It’s squirrely out there right now

Inadvertently, squirrels might be one of our best tree planters in the wild setting and in our landscapes.

During the spring and mid-summer months, I spend time weeding many of my landscape beds. One “weed: that I have to remove every year is oak.

But why am I pulling them when I love oak trees? They grow large and provide immense amount of shade in a backyard. In addition, they add some height to the landscape design. And finally, they bring in the wildlife. It is the gray squirrels that are contributing to my oak “weed” problem in areas where I don’t want them.

Just as my honey bees have to hoard food (honey) in order to make it through the winter months, so too do squirrels. Their food of choice is nuts. As oak trees produce and drop their acorns, I have numerous squirrels scavenging around the yard for their winter stores.

But honey bees and squirrels store their winter food in different ways. Honeybees place all their winter food in one location, their hive. It is easy to defend and access. Squirrels practice scattered hoarding. This method involves placing food all over the place. The National Wildlife Federation states that our gray squirrel can hide their cache in areas up to seven acres.

One of the reasons that squirrels do not store all their food in one location is theft. Apparently, squirrels do not observe territorial boundaries and wander all over the place. During this process, they occasionally come across nuts that are not their own. Whether it is survival or perverse pleasure in finding someone else’s treasures, stealing is rampant in the gray squirrel world.

I don’t know about you, but I have trouble locating my car keys at times in the first floor of the house. Apparently, squirrels are of the same mindset. Squirrels often forget where they place all their winter food. These abandoned and forgotten nuts will germinate in the spring.

Forgotten acorns are critically important in forest settings as it is a way to regenerate areas with future nut trees. Pulling oak seedlings from my landscape beds is a trade-off I am willing to accept to keep my large shade oak trees in place and the enjoyment of watching squirrels scamper about the yard.


Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at 570-726-0022.