How to Get Rid of Ground Squirrels in Your Yard [2021 Guide]
In some states, home and business owners enjoy watching squirrels frolic and play, scampering around, leaping from branch to branch in tall trees, or defying gravity by climbing onto bird feeders.
However, in California, most home and business owners do not enjoy hosting a squirrel that can cause damage and create dangerous conditions on their properties.
Fortunately, you don’t have to share space with the California ground squirrel forever.
Here at Smith’s Pest Management, we help Bay Area and Central Coast homeowners get rid of ground squirrels quickly and humanely with professional squirrel control services, so we know a few things about how to get rid of ground squirrels permanently.
Whether your ground squirrel infestation is new or has been a problem for a while, our team can help. In this post, we’ll share our top tips for getting rid of ground squirrels and reclaiming your yard.
Let’s get started.
What is a Ground Squirrel?
California ground squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi) have a mix of gray, light brown, and dusky fur, which gives them a mottled appearance. Strips of darker fur extend from the head to the mid-back, while gray fur forms a cape over the sides of the head and shoulders. Their underside is a pale buff or grayish-yellow.
Where do Ground Squirrels live?
California ground squirrels live, breed, and mate in burrows, which they build in hillsides or low berms. If they can’t find a hillside, ground squirrels will dig down vertically several feet to create a safe space. Burrows are about 4-5” in diameter and vary in length from 5-35 feet.
Multiple generations of ground squirrels use each burrow, and individual squirrels all have their own entrances. This means a single den may have dozens of tunnels and several dozen openings.
When California ground squirrels are not gathering food to "squirrel away,” they spend their time underground in their tunnels and burrows.
Once they’ve constructed these elaborate burrow systems, California ground squirrels tend to stay close to home. In fact, both males and females can usually be found within 150 yards of their burrows.
What do Ground Squirrels Eat?
Ground squirrels eat a diet of nuts and seeds, with a particular preference for California black walnuts, grass seeds, and poppies. They also eat fruit (especially gooseberries and prickly pear) and will eat insects and fungi.
What is the Difference Between a Ground Squirrel and a Tree Squirrel?
As the names may indicate, ground squirrels and tree squirrels live in different habitats. While tree squirrels tend not to cause much damage, though, their ground-dwelling counterparts can be a big problem.
In fact, the California ground squirrel is the most common vertebrate pest in agricultural areas and urban and suburban areas.
To understand the differences between these two squirrel species better, here’s a quick breakdown of their differences:
1. Ground squirrels burrow - tree squirrels do not
Tree squirrels are not typically a problem unless they find their way inside attics or other places inside a home. Once inside, they can cause issues because of their constant chewing. A squirrel in an attic can damage a home’s structure, destroy insulation, chew through wiring, or damage stored items.
California ground squirrels, however, cause enough damage without entering the home. Ground squirrels dig. It is what they do. They will dig burrows and tunnels in yards, orchards, around building foundations, patios, decks, and gardens.
And since these animals multiply quickly (each female has five to nine babies a season), infestations snowball. Large infestations can generate large holes in the grass that present a danger to anyone walking or running there.
2. Ground squirrels cause damage to lawns, fields, and gardens
Ground squirrel burrow entrances are large enough to engulf a person’s foot, posing the risk of a broken ankle or leg. On the other hand, tree squirrels live in tree cavities or nests, high up off the ground where nobody is at risk of tripping over their home.
Ground squirrel vs. chipmunks
The ground squirrel and the chipmunk are very different animals. While both are small rodents, chipmunks have a distinct, reddish-brown fur with telltale stripes on their heads and bodies. Like tree squirrels, chipmunks live in wooded areas and trees, while ground squirrels prefer to live, feed, and burrow in grassy areas like yards, pastures, and golf courses.
What Diseases do Ground Squirrels Carry?
Like most rodent pests, ground squirrels carry a host of dangerous diseases, including rabies, the bubonic plague, and leptospirosis. Many of these diseases can spread to domestic animals or humans, so it’s wise to take steps to eliminate ground squirrels as soon as you notice an infestation.
