‘Squirrel Pruning’

by Jun 4, 2024Education0 comments

If you live in Flagstaff, you are probably familiar with this situation: You step out into the garden and notice that your plants have been grazed by some critters.
Dang, not again! They’ve gnawed the plants all the way to the ground!

We’ve all tried ingenious ways to deter deer, squirrels, and rabbits: shiny and noisy objects, tall fences, spraying garlic, and so on. What’s interesting is that these deterrents can work for one gardener, and not at all for another. This does make sense because, after all, we are gardening within a dynamic living ecosystem. 

Squirrel and rabbit in the Arboretum gardens
A rabbit and squirrel looking for food.
Plant after being fed on by critters
Less than a week after being planted…

So, what’s a high-elevation gardener to do? Whatever you decide, don’t give up! Experimenting is key and can also be fun. Some approaches you can try include: 

  • Squirrels and rabbits are known to stay away from the more flavorful plants. Look for plants that are aromatic or spicy, i.e. they smell like mint or oregano when you crush a leaf. Meanwhile, deer may not like super hairy or spiky plants.  
  • Populate your garden with tried-and-true plants that critters don’t ever touch, like Catmint and Russian Sage. At the Arboretum, our ferocious army of rodents don’t eat the Sedum Autumn Joys, Vinca, Potentilla species, Primroses, Strawberry species (although rodents  will eat the fruit), Monarda species, Lamb’s Ear, Yarrow, Lavender, and Snow-in-Summer. Penstemons also seem to remain untouched, as are the native Buckwheats. As for shrubs, native species  like Manzanita, Mahonia, Junipers, and Shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa) also are safe from squirrels and have adapted to our dry climate. 

Another issue local gardeners may run into with wildlife is buying a new plant from the nursery only to see it get nibbled to the ground shortly after planting. It’s pretty annoying! However, it also seems to make the plants more hardy as they can then put their energy into root growth. Which raises the question: is ‘squirrel pruning’ a thing? 

At the end of the day, don’t forget that we are fortunate enough to call this beautiful place home, and maybe planting a small buffet for the cute squirrels to nibble on in your garden isn’t always a bad thing. 

Sarah Armanovs is the Gardens Manager at The Arboretum at Flagstaff.

Sarah Armanovs