Chipmunks in the Garden

Over the last six years that we have been helping people with their gardens, one of the most repeated complaints is about small critters like chipmunks. Dealing with these crafty creatures can be difficult but not possible. Our new home in New Hampshire has rock walls in the front and back walls on the side raised beds against foundation. Pretty, but it’s a chipmunk paradise playground. Chipmunks are everywhere around here. Normally I wouldn’t be concerned however chipmunks can cause tremendous damage to your foundation as well as the staircases and rock wall retaining walls that we have around the property, not to mention our garden. Last year Mark’s hot pepper plants never stood a chance to fruit before the chippies ate the starts.

Chipmunks indigenous to North America with one exception of Siberian chipmunk. Otherwise there 24 types of chipmunks running around the woodlands, forests, deserts and suburbia as well as urban parks from Canada all the way down to Mexico. These cute little creatures seem to be everywhere, particularly in our gardens. Perhaps between learned more about chipmunks, we would understand them better and possibly be able to keep them from our garden.

Only weighing in around one ounce to 5 ounces tops, these little critters are a nimble bunch. They need to be since they could be eaten anytime by any larger carnivore that maybe around. Our property is filled with Chipmunks but it is also filled with all the its predators including owls, foxes, bobcats, coyotes, dogs, snakes and red squirrels. Chipmunks belong in this world family but that doesn’t keep red squirrels from making them a tasty lunch if the opportunity presents itself. All these predators are one reason chipmunks don’t travel very far, generally only roaming about a third of a mile preferring to stick closer to their main burrow. Chipmunks burrows are about 2 to 3 feet underground, but their tunnels can be as long as 20 to 30 feet. Their tunnels are quite intricate, they actually utilize two systems. Shallow burrows are used for refuge while they are foraging during that period they have deeper channels which they use for nesting in food storage although they have separate chambers for each of these areas. Their tunnels are quite neat, no dirties around the entrances since they carried away in the cheeks. 
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Disney’s Chip & Dale
Chipmunks move soil and store food in their cheeks which can hold three times the size of their head making them look cartoon-like. This is probably why Walt Disney created Chip and Dale backing 1943. Walt Disney artists would go out into the woods and study woodland creatures they were tasked to draw for their movies. They would draw sketch after sketch until they understood how these critters moved and what their expressions were like. Anyone who is familiar with the antics of Chip and Dale who also has a vegetable garden would probably agree that Disney pretty much nailed it.

Picky Eaters? No, not at all! 

Chipmunks are omnivores and will eat pretty much everything. They love seeds, berries, bulbs, nuts, insects and mushrooms; not to mention bird eggs and baby birds. As chipmunks forage for their food to store they perform one of their most ecologically important tasks they are spread seeds and important mycorrhizal fungi, playing an important role in forest health and regeneration.
Interestingly, chipmunks need to sleep 15 hours a day meaning we see them only during the remaining 9 hours. There is much to be done during this time which is they always seem to be out when we are out. During the wintertime, chipmunks don’t hibernate completely, but they are so inactive that their heart rate and body temperatures drop. When they get hungry they rely on their food storage is accessible but is in a separate chamber than they’re sleeping area.
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Alvin & The Chipmunks
Contrary to Ross Badgdasarian’s famous family animated trio, Alvin, Theodore and Simon, chipmunks are solitary creatures– unless it’s breeding season of course. Chipmunks mate in the spring and late summer and have litters of that 2 to 6 pups. Male chipmunks, known has bucks, have one role and that it to mate. The female, known as the doe, carries and cares for the litter until the pups leave the nest.
If you’ve ever had the chance to simply watch a chipmunk in action undoubtedly then heard one as well. They use a bunch of different vocalizations including chips, chucks and chilling alarm calls. Some of these high-pitched sounds can easily be mistaken for a birdcall. The other day at we are out on the deck with the dogs and there was a chipmunk who was very talkative, confidently chattering away from the other side of the dog fencing we have surrounding out deck. I thought the dogs were going to lose their minds, but they just stared at the talkative little chippie who undoubtedly was giving them an earful. Chipmunks are very territorial and protect then areas around their main burrows. 
Now that we have a better understanding of chipmunks, is there any way to keep them out of our gardens? After all, isn’t our garden a buffet of tasty treats to the chipmunk? Are there ways we can still enjoy tulips and another bulbs chipmunks continually eat the bulbs, seeds, starts and anything else that we might to plant?
Yes, there are things that we can do to try to deter chipmunks from coming into the garden and wreaking little less havoc. First of all, try to keep rock walls out of the garden since love to nest in rock walls unless of course you have to a retaining wall put in for landscaping purposes just know that chipmunks love to build their tunnels near structures like retainment walls and foundations.  These burrows can compromise these structures, as well as plantings that may be above them – destroying their root systems. They also love old logs, trees, stumps and areas that have plenty of ground cover – so take that into consideration if you have a chipmunk problem in your garden.  We removed some of the old stone walls that were in the old garden
Use hardware cloth over a freshly planted area covered with mulch can help mitigate damage to bold that you hope overwinter to bloom come springtime. Simply remove the hardware cloth in the early spring once the winter snow so thawed. There are also some plants you can introduce into your garden which chipmunks do not like at all– particularly due to their fragrance. Chipmunks are sensitive to smell and don’t like fragrant perennials like monarda (Bee Balm), hyssop (agastache) or lavender. Generally, chipmunks are sensitive to texture as well, staying clear of thorny and hairy leaves and plants.
Perennials Chipmunks Don’t Like

