Chipmunks may be cute, but they also can become destructive and a nuisance in the yard and gardens — so much so that you want to keep them out. Chipmunks eat cultivated fruits, nuts and flower bulbs. They dig tunnels that can impact your hardscape, gain entrance into your home and outbuildings, and they pepper your yard with potential ankle-twisting holes. They are not aggressive toward humans but, like other rodents, can carry a number of diseases.
What Do Chipmunks Look Like
Chipmunks are the smallest members of the squirrel family but the two animals are easy to tell apart. Squirrels are much larger, either brown or gray in color, and have long bushy tails. Chipmunks are distinctly marked with dark, vertical stripes on their backs and around their eyes. The tail is shorter, flatter and more brush-like. The largest, at 5 to 7 inches long, is the Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus), which is the only species found in the eastern half of the United States.
Signs Your Garden Is Overrun With Chipmunks
If you've run across holes in your yard, you may be surprised to learn that you could be hosting just two or three animals. This number can increase to ten or more with good shelter and abundant food sources. Keep in mind that each chipmunk digs several entrance holes to its burrow but an excessive number may mean too many chipmunks. If you suspect chipmunks are taking over your gardens, look for the following signs.
- Numerous small deep holes (2 to 3 inches in diameter) around woodpiles, fence lines, rock piles, large trees and stumps, retaining walls, water features, and outbuildings that lack a stone or concrete foundation.
- Plantings of spring flowering bulbs, like tulips, that fail to emerge. An inspection indicates the bulbs have disappeared.
- Strawberries, blueberries and other small fruit crops disappear as soon as they ripen.
- Grain and seed scattered around livestock feed containers and birdseed bins.
- Small piles of acorn tops and bits of nut shell on top of or around stumps, at the base of trees, atop retaining walls, and around patio edges.
- Nests in outbuildings. Chipmunks more often excavate and live in underground tunnel systems but sometimes build nests made up of leaves and other materials in accessible outdoor structures.
- Tunnels are deep (about 3 feet) underground but can result in cracks and other damage to patios and pavement. Uprooted plants and weakened root structures under shrubs and young trees can indicate the presence of chipmunks.
- Catch them in action. Although chipmunks are predator wary and move quickly, it's pretty easy to spot them when they are most active in morning and late afternoon.
8 Ways to Get Rid of Chipmunks
Once burrows are established and food gathering begins, it's difficult to remove chipmunks using humane methods. Unless your property is inundated, the best option is to discourage them from raiding gardens and flowerbeds by making adjustments to your landscaping. Here are eight strategies to help you get started on a chipmunk damage prevention plan.
Use Gravel to Fill Holes and Create Barriers
Gravel and sand are difficult to dig through. Filling chipmunk holes with these materials can slow them down, and if you stay diligent, can even cause them to leave for good. If you choose gravel, select a grade no larger than 1/4 inch in diameter and fill each hole with as much gravel as you can push down into it.
Tunnels are long (up to 30 feet) and complex and the resident chipmunk will attempt to dig new entrances. The tunnels are fairly deep (3 feet underground) and you won't find any mounding to help you identify where they are located. Look for holes around the base of trees, stumps, retaining walls, rockpiles, patios, flower beds and building foundations. Fill every hole you find and check daily for freshly dug ones. Placing a gravel border around outdoor sheds will discourage digging and tunneling.
Seal or screen all openings in outbuildings and make sure doors and windows can be securely closed.
Limit Food Sources
Locate bird feeders at least 30 feet away from buildings and add a tray below the feeder to catch falling seed. Try offering different seed. Black oil sunflower seed is a chipmunk favorite but they don't care for thistle. Make sure animal feed containers include a tight lid, use bungee cords or weigh the top down with a brick or large stone.
Consider planting daffodil and allium bulbs for spring color and bloom. A good selection of spring bulbs is available that chipmunks don't care to eat.
Seeds, pinecones, acorns and other natural foods can keep chipmunks busy in the autumn but keep in mind that feeding and foraging begin in the spring. Be prepared to take preventive steps early to protect your harvest.
Use Hardware Cloth and Bird Netting
Covering bulbs and flowerbeds with hardware cloth also discourages digging and prevents access to your plants. Use 1/4 inch cloth to cage your bulbs or use it to cover a flower bed with a layer of soil on top.
If chipmunks are raiding your tomatoes and blueberries protect your crop with bird netting wrapped around a wire cage or set of stakes. Bury the netting six inches deep in the soil around the plant to prevent the chipmunk from digging underneath. Cover the entire plant including the top.
Add Scent and Taste Deterrents
Chipmunks will steer clear of food sources dusted with cayenne pepper or garlic. A spray of cider vinegar or peppermint oil will also discourage sampling of your fruits and vegetables.
They also can be repelled by scent. Citrus, garlic, peppermint, cinnamon, and eucalyptus all provide odors disagreeable to chipmunks. The smell of coffee is off-putting so try sprinkling spent grounds in areas where you want to keep them out.
