Dealing with Squirrels in Fruit Trees

Amid a sprawl of grassy lawns, our edible forest garden of fruit and nut trees offers sanctuary for insects, birds, and lizards. And squirrels.

A scurry of squirrels sampled and discarded unripe pears.

A scurry of squirrels sampled and discarded unripe pears.


Squirrels weren’t a problem till the spring that they removed every unripe peach from our peach tree. Then nectarines. Then apples, hazelnuts, and pecans. By summer, we watched our pears disappearing and took action.

Aromatic and Taste Deterrents

We spread coffee grounds around the trunk of each tree to try to repel squirrels.

We spread coffee grounds around the trunk of each tree to try to repel squirrels.

We boiled hot peppers and cayenne pepper powder into homemade pepper spray to keep squirrels from eating our fruit crop.

We boiled hot peppers and cayenne pepper powder into homemade pepper spray to deter squirrels.


Theory: squirrels dislike the smell of coffee grounds and the taste of cayenne pepper.

Method: We spread wet coffee grounds around the base of our pear trees and slathered the trunk and lower branches. We also brewed pepper spray using cayenne pepper and chopped hot peppers, saturating the pears and the ground around the dripline of the tree.

Result: The squirrels continued to steal pears, sampling and discarding the fruit.

Rubber Snake Visual Deterrent

We placed a rubber snake in the tree to deter squirrels from eating fruit.

We placed a rubber snake in the tree to deter squirrels from eating fruit.


Theory: squirrels avoid snake-like objects.

Method: Chancing upon a rubber snake after encountering this advice, we draped the snake in the tree branches and moved it to a new position each day.

Result: The snake went unnoticed by the squirrels. Our cat, however, loves playing with it.

Not every squirrel will abhor pepper spray, flee from rubber snakes, or avoid coffee grounds. All individuals have preferences. (The Resilient Farm and Homestead has a superb explanation of this concept.)

Trap and Release

Theory: squirrels enjoy peanut butter as much as we do.

Method: We purchased a Havahart Cage Trap for Squirrels and Small Rabbits. We placed a spoonful of peanut butter on the release plate, set it by the pear trees during the morning and evening raid times of greatest squirrel activity, and swiftly caught and released six squirrels. For small squirrels capable of stealing the bait without springing the trap, we weighted the plate with a rock. We placed the trap in a cardboard box to calm the panicking squirrels during transport.

A captured squirrel awaits release.

A captured squirrel awaits release.


We released our captives at a farmstead bordered with untended and squirrel-free woodland habitat, where (we hope) they might assist in propagating native oak, hickory, and walnuts. We want to create ecological disturbance that enriches habitat, and squirrels have an important role to play.

The implications of live catch and release are complex—many animals do not survive relocation or can wreak havoc on existing ecosystems. (Nature Wars and Where the Wild Things Were explore this subject at length.) Ultimately, to paraphrase Aldo Leopold, we have a responsibility to tend to the populations of animals preyed upon by the apex predators extirpated by our culture. We must act as the bobcats and coyotes, the eagles and hawks, the foxes and lynxes that would keep the squirrel populations in balance.

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2 Responses

  1. Denise says:

    Eewwwooooohhhhh, those stinkers! And they don’t eat the whole fruit – rude! Maybe put the peanut butter on the pear half in the trap. Let them relate the pear to the trap, in their little mind.

    You are waging a noble fight. Aside from eating your garden, I suspect the next favorite activity of squirrels is “making more squirrels.” Their population expands to eat the fruits available. Every garden defines its own squirrel-equilibrium.

    Perhaps another approach to consider is to stock your neighbors’ yards with fruit trees, so the squirrels spread their havoc across the block rather than concentrating it all on your plot?

    • Shane says:

      I like your idea of putting the uneaten pears in the trap! It’s my aspiration to have enough fruit and nut trees in the neighborhood to share with a balanced population of squirrels.

      In the long run, one unexpected delight of the squirrels is that they have relocated paw paw seeds from my compost to places around the yard, so perhaps they’ll stealthily assist with my agenda in getting edible homestead plants distributed around the community! The squirrels might be more effective ambassadors of pecans and hazelnuts than my own advocacy!

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