Bee balm (Monarda)
Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan
Butterfly bush (Buddleia)
Catmint (Nepeta)
Chives
Delphinium
Daffodil (narcissus)
Hyssop (Agastache)
Irises
Joe pyeweed (Eutrochium)
Lavender

Lavender
Lupine
Milkweed
Ornamental garlic (allium)
Ornamental Primrose/ sundrops (Oenothera)
Phlox
Purple coneflower (echinacea)
Sedum
Sneezeweed (Helenium)
Yarrow



There are a number of annuals which holds no interest for the chipmunk– all of which would be happy in the garden making a wonderful companion plants bringing in beneficial as well.
Annuals Chipmunks Don’t Like


Ageratum

Zinnia

Alyssum
Calendula
Celosia/Cockscomb
Dianthus
Heliotrope
Lantana
Marigolds (tagetes)
Petunia
Annual Salvia/Sage
Snapdragons
Zinnia


Other helpful ways to keep the Chipmunks away from the garden is to be sure to deadhead your flowers that form seed heads like marigolds and zinnias. Chipmunks loveseat heads, so deadheading flowers is always a good idea. How many times have we all found half eaten or slightly eaten tomatoes in the garden? Any time is too many times. The reason for this is not that chipmunks are necessarily hungry, but rather that they are thirsty and seeking sources for water. A couple of strategically placed birdbaths should help keep the chippies and birds from taking a bite out of your prize tomatoes.
Be careful not to include flowers that will attract chipmunks. There are plenty of flowers that chipmunks consider tasty treats.  The best way to include some of these flowers in your garden plan is to surround them with plants and flowers they hate and hope for the best.
Flowers That Chipmunks Love
Chrysanthemums
Lemon Queen Sunflower

Columbine (aquilegia)
Coreopsis/Tickseed
Daisies
Lilies
Pansies
Seedlings of any type
Sunflowers
Tulips
Violas
Other natural ways to determine chipmunks in the garden include the use of cayenne pepper sprinkled around the plants. Remember they don’t like fragrant or spice and capsaicin is a powerful deterrent.  It’ easy enough to also make a homemade pepper spray which is safe to spray on your bulbs and plants’ leaves and stems to keep the chipmunks from going to town.
Homemade Pepper Spray
1 quart of boiling water
2 tbs. ground cayenne pepper 
2 tbs. oil
  • Drain the cooled down water  and ground cayenne pepper through a cheese cloth and add 2 tbs of oil – shake mixing well.
  • Put liquid into an unused or clean spray bottle and use on whatever it is you wish the chippies to stay away from. Reapply after rain or once a week.

There is no surefire way to keep chipmunks from coming into the garden, their size and acrobatic abilities make fencing impossible; however, sheer netting can be effective in extreme cases.  The best way to deal with chipmunks is to understand what they like and dislike and try to work to live in harmony with each other in our gardens. Good luck to us all.

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