Garden Calendar: Make keeping out critters a top priority

Squirrels and I used to accept each other’s presence in my yard. The black walnut tree attracts the nut-loving rodents, and I am happy to see the nuts disappear from the lawn. We rarely even saw each other.

Our relationship changed when a squirrel moved into my attic a few weeks ago. Creepy scratching sounds announced the critter’s arrival, and the usually untouched attic is in disarray.

Fire is a bigger concern than the piled insulation. Squirrels chew on wires just like their woodrat (packrat) cousins. Some pest control experts estimate squirrels cause up to 30 percent of the house fires annually in the United States.

Speaking of rats, they can enter attics and crawl spaces the same as squirrels. Chimneys, pipe outlets and unscreened vents are common entry points. A rat only needs a half-inch hole to enter. Mice can enter through a hold the size of a pencil. Even snakes and bats enter homes.

Closing up every opening is crucial to keeping critters out. Once they are inside, you will want to remove them prior to closing the place up to avoid additional damage.

The removal is the hard part.

Trapping is the most effective means of removal, specialists say. Trap sizing is important. For full-grown squirrels, rat traps are too small. Look for a trap made for the animal you are trying to catch.

A cage- or box-type live trap for a squirrel should be 24 inches long with a 6 by 6 opening. Both ends should be open so that the squirrel can see through the trap.

Glue traps should be attached to a board or structure so that the animal cannot drag them away.

If using a live trap, remember that relocation is difficult and contributes to the spread of disease. You could be endangering other squirrel or wildlife populations, creating problems for other homeowners, or the animal might come right back to you. Squirrels are known to travel up to 50 miles in search of habitat.

For squirrels, bait traps with peanuts or peanut butter on bread. Elevate the bait within the trap if possible to help the scent spread. Other nuts, fruits and seeds may work as well. Peanut butter also works to bait traps for rats and mice

Once the animals are out, repair those entrance and exit holes and cover them with half-inch wire mesh. Trim tree branches to at least 6 to 8 feet from the roof. Avoid feeding squirrels, even if it is unintentional, through bird and pet feeders.

Toxicants cannot be used on squirrels. There are none labeled for such use and they put other wildlife and pets at risk.

Many toxicants are available for rats and mice. Label directions should always be read and followed closely.

Repellents are widely available for just about every animal, but none has proved to be effective in research trials. Moth balls are also discouraged because of the risks they pose to humans and pets. Moth balls are not registered for use on rodents or other mammals.

I am hoping that trapping proves itself to be effective soon so I can seal up the soffits. Meanwhile, I will make sure my insurance is paid up.

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