Gardening Know How receives a number of questions, and providing answers to them is important, especially for anyone new to gardening. Take pests in the garden, for example. Normally thought to only be insects, this isn’t always the case. A number of animals can become garden pests too, chomping away or trampling on all your prized plants. Here are the 10 most commonly asked questions about controlling animal pests in the landscape and garden.
Keeping cats out of the garden can be a bit tricky, especially since the felines mark their territory by urinating or otherwise. And as long as their scent remains, they’ll just keep coming. The first thing you need to do is remove any feces along with surrounding soil. Then you can try sprinkling cat repellent in the area, but opt for something natural. Although many people add mothballs to garden areas in an attempt to deter cats and other pests, these are not recommended, as they pose a safety issue to animals and humans alike. You could cut up citrus fruit, like an orange or lemon, and put them in the garden. Also, consider laying some chicken wire down on top of your soil – you can even hide this just beneath any mulch. This prevents cats from scratching and digging, which normally forces them to seek out other places to do their business. Cats typically stay clear of areas that are mulched with stone, pebbles, or similar materials too.
Unfortunately, squirrels will likely just climb up and over the fence. Maybe if you added a barrier to the top, this would be a good deterrent, but for the most part, you’ll find that getting rid of squirrels in the garden is difficult. You can try using natural squirrel repellents, like predator urine or ground chili pepper, but keep in mind that these will only work for short periods. Some people find it easier to add bulbs that squirrels don’t like in areas they are not wanted. Additionally, you could try using live traps baited with peanut butter or sunflower seeds, and then release the animal into an appropriate wooded site, though I would be cautious since the critter may not be too happy.
The best way to keep snakes out of your yard is to make sure that your garden is an unattractive place for them. They need cool, damp places to live, so removing debris or fallen plant material can help eliminate the places they like to sleep, which will force them to find other places to live. Additionally, snakes (and rodents) often hide in tall vegetation, so it helps to keep your lawn mowed regularly, and do not let it get taller than 4 inches (10 cm.). Also, be sure to remove weeds frequently and avoid planting dense ground covers, like ivy, in which the reptiles could hide easily.
One of the best ways to keep rabbits out of the garden is with wire fencing – generally at least 24-36 inches (60-90 cm.) tall should suffice but I would also recommend burying it about 6 inches (15 cm.). This will help prevent them from hopping over and digging underneath. Other deterrents for rabbits include sprinkling dried blood or predator urine around the perimeter of the garden. Hair from these same animals, or even your dog if you have one, works well for rabbit control too. Plants rabbits don’t like is yet another option to include around the garden. Some people might also consider trapping and relocating the rodents as a last resort.
One of the best ways to keep squirrels and other pesky rodents from feasting on your garden bulbs is to add some chicken wire or even gravels to the planting area in which the bulbs are located. This will often be enough to prevent them from digging. Likewise, you can attempt using repellents like predator urine, animal hair, blood meal, or chili pepper to keep them at bay. Planting bulbs in and around your prized tulips can help as well. There are a number of bulbs that squirrels don’t like, especially daffodils – which are deemed toxic and unpalatable to them and most rodents in general.
Probably the most humane method of gopher control, but typically less effective, would be the use of repellents placed just inside the openings of their burrows, such as gopher spurge, castor oil and garlic. Live traps is another alternative. These can be baited with things like fruits, vegetables or peanut butter. As a last resort, and only if it’s legal in your area, suitable poisons can be used. However, I would recommend having a professional come in and possibly relocate the animal before resorting to tactics that cause harm or death.
Deer in gardens is a common complaint and there are a number of ways to deal with them depending on your circumstances. Trees are often damaged by deer either through feeding on the bark or foliage or by rubbing the tree bark during mating season. The best method to protect trees from deer damage is to surround them with fencing or other suitable barriers. The use of deer repellents can also be used for keeping deer away from trees, as can planting deer resistant plants around the perimeter of your garden.
Raccoons can be a real issue in the garden or surrounding landscape and once they’ve found a good place to eat, they’re not likely to leave anytime soon. That said, getting rid of raccoons can be as simple as cleaning up the area by removing woodpiles, overgrown shrubbery, and other debris – including pet food. Other methods include the use of short-term deterrents like radios, flashing lights, scarecrows, windmills, pie pans, etc. and exclusion, such as fencing, with a strand or two of electric wire at least 8 inches (20 cm.) from the ground and 6-8 inches (15-20 cm.) out from the fence. You should also bury it at least 6 inches (15 cm.) deep and a foot out (30 cm.) to prevent digging. Last resort tactics would include trapping and relocating the animal.
Getting rid of moles is tricky and nothing is deemed to be fully effective. Supposedly, pepper helps deter moles, but I wouldn’t bank on it. Some people also place cut garlic cloves in mole holes to repel them. Natural mole repellent can be as simple as planting bulbs, such as daffodils, which they do not like. Castor oil is another popular mole repellent. Other people find success with the use of whirly-gigs placed throughout garden beds, as the vibrations from their movement are said to deter these rodents. Maintaining a healthy lawn free of grubs, their favorite food, is also important. You simply have to keep at it using different methods until you find something that works for you.
Bird pest control is far from simple, and there are few effective natural bird repellents; most experts recommend a variety of scare tactics designed to harass the problem birds into seeking shelter elsewhere. Along with employing scare tactics, you’ll need to block any vent openings or holes with hardware cloth to prevent the unwanted birds from hiding. You can use bird netting to cover plants that troublesome birds find attractive.
We all have questions now and then, whether long-time gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a gardening answer. We’re always here to help.