5 easy tricks to keep squirrels, chipmunks and other critters out of your garden pots

These backyard critters might look cute, but they can wreak havoc on your container garden. However, it's relatively simple to keep them at bay

a chipmunk sat on the edge of a garden container
(Image credit: Alamy)

We're all for creating a home for wildlife when gardening, but while you might want to encourage seemingly cute critters like chipmunks into your backyard, they can actually be surprisingly destructive, and quickly become pests. 

Chipmunks, in particular, like to eat roots, leaves, seeds and your freshly-planted bulbs, plus they also create deep, long burrows in your garden beds and containers. 

Of course, there are super simple container gardening tricks to keep your prize plants protected. These ideas are humane and won't stop chipmunks from visiting your garden necessarily, but will stop them from causing chaos in your pots. 

1. Lay animal-repellent mats

animal repelleent mats in a garden pot

(Image credit: Alex K. Worley)

One of the most-effective ways to keep chipmunks out of your garden containers is a simple buy you can get from most hardware stores, or from Amazon. 'For those who want to have chipmunks in their yards but protect their flower beds and pots from their activity, I recommend animal-repellent mats,' suggests Certified Master Gardener Alex K. Worley.

'These protect plants from critter invasion by creating a grid barrier right on top of the soil,' Alex adds. This also helps to avoid rodent holes in your yard.

If you need a cheap and quick alternative, you could also try this trick for using plastic forks in a garden, which acts much in the same way. 

2. Companion planting 

By choosing certain plants, you can create a garden that deters chipmunks. 'Cultivate plants that naturally repel squirrels and chipmunks, such as daffodils, alliums, or marigolds,' explains Tony O'Neill, an author and garden educator. 'These flowers emit scents that critters find unpleasant.'

However, you'll need to make sure your choices complement each other, so that both plants thrive in your containers or flower beds.

3. Sprinkle cinnamon or chilli 

Did you know that certain spices from your kitchen can also help to deter critters? 'Sprinkling a dash of fiery cayenne powder on top of the soil or around the flower pots discourages squirrels, chipmunks, and other rodents from entering and digging,' explains Alex. 'However, cayenne's potency diminishes over time, necessitating regular reapplication to maintain its deterrent effect.'

If you don't have cayenne in your spice rack, you could also try using cinnamon in a garden. 'I use cinnamon as it is a powerful natural deterrent for chipmunks and other critters,' Alex says. 'Simply sprinkle some cinnamon powder around the pots to keep them out. As with cayenne powder, the effects of cinnamon fade over time and with rain, so I recommend consistent reapplication every few days, especially after rainfall.'

4. Use scare tactics 

If you're looking for something a little more high-tech, there are plenty of smart home gadgets you can add to your backyard to help deter rodent pests. 'Place motion-activated devices, such as ultrasonic repellents or sprinklers, near your pots,' advises Tony O'Neill.' These devices emit sounds or spray water when animals come near, effectively scaring them away.' 

5. Top pots with chunky mulch 

Mulching your containers is a process that can really help deter chipmunks, but also has wider benefits, especially as a way to care for plants during summer. 'Incorporating chunky mulch, such as larger pieces of bark or rocks, not only prevents soil surface from drying during the day but also serves as an effective defense against invasive critters,' says Alex. 

'The chunky nature of this mulch serves as a physical deterrent, making it difficult for chipmunks and other critters,' Alex adds. 'I find that they just don't like the hard work of digging through rock and thick pieces of bark in landscapes.' 

Hugh Metcalf
Editor of Livingetc.com

Hugh is the  Editor of Livingetc.com. From working on a number of home, design and property publications and websites, including Grand Designs, ICON and specialist kitchen and bathroom magazines, Hugh has developed a passion for modern architecture, impactful interiors and green homes. Whether moonlighting as an interior decorator for private clients or renovating the Victorian terrace in Essex where he lives (DIYing as much of the work as possible), you’ll find that Hugh has an overarching fondness for luxurious minimalism, abstract shapes and all things beige. He’s just finished a kitchen and garden renovation, and has eyes set on a bathroom makeover for 2024.