What Attracts Ground Squirrels to My Yard?
One of the best ways to deal with a ground squirrel infestation is to understand what’s drawing them to your property in the first place.
Here are a few of the biggest culprits:
1. Food and water
Ground squirrels eat nuts, buds, grains, and seeds, including birdseed, wheat, and corn. They may also eat frogs, insects, bird eggs, and fungi. If your yard has acorn or walnut trees, they will attract squirrels. Fish ponds, birdbaths, and streams also provide squirrels with both a food and water source.
Ground squirrels like to live in large, grassy areas that provide plenty of unimpeded space for their excavation.
What Damage Do Ground Squirrels Cause?
Don’t let their small size fool you. Ground squirrels are bad for your yard because of the following reasons:
- Burrowing. Ground squirrels uproot plants in your landscaping and can kill trees and shrubs.
- Garden damage. Ground squirrels eat whole seedlings, nibble the tops of vegetables, and eat fruits and berries, thus destroying your vegetable garden.
- Structural damage. When ground squirrels excavate under buildings, it can cause foundation cracks that are hard to fix. Even worse, it may impact the stability of your structure.
- Lawn damage. Ground squirrels will gnaw the plastic heads of underground sprinklers, chew through sprinkler lines, and damage irrigation boxes. They will also create bald patches in your yard with their grazing.
To learn more about the types of damage ground squirrels can do, check out our article on the topic.
How to Get Rid of Ground Squirrels Naturally (Without Killing Them!)
You want to get rid of ground squirrels, but you don’t feel comfortable killing them. Don’t worry - there are plenty of home remedies ground squirrels hate.
Here are five common remedies:
1. Natural predators
Wondering how to keep squirrels away from the garden? While it might seem strange to solve a rodent problem by introducing more animals, inviting predators to your yard can resolve your ground squirrel population.
Plant tall trees to attract hawks and other raptors or use piles of large rocks and brush cover to attract snakes that will eat the ground squirrels.
Pros: Effective, long-term solution
Cons: Expensive, time-consuming, labor-intensive to set up, many people do not feel comfortable attracting snakes and birds of prey to their yards, especially if they have young kids
Ground squirrels hate noise. Luckily, you can use this to your advantage by using ultrasonic ground spikes to drive them away. Purchase vibrating stakes at your local hardware store and place them in the ground near burrows. You can also hang wind chimes or add a few moving lawn ornaments that create below-ground vibrations to scare away squirrels.
Pros: Effective, humane, easy to install
Cons: May be unsightly, hands-on
While ground squirrels eat almost anything, there are some plants they detest. The scent of narcissus, castor bean, and crown imperial will send them packing. Plant these varieties around your yard and garden to keep ground squirrels out.
Pros: Effective, safe for kids and pets, adds to the beauty of the yard
Cons: Requires manual planting and maintenance
4. Pepper spray
Soak a cup of plain red pepper flakes in a cup of hot water for 12 hours. Add a splash of dish liquid and another pint of water and strain the entire mixture into a spray bottle. Spray plants and leaves the squirrels have been nibbling on, as well as visible burrows. The scent will deter the animals and make your yard less appealing.
Pros: Affordable, easy, non-toxic
Cons: May be irritating for kids and pets, requires manual re-application
5. Castor oil
Castor oil is an affordable, accessible way to get rid of critters. For best results, mix ¼ cup of castor oil with two tablespoons of dishwashing liquid. Mix two tablespoons of this mix into a gallon of water and spray it anywhere in your yard you have noticed ground squirrel activity.
Pros: Effective, humane, easy to make, affordable
Cons: Can affect other pets and animals, manually intensive
2 Home Remedies that Won’t Work
While the home remedies above will deter ground squirrels, there are a few myths you should be aware of:
- Gum. Leaving gum out for ground squirrels to find will not work. While some people believe the gum will expand in their intestines and kill them, it has never been proven.
- Coffee grounds. Spreading coffee grounds around the entrances to burrows will not deter ground squirrels and may be more work than it’s worth.
