Squirrels and cats top garden pests leagueFind out how to keep furry visitors at bay

05 December 2008

Squirrels, rabbits and cats are the most troublesome animal visitors to our gardens, according to a survey by Which? Gardening.

Squirrels are the top garden pest

Squirrels are the top garden pest according to Which? Gardening members

While they may be popular pets, 80% of people surveyed said that they had problems with cats in their garden over the last 12 months. 

Cats flatten seedlings

Fouling was the biggest complaint, but feline visitors also caused problems by flattening seedlings and plants, killing and deterring birds and digging up plants.

Squirrels were identified as the animal most likely to cause a serious problem.

The top complaint was digging up bulbs, but victims also said they had raided bird feeders, eaten crops and damaged lawns.

Crops damaged by rabbits

A total of 42 % of people questioned by Which? Gardening said that they had faced an issue with rabbits in the last year while other troublesome animals included moles, rats, foxes, badgers and deer.

Which? Gardening has this advice to stop squirrels spoiling crops: 

  • When planting bulbs in pots, put a 2cm-deep layer of horticultural grit to the surface of the compost. This proved 100% effective in a trial we carried out in 2004, using tulip and crocus bulbs. You can do the same when planting bulbs in the ground, or cover them with chicken wire hidden under a layer of soil.
  • Don't put out loose food for birds, and use a squirrel-proof bird feeder.
  • If squirrels are eating your fruit or crops, plastic netting is unlikely to work – use a homemade cage of chicken wire instead.

For rabbits:

  • Prevent them from getting into your garden into the first place by enclosing it with a fence of 18-gauge, 31mm hexagonal wire mesh netting at least 90cm wide. Fold the bottom 15cm outwards along the ground to deter rabbits from digging under it.
  • For damage limitation within your garden, try tree guards that are at least 60cm around your most precious plants, or push prickly prunings into the soil.

For cats:

  • Cats are less likely to use your garden as a litter tray if they have no access to bare soil – especially dry, loose soil. Prickly prunings may do the trick. 
  • If you have a gravelled area, try replacing it with larger stone chippings or pebbles. 
  • When feeding birds, don't put food on the ground. 
  • You could also try a motion-activated or sonic deterrent – while none have proved 100% effective in our trials, they did work well for some.