Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ground Squirrels And Your Garden

The Round Tailed Ground Squirrel found commonly in the Tucson area
An interesting write came to my head during one of my hikes around Southern Arizona.  I've never talked about my experience with Ground Squirrels here in the Tucson area.  Well to be honest, when I first moved here, I thought they were Prairie Dogs because let's face it....squirrels, the ones most of us know, do not look like this!  But they do and they live here among us in Tucson. So why would these cute little guys be a concern for a gardener?  Afterall, aren't Javelina, Rattlesnakes, Packrats, and Rabbits enough to worry about?  Here are some of my thoughts about this particular animal, the issue, and how to prevent it.
As you can see in the above pic, these little creatures like to burrow and create tunnels in the ground...hence the name Ground Squirrel.  If you are a homeowner, this can be troublesome and can cause you some issues....especially if you have Ground Squirrels making tunnels under your garden.  And they LOVE eating the roots....especially new ones.  The other issue?  From their tunneling, they create a sandy type soil.  One time I watched a woman fall onto a collapsed tunnel in her backyard.  I was making dinner for my special needs residents at the time and just started laughing.  She wasn't hurt, but she was angry:)  So this brings us to the next topic.  Flood holes?  Kill them?  Shoot them? What?  I hope none of it.  These little guys have been "losing ground" here in Tucson.  As suburbia quietly takes over our landscape, Ground Squirrel colonies are slowly disappearing.  But no one cares about that, right?  Well I kinda do.  It breaks my heart to see once thriving colonies of these creatures disappear from new housing areas.  Here are some humane recommendations for home owners bothered by the tunneling and burrowing going on in their backyards.
Number one.  If they aren't doing any damage, then leave them be.  BUT if you've fallen into a hole or are irritated by their appetite for your garden plants, think of a live trap or relocating them elsewhere with the help of Pima County Co-op, or U of A Agricultural Department.  Remember that while removing these animals from your property may seem like a good idea, it will have an affect on the local wildlife that feeds on our Hawks, Owls, etc.  Some people recommend cats, but one thing I would be VERY cautious of....Rat Poison.  Don't use this stuff at all!!!  Remember a dead and poisoned Ground Squirrel can be eaten by your pet or other scavengers in the area.  Many people have lost their dogs and cats to second hand rat poison...including myself.  Don't forget your Hawks and Owls and.......well you get the picture. 
"Legal Status in Arizona
All of Arizona's ground squirrel and chipmunk species are classified as non-game animals by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and are protected under ARS Title 17-309. However, may be controlled by any legal means if they are causing damage as per ARS Title 17-239.
If live trapped ground squirrels or chipmunks are to be relocated, the Arizona Game and Fish Department must be contacted for an appropriate release site before the animal is transported. A number of species of squirrels and chipmunks occasionally become pests in and around buildings. When ground squirrels or chipmunks are present in large numbers they can cause structural damage by burrowing under patios, stairs, retention walls, or foundations. They may also invade garages, walls and attics. They will also consume flower bulbs, seeds, or seedlings as well as bird seed, grass seed, and pet food that is not stored in rodent-proof storage containers."

Author: Lawrence M. Sullivan
Extension Wildlife Damage Management Specialist
School of Renewable Natural Resources
The University of Arizona

There you have it.  I have dealt with both Ground Squirrels and Packrats in the garden.  The Ground Squirrels I worked around because they helped me loosen up the they only eat certain things. The Packrats on the other hand......I HATE those little buggers.  Clever as well!  Make sure Packrat nests are far away from your house or else......

Tucson gardeners typically have issues with Javelina, Rabbits, Deer, Ground Squirrels, Packrats, Racoons(in some areas of town) and Bee Hives(African Bees.....please be careful!  1 or 2 people always die in the spring from accidentally walking into one of these things.) These are the top offenders.  Most are easily handled, but leave the Bee removal to the professionals. And never try to shoo a Javelina away or be charged:P  More tomorrow....


  1. Yes they can sure be a problem. They sure make a mess, as do regular squirrels, and cause destruction.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. They are kind of cute. Here we have the groundhogs, voles, field mice, rat snakes and rabbits doing a number on all our plants and flowers. When there are so many I can not see all of them being relocated. Now, I would like to see an owl come into my yard for their food, they would have an all you can eat buffet.

  3. they are cute. i'm glad we don't have them here. tunnels and hidden holes would be treacherous for the horses. they have enough rough terrain to deal with as it is...

  4. They really do look like prairie dogs! Who knew?

  5. Interesting post, Chris... They say that our summer is going to be FILLED with bugs and more little critters this summer (ants/mosquitos, etc.)...We had almost no winter --so the lack of freezes will hurt when trying to kill off the bugs... I dread our summer this year.

    Chipmunks are the ones here which do the most damage. They are a killer to us --when it comes to their digging tunnels in the flower beds, eating the bulbs and roots, burrowing under our driveway and next to the house, etc.... VERY VERY damaging to us!

    Squirrels are just nuisances ---mostly eating the bird food... BUT--they too will dig up flower bulbs and hide them in other places.. They will eat the blossoms off of Rhododendrons... SO---we don't like them around much either...

    Oh the JOYS of Gardening!!!!! ha ha

    Have a great day.

  6. Great shots Chris.....i like this.

    greetings, Joop

  7. Sound like the 13 striped ground squirrels we have. I've never counted the stripes down their backs but there a lot of them. :-)
    We've done the relocation plan. We had a family of them in a burrow by our back door. The sure are cute to watch play as babies (what do you call a baby ground squirrel), buth that was a little too close. Mostly, they ate my flowers. I saw one run across the patio once with a tulip in its mouth. We seem a few in the neighborhood each summer.

  8. They are really cute. I haven't noticed any in my yard yet, but I only have to walk about one block to see them.

  9. I have trouble with these little cuties, but don't have the heart to change things.


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