There’s no denying that chipmunks are adorable little rodents. They scurry around in the woods, stuffing as much food as possible into their mouths and running off. What’s not so cute is when chipmunks make their way into our yards and gardens and eat everything!
Below, we’ll go over all the plants that chipmunks eat and some tips and tricks for keeping these cute but pesky ground squirrels out of your yard and garden.
In the wild, chipmunks eat a variety of things ranging from seeds and grains to mushrooms, insects, and lizards. When chipmunks live close to people, they may alter their diet to include some of our favorite vegetables, fruits, and flowers, much to the distaste of homeowners and gardeners!
Chipmunks are active during the day and are particularly active in the mornings and evenings. Additionally, a Research Square study on Chipmunk diets found that plants are more likely to be eaten in the spring than in any other season.
Let’s dive into the 10 plants that chipmunks commonly eat around our homes and gardens. Later, we’ll discuss how to keep chipmunks away naturally. If you already know you need to repel chipmunks, take a peak at our top picks for the best chipmunk repellents!
1. Chipmunks Love Strawberries
If chipmunks had a list of favorite foods, strawberries would likely be at the top. Chipmunks LOVE strawberries and can strip an entire plant bare in a single day.
The important thing to remember about chipmunks is that they cache food. This means they will take more food than they need and store it in one of the ‘rooms’ of their burrow. They can’t eat ten or even five strawberries all at once. Instead, they take them and stow them away for later.
Chipmunks may also nibble on the new shoots of strawberry plants, so it’s important to watch your strawberries at the very beginning stages and just before harvest, about 4-6 weeks after your plants blossom.
If you find any strawberries left, look for nibble marks on the remaining fruits to certify that chipmunks are to blame. You can also look for signs of their scat to confirm it’s chipmunks.
2. Chipmunks Devour Tomatoes
Tomatoes are one of the most commonly grown plants in gardens. They’re also another favorite of chipmunks who will scurry up your tomato plant and eat the fruit right from the vine.
Like with strawberries, chipmunks will typically go for your tomatoes when they are getting ready to be harvested or when they are first starting as tender shoots.
In the beginning stages, chipmunks will eat the green shoots, while at the harvest stage, they will target the tomatoes themselves. They do not go after the leaves of tomato plants, so if you’re seeing torn leaves it may be something else such as slugs or deer.
To confirm whether or not chipmunks are to blame for your damaged tomato plants, look for nibble marks on any tomatoes that are remaining on the vines.
Chipmunks may also clip the tomatoes and eat them from the ground, similar to how they clip acorns and beechnuts from trees.
If it’s been a dry summer, you may also notice small holes in your tomatoes. This is done by chipmunks that are looking for a source of water out of your tomatoes.
3. Chipmunks Think Tulip Bulbs Are Tasty
Tulips are a welcome sight in the spring, signaling the end of winter’s hold over the land and breathing new life into the garden and lawn.
Since tulips are planted in the fall, there’s nothing worse than looking forward to seeing them bloom in the spring only to be disappointed because something (looking at you, chipmunks) dug them up!
Chipmunks will sneak into your flowerbed and gardens to dig up tulip bulbs before these early bloomers even have a chance to grow.
Damage to tulip bulbs typically happens in late fall or early spring. They may also chew on newly emerging shoots in late winter/early spring.
Look for divots around the area where you planted your tulips. This is a sign that chipmunks have dug them up and carted them off to their burrows for a tasty overwintering snack.
4. Chipmunks Chow On Corn
Anyone who grows corn knows that there are a lot of sneaky pests out there that love to munch on corn. Deer typically come to mind, but chipmunks, raccoons, squirrels, and even bears will wreak havoc on your precious corn.
The worst part is, these animals typically wait until corn is just ripening to eat them, so when you go to harvest you suddenly have nothing to harvest!
Chipmunk damage can happen at two main times during the growing season:
- Seed stage: chipmunks will dig up corn seeds like it’s nobody’s business early in the season. Birds will also dig up seeds, but they will dig around the whole seed whereas chipmunks will only dig on one side of the seed.
