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How to stop squirrels from stealing fruit

How can you keep squirrels and rats from raiding your citrus trees? The latest question for our SoCal Garden Clinic comes from reader Sandy Meyerowitz of Valley Glen:

Brown squirrels and tree rats eat quite a lot of the fruit from my three large citrus trees: navel, blood and tangelo. The fruit that grows from these trees is very juicy and sweet, but unfortunately, the tops of these trees come very close to the roof of my house and the detached garage, so I am not sure there is an easy solution. Do you have any ideas?

For an answer, we turned to Yvonne Savio, manager of the UC Cooperative Extension's Common Ground Garden Program for Los Angeles County. She oversees the training of master gardeners. Savio said:

I have the same problem, minus the roof: My squirrels and rats travel along telephone lines and jump down into the trees.

Trimming branches within 3 feet of the roof and the ground can reduce critter access. Squirrels can jump farther, so you might want to provide even more clearance.

A trunk barrier can provide additional protection. Wrap a foot-wide metal sheet around the base of the tree and anchor it as a downward-facing funnel, so they can't crawl up.

Questions for our garden clinic — plant health emergencies, plant selection conundrums, design quandaries — can be sent to home@latimes.com. Please put “SoCal Garden Clinic” in the subject line, and include a photo if you’d like. Because of the volume of mail we receive, we cannot respond to all questions.

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