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Squirrels can be entertaining and mischievous

A common activity for gardeners is to attract wildlife to their yard by planting specific plants, using feeders, and even nesting boxes.  When it comes to squirrels though, my suggestion is to add plants to your landscape that provide food and shelter for squirrels, instead of using a feeder.  Here are some reasons why it is better to use plants instead of feeders.

Nesting

Squirrels can be entertaining to watch (though agitating for dogs) and can be attracted to your landscape with minimal effort.  Attracting squirrels with feeders, however, is not recommended because that could lead to more problems than benefits.  Feeders often encourage more squirrels to live in an area than can be supported by the surrounding habitat.  When this occurs, they may search out nesting sites in your home, causing property damage.   Many squirrels that take up residence in an attic or garage ceiling can be traced to a feeding situation.  Squirrels normally nest in mature trees, so if you don’t have any mature trees, provide nesting boxes for them.  This will help to keep them out of your attic.  Bluebird-size nesting boxes can be used for flying squirrels and wood duck-size nesting boxes are needed for the larger gray and fox squirrels.

Don’t Feed Wildlife

One of the primary reasons that squirrels create problems is because people feed them.  If the supply of food is reduced or eliminated (the person feeding them moves, goes on vacation, or quits feeding them) they often respond by chewing up nearby vegetation.  This can result in the bark being stripped off trees, either up in the branches and/or around the base of the trunk.  If an entire branch dies in your tree, check the base of the branch for signs of gnawing.  This happened years ago to some of the trees in Osteen Park on S. Tropical Trail and along N. Courtenay in front of the Merritt Island High School’s large parking lot.

Natural Food Sources

Squirrels are basically vegetarians that eat a wide variety of fruits and nuts.  In the fall, they are especially attracted to oaks, hickories, and pecans.  But, for all their love of fruits and nuts, they might also eat the eggs and young of nesting birds and some types of insects.  If you are interested in attracting squirrels to your yard, discover some native trees (and one palm) that will provide squirrels with both food and cover.

Red Maple

(Acer rubrum) A large growing shade tree that can grow 60 to 75 feet tall with a 25 to 35-foot spread.  This deciduous tree
prefers moist, acidic soil, and it is also very cold tolerant.  The seeds are eaten by squirrels.  Interesting fact: Acer rubrum has the largest continuous range along the North American Atlantic coast of any native Florida tree.  The red maple’s native range runs 1,600 miles from Florida all the way up to Newfoundland.

Oaks

(Quercus spp.) Oak trees are great choices for providing food and shelter for squirrels and other mammals.  The oaks vary in size so make sure to match the right oak species to your lot size.  One oak species that isn’t planted much is our native Turkey oak, Quercus laevis, which only grows 30 to 40 feet tall and only 10 to 15 feet wide.  This tree can be grown out in the open or as an understory tree and it will produce red foliage in the fall!

Persimmon

(Diospyros virginiana) is an evergreen tree that grows 40 to 60 feet tall with a 20 to 35 feet spread.  Plant this tree in full sun in moist, well-draining soil or sandy soils. It is very drought tolerant, but the growth will be slower when grown in dry sites.  The fruit, which is eaten by squirrels and other mammals, could cause a mess so, be sure to plant this tree out in the yard away from patios, driveways, pool decks, etc.

Pignut Hickory

(Carya glabra) This hickory grows 50 to 65 feet tall and has a spread of 30 to 40 feet.  This deciduous tree can grow in full sun to partial shade and is very cold and drought tolerant. The other species of hickory trees also provide nuts for squirrels, ducks, and turkeys.

Southern Magnolia

(Magnolia grandiflora) Southern magnolia is a large growing tree that can grow to 65 feet tall with a 30 foot spread.  The large fragrant white flowers are followed by red seeds that are eaten by both birds and squirrels.  The Southern magnolia is also extremely cold hardy.

Sabal or Cabbage palm

(Sabal palmetto) Cabbage or Sabal palm is a great choice for providing food for squirrels and songbirds. Mature palms can eventually reach 60 feet tall.  They grow in full sun to partial shade and well-drained to wet soil.

If you are interested in attracting squirrels, consider adding a new tree, which will also provide shade, instead of using a feeder. By adding plants that provide cover and nesting habitat, you can eliminate the possibility that squirrels would ever even consider moving into your attic.

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