Written by Tolly Beck
Tolly Beck is the horticulturist at Lasdon Park and Arboretum in Westchester County. She was formerly a horticulture educator for New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland, NY.
It is difficult to go outdoors for a walk or work in the garden without seeing chipmunks- lots and lots of chipmunks. They live in forests but are equally at home in suburban and urban areas that provide trees and shrubs for both food and protection. While they do have a cute appearance, chipmunks can be a nuisance in yards, gardens, and flower containers.
There are usually two generations of chipmunks each year with two to five young born in burrows in early spring and late summer. Chipmunk burrows include nesting chambers as well as food storage rooms and escape tunnels extending as much as 20- 30 feet. Chipmunks create a two inch hole at the entrance to their burrows. The soil that is excavated is carried away in their cheek pouches and scattered away from the burrow entrance. Chipmunks do not totally hibernate in winter. They may sleep for long periods and survive on stored food. They may also appear from time to time in winter on warm, sunny days.
Chipmunk diets mainly consist of seeds, berries, nuts, insects and mushrooms. They gather and store food as they go explaining perhaps that lone crocus or small group of sunflowers that appeared in the middle of the lawn. This habit of storing food on their daily excursions is actually a healthy contribution to forest regeneration as they constantly move seeds around.
Most damage to lawns, gardens and flower pots have to do with the burrowing habits of chipmunks. To keep them out of flower containers and off of plants try using a natural repellent spray of 2 tsp. of peppermint oil and 1 cup of water. Shake to mix and apply. Chipmunks dislike the smell of peppermint and tend to stay away. The spray will have to be reapplied periodically as the scent wears off.
If you have bird feeders in your yard try to keep spilled seed cleaned up and the grass in the surrounding area mowed short to reduce attracting chipmunks. Natural predators like owls, hawks, foxes and raccoons may also help to reduce their numbers. If all else fails just appreciate their role in the natural world and enjoy their amusing antics.