- Harvest time: Just before harvest time, chipmunks will go after the corn kernels. You will notice the most damage to corn that is located near forest edges as opposed to those in the heart of your corn field.
As we mentioned before, there are a lot of different animals that will feed on corn, so make sure you’re dealing with chipmunks before implementing any pest control strategies.
5. Chipmunks Dine On Crocus Bulbs
Tulip bulbs may be a favorite of chipmunks, but these little rodents will also go after crocus bulbs. Only a few bulbs out there are safe from chipmunks, mainly because they have strong odors or natural defense mechanisms, but crocuses aren’t one of them.
Like tulips, crocus bulbs remain dormant and underground from late summer to late winter. In early spring, crocus bulbs will push out their first shoots that break the surface of the soil, signaling the end of winter.
Chipmunks will dig up crocus bulbs in the fall and sometimes in late winter. They will also nibble on the new shoots as they come up. This is an area where you’ll commonly see chipmunk holes.
Bulbs in general are packed with carbohydrates and sugars that chipmunks need to survive the long winter. Unfortunately, it is a popular food item for chipmunks, and since chipmunks cache their food, they will dig up more bulbs than they could possibly eat, sometimes destroying entire flowerbeds.
6. Chipmunks Love To Eat Lettuce
If you have a garden, chances are you have lettuce. It is a popular and easy vegetable to grow and useful for home-grown meals and salads. Chipmunks are omnivores and will certainly be attracted to your lettuce plants!
Chipmunks are more likely to go after your lettuce seeds than the actual plant. However, they may nibble on new shoots as they pop up in the spring. Chipmunks are least likely to eat the actual lettuce plant, but it’s not impossible.
Signs of chipmunk damage to your lettuce include tunnels with small openings around your garden. Typically, chipmunks will tunnel in your garden to get at the seeds, but they may also dig them up from on top of the soil.
7. Chipmunks Love Broccoli Seeds!
Broccoli is a little less common in the garden. It’s tricky to grow and tends to be a heavy feeder, requiring fertilizer and mulch to keep it happy. However, if you’re willing to put the time in, broccoli is safer than other plants on our list from animal pests.
If your broccoli has made it to the harvest stage, it is probably safe from chipmunks.
It’s the seeds and new shoots of broccoli that chipmunks are after, so be especially vigilant from the time you plant your broccoli seeds to the time they begin growing.
You can rest easier when your broccoli plants are established, as chipmunks are not likely to eat the stems, leaves, or crowns.
8. Pea Sprouts Are A Favorite Chipmunk Snack
Like broccoli, peas are most vulnerable to chipmunks when they are first getting started. Once established, pea plants are pretty safe from these voracious little ground squirrels.
Peas are more complicated to grow than other vegetables. They require cool climates and are heat-sensitive, so they are typically grown in early spring or late summer when temperatures are cooling down.
That being said, peas can be grown in most areas of the United States, so any species of chipmunk may target your pea plants.
Look for chipmunk damage as soon as your peas begin sprouting. Pea sprouts are a chipmunk’s favorite part of the plant, even more so than the seeds.
9. Chipmunks Prefer To Eat Sunflower Seeds
Sunflowers are amazing plants to have in your garden, even if you don’t harvest the seeds. The main reason is that they are a trap crop. Trap crops lure insect and animal pests away from your prized garden vegetables and onto the ‘trap’ a.k.a. sunflowers.
Now, not everyone plants sunflowers as trap crops. Some folks want their sunflowers to grow and prosper, not be eaten! Totally understandable!
Chipmunks are more likely to go after sunflower seeds and new shoots than mature sunflower plants. Be on the lookout for chipmunk damage early in the growing season.
Once your sunflowers are established, chipmunks aren’t likely to damage them. Even when the seeds begin growing, birds are more likely to attack your mature sunflower plants than chipmunks.
10. Chipmunks Graze On Grass
Chipmunks can make a mess of your lawn by digging their burrows and food caches. Do they really have to eat the grass, too?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
Chipmunks will go after grass shoots as well as the underground roots. Grass isn’t their favorite food, but chipmunks may eat it if other food sources aren’t available such as in early and late winter.
