The Squirrel Wars

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“It must have been the wind.”

That was my first thought when found soil strewn about the stoop and some freshly planted annuals uprooted from their pots.

It had been windy overnight. The soil was light. This was a plausible explanation. If there’s anything I’ve learned from living in Hot Dish Land, it’s that most things can be blamed on the wind.

Hastily, I scooped up the dirt and replaced the plants. Then I poured some water on top to weigh it down a bit. “Problem solved,” I thought triumphantly. “That’ll stop the wind from ruining my container garden.”

I’ve written before about my lackluster skills regarding plants. Each year, I set out with a naive, but hopeful confidence that this will be the year the plants will thrive. Most years, it’s a sad experiment ending with dead plants long before Labor Day.
With this in mind, I quietly acknowledged that this incident was not setting my fledgling plants up for success.
The following day, my jaw dropped at the massacre on the stoop. The same plants were again torn up. Dirt was scattered. Stems of geraniums I had proudly nurtured all winter long were ripped and bent.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not the best plant-mom. This year, keeping my few annuals alive has been an uphill battle.
Amy Allender Photo

This was not the wind. Something was sabotaging my plants.

I knelt down to repair the damage, and felt something hard in the soil. When I pulled it out, I discovered an acorn. I looked up from the acorn, and–I kid you not–a fat squirrel looked me directly in the eye before scampering up a tree–out of sight.
I’d found the culprit. But this had never happened before. Hoping it was a fluke, I replaced the badly beaten plants, and moved the pots a little closer to the house. Maybe proximity to the door would keep the pests away.

The next day, as I headed downstairs for morning coffee, I glanced out the window overlooking our rooftop patio. Dirt everywhere, planters askew, lots of neatly dug holes–just the size of squirrel paws–deep in the soil. Again I did my best, but the damage was grievous.

Later, when I passed the same window, a flash of gray caught my eye. Two fluffy tails boldly waved in the air as their owners threw what was left of my seedlings haphazardly to the ground. This was getting out of hand.

The next afternoon, as I drank a cup of coffee on the patio, I heard skittering paws on the roof. Then, I watched a chunky squirrel leap from roof, to railing, to planter. Ready to dig. I shooed him away, and immediately turned to Google for answers. The Great Squirrel War of 2023, had not been top of my priority list, but now things had gone too far. Stopping the squirrels moved to the top of the to-do list. To have all of my plants dead before the 4th of July would be a new low–even for me.
According to Google, topping soil with coffee grounds will deter squirrels from digging. The smell is known to repulse them.
My boys had lots of fun scooping that morning’s mushy grounds onto the soil, and even more fun as they heard me rant against the injustice of entitled squirrels who think they can dig wherever they please.

“Haha you nasty squirrels. See how you like a nose full of coffee when you come to dig tomorrow!” This is perhaps the most vengeful I’ve ever felt in my life.

The following morning, I sprang from bed, anxious to see how my devious plan had worked. Surely Google, the kids, and I were an unstoppable team. Surely, we’d shown the squirrels a thing or two.


Dirt out of every pot. Stems broken. Baby plants on the steps. And one particularly brazen squirrel, still digging.
Oh great, now I’ve got highly caffeinated squirrels.

Back to Google. Suggestion number two: Squirrels may also be repelled by adding coarse, black pepper to soil.
The boys took great pleasure in adding copious amounts of pepper to the soil. This time, it seemed to work. As long as the pepper is fresh, they seem to stay away. But sometimes, I swear I see the fat ones glaring at me with distaste.

Are all Hot Dish squirrels like this? Have I just never noticed? Or is this year’s batch exceptionally rude? I’m not from around here–locals, can you teach them some manners? Or at very least, encourage them not to bully the most novice of gardeners?
As annoying as my week of squirrel mayhem was, it’s also refreshing to have these little wins. Life is so full of big, complicated problems. Sometimes these trivial wars turn out to be a blessing. Sometimes these comical conflicts are just what we need to be reminded that it’s possible to find a solution. Sometimes, small, silly victories are exactly what we need to bolster us for the bigger battles ahead.

For more about life in Minot, positive living, and finding more joy + contentment in your days, join me on Instagram (@amy_allender), Facebook (@amyallenderblog), or at

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