Your children probably love squirrels -- after all, who can resist their cute, fluffy tails and busy little habits -- but you know that the furry little creatures can wreak havoc in your garden and landscape. Squirrels dig to hide nuts or to create burrows. They will scratch out a hole in the hard ground, but they will also dig holes in mulch -- especially if it is soft and fresh.
Black is Back
Black plastic mulch is prized for its ability to stifle weed growth, according to the UMass Extension Center for Agriculture. Inexpensive and widely used, it will also warm the soil, as the dark color attracts heat -- and it will stand up to foot traffic, even the young, active kind. Because of these factors, black plastic mulch is gaining in popularity among commercial growers as well as home gardeners who want an attractive but economical choice for their landscapes.
Two basic types of squirrels exist: Those that live in trees and those that live in the ground. Both groups include several different species, and both types of squirrels dig. Tree squirrels dig to find food -- usually focusing underneath trees and plants where seeds and nuts drop. Ground squirrels dig to find food and also to create burrows. If you have ground squirrels digging in your mulch or dirt, you will likely see a few exit holes in the ground near where they were digging.
Commercial squirrel repellents are available, but they aren't likely to stop squirrels from digging in your mulch in the long-term, unless you continually re-apply them. Your best bet is to lay wire mesh over the area, according to Dennis Patton, a horticultural agent with the Johnson County Kansas State Research and Extension Service. If you want to lure them away from the mulched area, install a squirrel feeder some distance away.
Live With Them
It's almost impossible to stop squirrels from digging in your garden -- or doing pretty much whatever they wish, according to Patton. You might just have to put up with the digging. Look at it this way: The kids will be happy that you aren't trying to hurt the squirrels, and mulch is easy to just rake and sweep back into place. In fact, it might be a chore you can assign to the kids. If they are lucky, they might see a squirrel or two while they are working.