3 Conventional Methods to Get Rid of Ground Squirrels
Traditional methods may be a better fit if you’re not interested in home remedies to get rid of ground squirrels.
Here are three of the most common:
Fumigation is a common method to deal with ground squirrels. It is generally most effective in the spring or when the soil moisture is high.
Pros: Conducted below-ground, which makes it a safe yet effective method, kills animals quickly and is humane
Cons: Must be done at a specific time of the season, can kill non-target species if not done carefully
Trapping is a practical method for dealing with ground squirrel infestations. If numbers are low to moderate, trapping is a good solution. We recommend using live ground squirrel traps instead of kill traps.
Pros: Effective, humane, can get rid of rodents fast
Cons: Live traps require relocation of animals, while kill traps require disposal of dead animals, may harm kids or pets, can trap non-target animals, unsightly
Baiting with treated grain is an effective method during the summer and fall when ground squirrels eat a lot of seed. This method is effective for large populations.
Pros: Effective, easy to deploy
Cons: Dangerous for kids, pets, and other animals, requires you to find and dispose of dead ground squirrels, includes the use of dangerous poison and pesticides
How do Pest Control Experts Get Rid of Ground Squirrels?
Ground squirrels multiply rapidly - having 5-9 babies each season. This means even a small ground squirrel infestation will quickly multiply. Fortunately, professional pest management teams understand this and will take rapid action to resolve your infestation.
Here’s how the team here at Smith’s Pest Management gets rid of ground squirrels:
The first step to remove ground squirrels is to locate their burrows. During this phase, our licensed pest control techs will visit your property, inspect your problem areas, and assess the extent of the damage.
2. Management Plan
Once we’ve completed our inspection, we’ll develop a plan to deal with the infestation. Smith’s uses Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques to provide a comprehensive solution without excess use of poison.
Many of our customers come to us after DIY methods fail. We want to get rid of your squirrel infestation rapidly, so we’ll deploy the best elimination tactic for your property and unique circumstances.
Ground Squirrel Exclusion
Smith’s Pest Management does not provide ground squirrel exclusion, although we will make recommendations if we believe exclusion is a good fit for your property. Our goal is to make your property less attractive for ground squirrels but as relaxing and beautiful as possible for you.
How Can I Keep Ground Squirrels Off My Yard?
While the following won't guarantee that you will never have ground squirrels take up residence on your property, they may help minimize their numbers and keep your property relatively safe from their destructive habits.
- Keep all trash in tied trash bags inside trash containers with locking lids to keep squirrels and other foraging animals out.
- If you have outdoor dining areas, make sure to thoroughly clean up after each gathering.
- If you have plants with nuts, berries, or vegetables, keep these areas as picked up as possible, reducing food sources for squirrels and other animals.
- Eliminate water sources on your property as much as possible.
- Keep your grass trimmed short and your yard uncluttered. This will reduce hiding places for California ground squirrels, which are preyed upon by red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, coyotes, fox, badgers, weasels, house cats, dogs, and snakes.
- Reduce insects (that squirrels feed upon) on your property by partnering with a professional pest control company.
- Install tall fencing or netting around gardens or bushes you don't want these animals getting into. Make sure the fencing goes at least a foot underground.
- Use motion sensor water sprinklers to scare squirrels away with water.
- Plant mint plants around your home to repel the ground squirrels.
- Spray a cayenne pepper solution around the foundation of your home to keep them away.
- Get a few farm cats.
Are Ground Squirrels Taking Over Your SF Bay Area Yard? We’re Here to Help!
Here at Smith's Pest Management, we don't only take care of gopher problems. We trap and eliminate other pests, including California ground squirrels.
If you need assistance, our team is here to help. Let us eliminate your ground squirrel problem effectively, humanely, and in a way that’s safe for your kids and pets. Our team helps residential and commercial customers in Northern California - from Marin to Monterey.
Ready to learn more about our California ground squirrel control services? Contact us today for a free quote.