DEAR JOAN: I am begging you to implore your readers to not feed the squirrels. It may seem so cute and entertaining to watch the squirrels picking up peanuts and running off with them, but they are running to my back yard.

They have dug up all of my flower beds to bury peanuts, dug holes all over the lawn, and the only way I've been able to maintain potted plants is to cover the top around the plants with large rocks. Please stop feeding the squirrels.

We are having a terrible problem with squirrels in South San Jose. In over 40 years, I've never seen anything like it, and they do incredible damage. Any suggestions on how to get rid of them? I've heard some people are putting out rat poison, but that is too dangerous for our pets. Vector control was no help. I would like to see feed made available to prevent reproduction.

Squirrels are very busy little creatures, and not always to our benefit.
Squirrels are very busy little creatures, and not always to our benefit. (Courtesy of Rich Cordes)

Linda

San Jose

DEAR LINDA: You've hit on both the problem and the solution. Squirrels are hanging around your neighborhood because they've found it a safe and fruitful place to live. And it's not just because your neighbors might feed them, although that could be a part of the issue.

Squirrels eat a varied diet, but they have a great love of nuts and fruits. If there are any types of these trees in the area, that's where you'll find squirrels.

Unfortunately, there isn't a lot you can do to control them. Please, don't resort to poisons. Not only are most of them cruel, other animals can be exposed to the poison either by eating it or by eating the dying squirrels. Pets are in danger, too.

The surest and safest control is through exclusion. Trim your trees around fences and your roof line. Pick fruit often, and keep the area clean beneath your trees. You could add a shock wire around your fence line. It gives the squirrels a small jolt but does not kill or injure them. And protect your plants and planting areas with chicken wire or mesh.

There are commercial products -- spray and granular -- that are sold to discourage squirrels and the like. I haven't had much luck with these, but hope springs eternal.

DEAR JOAN: We have many critters in our garden -- during the day, birds and squirrels, and at night, opossums, skunks and raccoons. Which of these beautiful creatures might be part of debarking two of our trees on a couple of limbs of pyracantha and plum? We just noticed it this year.

Joyce and Jim

Oakland

DEAR JOYCE AND JIM: A number of animals are known for removing bark, ranging from mice and rats to bears. I think we can exclude bears from the list, but the key to narrowing the possibilities is, as they say in the real estate game, location, location, location.

Rabbits strip bark low on the tree, just as high as they can reach. Mice and rats tend to prefer vertical limbs. Squirrels go for the horizontal branches, and you will often find the bark on the ground below the tree because it's the wood beneath the bark that they really want.

All the creatures who grace your yard might be doing the stripping, but the most likely candidates are the usual suspects: squirrels and rats.

Elephant battle

"Battle for the Elephants," a new, one-hour special produced by National Geographic Television, explores the brutal slaughter of African elephants for their tusks, fueled largely by China's demand for ivory. The program airs at 9 p.m. Feb. 27 on PBS.

Joan Morris' column runs five days a week in print and online. Contact her at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.