Chipmunk damage may also occur if you lay down grass seed. Those pesky rodents will dig up the seed and eat it or store it for later in one of their burrows.
11. Chipmunks Feast On Berries
We already talked about how chipmunks love strawberries, but really, they’ll go after almost any berry they can get their paws on including:
These three are targeted more than other berries.
Chipmunk damage occurs to the berries that are closest to the ground. There may be nibble marks on the berries, but more than likely the chipmunk will clip the berry from the stem and carry it off to its burrow.
Damage to berries is most likely to happen when the berries are ripe and ready to be harvested, you know, at the most inconvenient time for us!
Plants That Chipmunks Won’t Eat
Now that we know what plants chipmunks will chow down on, are there any that these hungry rodents won’t eat?
Most plants that chipmunks and other critters leave alone have a few distinguishing characteristics that make them unappetizing:
- Strong fragrance: Plants like marigolds, lavender, onions, and garlic all give off a strong odor. For garlic and onions, the plants have to be damaged to give off the odor, for others like marigolds and lavender, they have their own fragrance.
- Prickly plants: Veggies such as Zucchini, cucumber, and pumpkin grow on prickly vines. While chipmunks may enjoy eating the vegetable itself, if they run into the prickly vine first, it may be enough to deter them.
- Plants that don’t taste good: Some plants out there are just downright unappetizing to chipmunks. These are typically in the pepper, onion, and mint families.
Chipmunks may not be picky, but they have their limits. Plants that have a strong taste or odor will usually be left alone. Another good deterrent is plants that have prickly vines or other physical deterrents.
How To Stop Chipmunks From Eating Your Garden Plants
If you’re wondering why chipmunks are so bent on digging up your seeds and bulbs, the answer lies in their winter activities.
According to an article in the Journal of Animal Ecology, the longer a chipmunk sleeps in the winter, the more at risk it is of malnutrition and other ailments. When chipmunks have plenty of food stored for winter, they sleep less, have a higher body temperature, and have more normal body functions.
When spring finally comes, chipmunks that slept less and ate more tended to be the healthiest and most likely to survive another season.
Can’t blame them for that, right?
We can still get angry about it, though…Luckily, there are plenty of ways to protect your garden and flowerbed from these pesky little rodents!
Protect Your Bulbs With Hardware Cloth
It may seem impossible to protect something underground, but it’s certainly doable! The secret is preventing chipmunks from digging into the soil.
We recommend using hardware cloth with openings no larger than ¼-inch. This is small enough to keep these little rodents out of your flowerbed and away from your bulbs.
Fencer Wire’s 23 Gauge Galvanized Hardware Cloth comes in a 2ft x 50ft roll and has ¼-inch openings that can help protect your bulbs from chipmunks!
Lay the hardware cloth down over your bulbs after planting and cover the mesh with soil. Make sure the mesh extends 12 inches beyond the edges of your bulbs, just in case those crafty chipmunks decide to dig further away to get at your bulbs.
Create An Open Landscape
Another way to protect your garden from chipmunks is to make your yard more open. Chipmunks prefer to be in places where there is plenty of cover such as in forests, logs, rockpiles, and leaf litter.
An open yard also gives natural predators like hawks and eagles a better chance at spotting chipmunks.
To make your yard more open, try some of the following tips:
- Keep the grass mowed: While hawks and eagles can see from above, terrestrial predators cannot, and tall grass is one way for chipmunks to hide from them. Keep your lawn mowed to avoid giving chipmunks an easy hiding spot.
- Trim bushes: Try to trim the bottom of any bushes so that around 6 inches is exposed. This makes it harder for chipmunks to use bushes as a hiding spot.
- Clean up debris: Eliminate brush piles, unkempt wood stacks, leaf piles, and other debris laying around the yard. This will eliminate cover for chipmunks.
It may not be feasible to keep your bushes trimmed, but keeping the grass mowed and cleaning up debris piles are easy fixes to help keep these critters away.
Fence In Your Garden
If you don’t already, you should fence in your garden to protect it from various critters. In addition to chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, deer, skunks, and even bears and opossums may visit your garden if it is unprotected.
