The Best Way to Save Your Pumpkins from Squirrels

updated May 1, 2019
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Carved or uncarved, pumpkins look great on the front porch or doorstep come October. But the gourds are, technically, food. So it’s no surprise they attract critters like squirrels! And not everyone’s available to sit on the stoop and shoo them away all day. Fortunately, there is an easy and cheap way to deter them — one that’s probably already in your kitchen.

It turns out, squirrels have an aversion to capsaicin, the oil that makes hot peppers taste hot. “There is some research to back this claim up,” says Chelle Hartzer, Technical Services Manager at Orkin. “High doses of capsaicin irritates the skin and the mucous membranes — it’s the “hot” in hot peppers that gives you the burn after eating them.”

Squirrels won’t eat foods that have capsaicin in them, and will avoid eating foods that have been treated with capsaicin. While you can buy squirrel repellent sprays at retail, there are a few ways to get capsaicin onto your pumpkins that are right in your kitchen.

“There are commercially available capsaicin products that are used to treat birdseed to prevent squirrels from eating it. So applying hot sauce or cayenne pepper may deter squirrels from feasting on your pumpkins,” says Hartzer. The easiest way to get squirrels to avoid your pumpkins: Just sprinkle a spice with capsaicin in it — like red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper — on and around your pumpkins. Once they take a nibble of the burning ingredient — or even get it on their paws, they’ll leave your pumpkins alone. If you find that the spices are blowing off of your pumpkin or your stoop, try spritzing the area with a little water first so that the powders will stick. Once your pumpkins are carved, you can sprinkle the spices inside as well.

Use hot sauce, cayenne pepper, or red pepper flakes to keep squirrels from eating your pumpkins!

If you don’t have these spices, no problem: You can do the same with any solution containing capsaicin, including one made from cutting up hot peppers, or hot sauce out of your fridge door. As long as it’s spicy, the squirrels won’t like it.

Two warnings from Hartzer, though: “Remember that children like to touch, so if you choose to treat your pumpkins, you may want to keep them out of reach of little hands! Additionally the hot sauce may stain the pumpkin and, if it gets wet, may stain whatever the pumpkin is sitting on.”

Note that over time, and especially after rain, the spice will lose its effectiveness or wash away, so expect to spice up your pumpkins every week or more to keep hungry squirrels at bay. And be sure to wash your hands after handling the pepper, since it can potentially irritate your skin or eyes, too.

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