Sensitive to predator danger, chipmunks avoid places with animal urine and waste. Cat litter is not recommended because of the potential for bacterial spread however it might help to walk your pup through chipmunk territory for his or her daily constitutional.
Apply Commercial Products
While you may not find commercially formulated repellents specific for chipmunks, products designed to discourage squirrels are on offer at nurseries and stores with garden departments. These are usually sprays that won't harm your landscaping, but most are based on predator urine and can leave a disagreeable odor. Bloodmeal comes in a powdered form and can be sprinkled on and around plants to ward off chipmunks.
The use of mothballs as a scent deterrent is considered an unsafe practice and may even be illegal in some areas. The unintended consequences of a pet or small child consuming a mothball or inhaling the fumes make this product less than ideal for repelling wildlife pests.
Install an Ultrasonic Device: Light and Sound
There are a number of ultrasonic devices designed to keep nuisance critters out of your yard and gardens. These include everything from motion triggered lights to jets of water or units that give off sound and vibration to send the animals packing.
These products can be elaborate, emitting strobe lights, predator sounds and impulse waves. Solar-powered outdoor units are available but the jury is out on how effectively they work.
Garden raiders also adapt to changes in their environment especially when the deterrent loses its element of surprise. Adding static items like scarecrows and predator statues won't work for more than a day or two. Consider using ultrasonic devices intermittently on a schedule instead of operating them constantly.
Chipmunks are a prey source for many other animals and birds including hawks, owls, eagles, raccoons, weasels, fox, coyotes and snakes. Domestic and feral cats will also hunt chipmunks. Some of these animals won't be welcome around your home, but a resident hawk, fox or harmless snake can help reduce the chipmunk population.
Eliminate Potential Cover
Chipmunks are very prey sensitive and will not set up housekeeping where protection and cover aren't available. You can dispose of attractive hiding places like rock piles and wood piles. Cover stacked wood and mow or weed-eat grass and weeds under fencelines and around buildings and outdoor structures.
Planting a hedge or line of trees or shrubs that connect your property to adjacent woodlands provides a protected pathway directly into your yard and gardens. Maintain an open green space between your property and the woodlot next door.
Keep gardens free of weeds and tall grasses where chipmunks can hide and feast on your flowers and crops.
Trap and Release
You can find live traps for chipmunks that allow you to relocate the animal. Keep in mind that, even though they are much less active in winter, chipmunks do not hibernate and wake every few days to eat from the enormous stash they worked all summer and fall to gather and store.
If you trap a chipmunk in the fall and remove it from it's food stash its chances of survival are not good. Trapping also can cause a stressed animal to injure itself. If trapping ends up your only option, try to manage this early in the season and be sure to move the chipmunk at least two miles from your current location.
What Attracts Chipmunks to Your Garden
A chipmunk will be attracted to any area with plentiful food sources and shelter. Forest, shrub areas, woodlands, and both urban and suburban locations that offer food and cover from predators are potential habitat. Here are some elements around your yard and garden that invite chipmunks in.
- Lack of natural predators
- Flowering bulbs such as tulips, daylilies and iris
- Unprotected cultivated fruits like strawberries, blueberries and raspberries
- Tomatoes, herbs, celery, mushrooms and other leafy vegetables
- Wild food sources like nuts (especially acorns) pinecones and blackberries
- Water features
- Hiding places including stacked rock and piled wood, areas with dense undergrowth, tall grasses and accessible outbuildings
How to Get Rid of Chipmunks Permanently
Keeping chipmunks out of your yard and gardens will be an on-going chore unless you take preventive measures to stop them from establishing in the first place.
Live trapping and release can rid you of the current population but as long as adequate cover and food is available, the next generation will move in.
Unless you experience significant property damage or crop loss, the best option is to keep the population manageable by making changes that discourage them.
When to Call a Professional
If a chipmunk gets into your home, or builds nests in your garage you may need to call a professional to have it safely removed.
These small animals can chew through wiring in homes, and outdoor equipment like tractors and four-wheelers. Shredded insulation, furniture cushions and other accessible materials can all become part of a nest.
Tunneling can cause cracks in patios and pavement and undermine retaining walls.
Extensive damage often indicates a problem more quickly and efficiently resolved by a professional wildlife removal service.
How long do chipmunks live?
Chipmunks survive in the wild for about three years. They can live in captivity for as long as eight years.
Do chipmunks hibernate?
Cnipmunks remain in underground burrows during the winter months, mostly sleeping but waking every few days to feed from their vast food stores. The heart rate slows but the animals don't truly hibernate. They emerge above ground in March or April.
Do chipmunks climb trees?
Chipmunks spend most of their time on the ground, but they are able climbers and will forage in trees for nuts and berries. They come down trees headfirst and can sometimes be spotted running atop fences.
Chipmunks. Maine Department of Entomology.
Chipmunk Control. University of Georgia
What You Should Know About Mothballs. Louisiana Department of Health.