Depending on what type of fence you decide to go with, make sure the openings are no larger than ¼-inch to keep chipmunks out.
Chipmunks are excellent climbers, but they’re not likely to scale a fence unless they are really determined or starving.
One important thing to remember is that chipmunks have no problems digging in the dirt. It’s recommended to bury your fence at least 6 inches into the ground.
If it takes too much energy to dig under or climb over, chipmunks are likely to give up rather than spend the time and energy getting around your garden fence.
Use Companion Plants
Companion plants are an easy way to deter chipmunks from more valuable garden crops. It is not a full-proof plan, but when combined with other tactics it can help deter chipmunks.
When you plant your garden vegetables, consider planting something that chipmunks hate all around it.
For example, when you plant your tomatoes, plant garlic, mint, or onions right next to it. The overwhelming smell of these plants may trick chipmunks into thinking there are no goodies around and they will leave your tomatoes (or whatever else you plant) alone!
For flower bulbs, try planting daffodils or mint in the same area. Again, this isn’t a full-proof plan.
The idea is that the smell of these extremely fragrant plants will be stronger than the smell of the chipmunk’s preferred food.
If chipmunks are using smell alone to find their food, they may be tricked into leaving your garden alone.
If you don’t have the time to plant things that chipmunks hate, you can simply use the smell of the plant to fool the chipmunk. Here are a few ways to use scent deterrents to trick chipmunks:
- Hot peppers: Add 3 tablespoons of hot pepper flakes to 1 gallon of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Cooking the flakes (as opposed to just adding them to cold water) helps release the scent even more. Add the mixture to a spray bottle and spray around the garden.
- Mint: If you don’t have any mint around the house, you can use essential oil such as NaturoBliss Peppermint Essential Oil. Add 10-15 drops for every 1 cup of water to a spray bottle. Spray around your garden once a week or after rain to deter chipmunks.
- The ultimate scent deterrent: Use the hot pepper directions above but also add 1 tablespoon of garlic powder (or chopped garlic) and 1 chopped onion to the mixture. The smell will be powerful! To make it even more powerful, allow the mixture to sit overnight in the pot before straining it and placing it in a spray bottle.
Scent deterrents have the added benefit of being natural so you don’t have to worry about any harsh ingredients. The downside is that they must be applied often, at least once a week and after it rains.
If you’d like to utilize scent repellents, take a peak at our guide on some of the smells that chipmunks hate!
That’s A Wrap!
Chipmunks are certainly cute when they’re stuffing their little cheeks with nuts and seeds they find on the forest floor. However, when these ground squirrels sneak into our gardens and flowerbeds, weaving havoc, they suddenly go from cute to a mortal enemy.
Chipmunks prefer some plants over others. Mainly, the 11 plants that chipmunks love to eat include:
- Tulip bulbs
- Crocus bulbs
- Broccoli shoots
- Pea sprouts
- Sunflower sprouts and seeds
If you’re having problems with chipmunks eating all your garden veggies and fruits, you can try fences, hardware cloth, companion plants, and scent deterrents to keep them away.
You can also check out our nationwide pest control finder to get in contact with a local professional who can help tame these little beasties and keep them away for good!
MUNRO, D., THOMAS, D.W. and HUMPHRIES, M.M. (2005), Torpor patterns of hibernating eastern chipmunks Tamias striatus vary in response to the size and fatty acid composition of food hoards. Journal of Animal Ecology, 74: 692-700. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2656.2005.00968.x
Ober, H. K., & Kane, A. (n.d.). How To Identify the Wildlife Species Responsible for Damage in Your Yard [WEC324]. In IFAS Extension. University of Florida.
Randall, C. J. (2007). Physical Barriers: Vertebrate Pests. In Encyclopedia of Pest Management (Vol. II, pp. 511-515). CRC Press Taylor & Francis Group.
Vander Wall, S. B., Briggs, J. S., Jenkins, S. H., Kuhn, K. M., Thayer, T. C., & Beck, M. J. (2006, July). Do food-hoarding animals have a cache recovery advantage? Determining recovery of stored food. Animal Behavior, 72(1), 189-197. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0003347206001370
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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