Living With Squirrels

“We have a three-year-old orange tree that had eight oranges on it. We were away for two weeks and when we returned, only one orange remained. If squirrels were responsible, do you have any suggestions to save the next crop of fruit? Also, we have rabbits who are eating the lawn. Any suggestions for that?”
>Donna Leff, West Hills
Most of the squirrels we encounter in the Valley are gray squirrels. They are a type of tree squirrel that may be encountered in jet black, pure white or any shade of gray in between.
Contrary to what we may have learned from storybooks and cartoons, tree squirrels do not store their food in tree hollows, although they will build their nests in them.
A squirrel nest, or drey, is most commonly found between two large branches about halfway up a tree, high enough to be out of the way of ground predators but low enough to avoid disturbing winds.
Squirrels are sure to make visits wherever food is readily available. Bird seed is highly prized by squirrels, so it would make sense not to have a bird feeder if you have a fruit tree or vegetable garden.
Pet food is also tasty to squirrels and should not be left outside in a dish.
Lastly, if you have an outdoor barbecue grill, make sure to clean it thoroughly after each use. Squirrels cannot resist dining on barbecue drippings, after which they sharpen their teeth on the metal tines of the grill.
In the space of a few hours, an enterprising squirrel may even build a nest in a freshly used barbecue grill.
Moth balls have proven themselves as a squirrel deterrent. The moth balls should be wrapped in metal screening or fine mesh hardware cloth and affixed firmly to your tree. For this technique to be effective, the mothballs must be changed every few days.
Since tree squirrels can jump as high and far as 6 feet, you can keep them out of trees by making sure your lowest limbs are at least 6 feet off the ground and that higher limbs are more than 6 feet away from structures, overhead wires and other trees.
To make sure squirrels will not climb up your tree trunks, wrap 3-foot-wide bands of sheet metal around your trunks at a height of 6 feet above ground level.
Since you have a young tree that is probably less than 6 feet tall, you would have to put a cage over it to prevent squirrels from poaching on the fruit. Since this is impractical, you may want to consider trapping.
Consult with animal control to find out how to handle squirrels after they are trapped. A trapped squirrel should be released a minimum of three miles from your residence or a return visit is likely.
There are two companies with a national reputation for live animal traps. Contact Havahart at (800) 800-1819, www.havahart.com, or Tomahawk at (800) 272-8727, www.livetrap.com.
You may also wish to consider a motion sprinkler. The sprinkler comes on when a squirrel is in the vicinity, operating on the same principle as a motion-detector light. Upon activation, water pulsates from the rotary sprinkler for three seconds. Motion sprinklers, available at home centers in the $50 to $70 range, are also effective at deterring intrusive cats, deer, coyotes, raccoons, opossums and rabbits.
As for rabbits, the surest way to keep them out is with a wire fence. It should be 3 feet above ground with another 6 to 10 inches buried with a flange of a few inches bent outward to thwart tunneling below. The mesh size should be no larger than 1 inch to prevent baby rabbits from squeezing through.
Fuchsia confusion
“I am trying to grow a fuchsia tree at the west end of Simi. It kind of gets going and then a hot spell comes along and knocks it back again. It has not died, but it does not look happy. It is almost completely in the shade, although it does get a little filtered sunlight. Also, it is mostly sheltered from the wind, although in Simi it is hard to shelter it completely. I feed it with Miracle-Gro for hydrangeas, etc. Any suggestions to make it a healthier plant?”
>Lois Drever, Simi Valley
Fuchsias are extremely difficult to grow in the hot valleys in and around Los Angeles. In fact, during nearly 25 years of plant watching, I have never seen a Valley fuchsia that stayed healthy for more than a few years.
Even if soil and sun exposure are perfect, sucking gall mites locate and disfigure the plants in due time. Usually, Valley fuchsias are first weakened by being in an environment to which they are ill-suited and then, once under stress, become more susceptible to mite attack.
But they also may fail from poor soil, over- or under-watering, or too much or too little sunlight.
The best location I have seen for growing fuchsias is under a tall deciduous tree such as an ash, elm or sycamore where filtered light is available, or in the shadow of a big evergreen such as ficus or eucalyptus.
The wind you mention can be just as desiccating as heat, but do not be fooled by slightly wilted leaves. As long as the soil is moist in the top 2 inches, resist the temptation to water.
Fuchsias need a fair amount of ambient, if indirect, light — if you give them too much shade, they won’t bloom.
I assume you are growing the classic ear-drop fuchsias. You may want to fertilize with something a little more concentrated in phosphorus (second of three numbers, separated by dashes, in fertilizer formula) than Miracle-Gro since fuchsias want to flower from spring through fall and phosphorus encourages flower production.
Also, instead of fertilizing once a month with a tablespoon of Miracle-Gro per gallon of water (per product instructions), you may wish to fertilize weekly with one teaspoon of Miracle-Gro per gallon of water.
You may also want to try growing Fuchsia triphylla `Gartenmeister Bonstedt.’ It produces dense clusters of orange-red tubular flowers against a background of reddish-purple foliage and is more long-lasting than the ear-drop varieties.
Anyone with a fuchsia success story is welcome to e-mail it to me so I can share it with readers.
Tip of the week
Ruth Stern of Shadow Hills e-mailed:
“After moving to a home with over 50 rose bushes (none of which were doing great), I discovered after some research that one should NEVER use redwood mulch on roses. I removed the redwood mulch and my roses have rewarded me ever since. There is some chemical in redwood mulch that doesn’t agree with roses.”

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