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TONY MELTON: The attack of the squirrels

October 29, 2018 GMT

This is one scary time of year — the frosts, ghosts, goblins, politicians, and squirrels are all coming out.

First, a light frost sneaked/creeped up on us all and even the dedicated “mator growers” were ambushed and did not get out their white sheets to cover and protect those precious crimson gems. Thank goodness it only burned the tops of some plants, but I hope it will slow grass growth and the need for mowing.

Next, all the scary masks, costumes, and belt-busting treats of Halloween. Next, the scary faces on the election signs, false campaign promises, and belt-busting taxes of Election Day. Finally, these cold temperatures encourage haunting home invasions by millipedes, ladybugs, stink bugs, and squirrels.

If you have ever been awakened in the middle of the night by squirrels scampering in your attic you would also swear that your home is possessed.

I continually get calls from folks with squirrel problems. Squirrels have the greatest costume of all they masquerade as sweet, cuddly, furry, huggable, teddy-bear like animals -- until, they start damaging homes, gardens, trees, lawns, etc.

Squirrels are wild animals in the rodent family. I call them “tree rats with tails” because their curious nature leads them into all types of property damage. Therefore, many homeowners feel that they are under attack by the squirrels and would like to destroy them with a bazooka like Patch Adams. But squirrel problems, especially in the city, are not so easily solved.

A good country boy like me gets a hunting license, shotgun, and No. 6 shot, then has squirrel and dumplings for supper, just like Mama cooked. However, if you are in the city or have others living nearby, other control techniques must be employed.

To keep squirrels from having a party in your attic, garage, or out-building exclude or “build them out.” Since squirrels have large front teeth and can chew through window screen and steel wool use 1/4 or ½ inch hardware cloth or 26-gauge metal when excluding squirrels.

The best way to eliminate squirrels that have entered a building is to find all their entrances and travel routes. Be sure to look for eave openings, attic vents, loose flashing around chimneys, pipes and openings around cables. Plug all entrances except one and set a trap at the open entrance. Once the squirrels have been eliminated from the building, be sure to repair any damage they caused.

To prevent further damage, trim all trees which have limbs within 8 feet of the building. Squirrels can be discouraged from climbing trees if you put a band of two-foot-wide sheet metal six feet away from the bottom of the tree. Remove any branches less than six feet from the ground to prevent squirrels from jumping onto them.

If the squirrels are gaining access via telephone or electrical wires, have an electrician put a two-foot section of lightweight 2- to 3-inch-diameter plastic pipe over the wire by slitting the pipe lengthwise and placing it over the wire. Be careful not to touch the wire. The pipe will rotate on the wire causing squirrels to tumble.

Many repellents can be used to repel or reduce damage by squirrels. Squirrels may temporarily vacate an attic and give you enough time to seal entrances if you place mothballs correctly throughout the attic. Use one pound of mothballs per 100 square feet of attic space. Because the mothball vapors are heavier than air, they must be suspended in baseball-size clumps close to the damaged area. Using old pantyhose is an inexpensive, effective way to do this.

Some other substances can be sprayed on wood to repel squirrels including 1 teaspoon Lysol or 3 ounces Epsom Salt per gallon water.

Also, a variety of traps can be used to catch squirrels. Both kill and live-bait traps are effective, and even large rat snap-traps can be used if nailed to a tree or house 15 to 20 feet above ground.

Remember that once squirrels are captured they should be destroyed to protect the wild squirrel population. Releasing trapped squirrels in faraway locations spreads squirrel disease and insect problems.

But the best way I know to catch a squirrel is to “climb a tree and act like a nut (ha).”

If all else fails put up a feeder just for the squirrels, fill with cheap sunflower seeds, and enjoy their antics.

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political belief, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer. Email Melton at amelton@clemson.edu.