off? This owl decoy by DALEN store on Amazon will do just that. 

However, one garden experts says we should 'live and let live. Marcus Eyles, horticultural director, Dobbies Garden Centres says: ''Squirrels don't really do any damage, people get annoyed when they put bird food out and everybody gets annoyed that squirrels go after it.'

'But yeah, they bury things in the garden, they can dig up bowls and things, but it's not really our place to be dictating to wildlife where they can and can't go, and they're not doing any particular harm.'

How to keep squirrels out of potted plants cheaply

Next time you wash your hair – don't throw your flyaways that clog the drain away. Instead, collect them to use as part of your squirrel repellent strategy.

'Collect human hair or dog hair (if you have one) and put them in places where the squirrel mostly visit,' says Laurel Thoreson, digital content specialist, Summit Environmental Solutions.

'This will scare them, as they would think a human is close by, and make them leave your place. Put your strands at the base of plants to prevent the damage caused by them.'

Christina Chrysostomou
Former acting head ecommerce editor

Hi, I'm the former acting head ecommerce editor at Real Homes. Prior to working for the Future plc family, I've worked on a number of consumer events including the Ideal Home Show, Grand Designs Live, and Good Homes Magazine. With a first class degree from Keele University, and a plethora of experience in digital marketing, editorial, and social media, I have an eye for what should be in your shopping basket and have gone through the internal customer advisor accreditation process.