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Oakland man asks how to discourage squirrels from ravaging his fruit trees, garden


DEAR JOAN: Your column on May 13 was on how to discourage rats. Now do squirrels.

The furry little tree rats have decimated our apricot crop – the ground is littered with tiny, half-eaten fruits. They eat fuchsias and rose buds. I see them gobbling up the apple blossoms as well.

Any hints would be appreciated!

— Michael, Oakland

DEAR MICHAEL: I hear you. Not everyone loves squirrels. I have a friend who is sort of a Taylor Swift for squirrels. They adore her garden and will do anything to be in her company.

The best solution to having a squirrel-free yard is to move. The second best is to fence the things you can and try other deterrents on the things you can’t, such as your apricot tree.

Creating cages that fit over plants can be effective, although unsightly. Preventing the squirrels from reaching your plants is, however, the best way of protecting them. For other plants, you can try using peppermint oil on or around the plants. For larger plants, soak rags in the peppermint oil and place them around and in the branches.

Prune trees 6 to 8 feet away from structures, making it more difficult for squirrels to jump into them, although unless you have a large property, it’s almost impossible to prune the trees enough to put them out of a squirrel’s range. You also can wrap metal flashing around the tree trunks to stop them from climbing.

A repellant called Ro-Pel can protect fruit, buds, flowers and bulbs. It tastes bad, and squirrels normally won’t eat things that are coated in it. Sprays with capsaicin also are effective.

Trying to control squirrels can be hard work and frustrating. You might be happier by trying to coexist. Offering alternative food for squirrels might satisfy them, so they’ll leave your fruits and plants alone. Maybe.

DEAR JOAN: My roses are covered in aphids. How do I get rid of them?

— Jill J., Walnut Creek

DEAR JILL: Insecticides are tempting, but they can make the problem worse by also killing the beneficial insects that dine on aphids.

A simple way to get rid of aphids is to wash them off. Set the nozzle on your hose to “jet” and blast away. If you’re worried about wrecking your blooms, you can use horticultural (also called insecticidal) soap. It kills the aphids by suffocating them. The soap is effective, but you need to apply it often for maximum benefit.

You’ll also want to control the ants around your roses. Ants eat the “honeydew” that aphids leave behind, and so ants will want to protect the aphids and their supply of sweet honeydew. The ants will fight off beneficial insects to make sure the aphids keep producing.

You also can put on a pair of gloves and scrape the aphids off. It’s kind of icky, but strangely satisfying.

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