Squirrels, rabbits, lagomorphs and insectivores…garden pests are plentiful, but the good news is that so are natural solutions.
*One of you all informed us (quite correctly) that rabbits are lagomorphs1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lagomorpha not rodents. Shrews, moles, and hedgehogs are also not rodents, they are classified as insectivores.2)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insectivore
The idea of squirrels scampering up nearby trees and playing in the limbs, or little bunnies hopping through your garden can be sweet and fun to watch. But those cute critters are opportunistic feeders, and when they devour your garden greens—or juicy red tomatoes… squirrels—they’re not so cute anymore.
Voles, woodchucks, squirrels, gophers, mice, moles, and other little creatures can wreak havoc on the garden. So what are you peaceful, animal-loving gardeners to do when Peter Cotton-Tail comes thumping through your vegetable patch, or worse, voles tunnel below ground to feast on your roots?
What’s Eating My Garden?!?
If you’ve ever found a garden plant shriveled up for no apparent reason, press upon the soil with your toe, only to have the plant drop into a tunnel below, you’ll agree these harmless critters aren’t so harmless.
So What is it?
If you don’t already know what kind of animal is disrupting your garden, finding out should be your first step. If you identify the creature you can learn more about their habits and behavior so that you can find the best solution to protect your garden.
Knowing what these creatures eat (insects, plants, whatever) can guide you to taking the more appropriate action. Both moles and voles may occupy tunnels but vary in their feeding habits. 3)http://extension.psu.edu/natural-resources/wildlife/faqs/nuisance-damage/identifying-moles-voles-and-shrews
Rabbit damage can be easy to identify.
Rabbit Damage, excerpted from Vegetable Gardener.com
[Rabbit damage] looks like someone took a pruning shear and snipped off the stems of young plants with clean, angled cuts, mowed your lettuces and beet foliage to the ground, or gnawed rings around the trunks of trees or vines, extending upward to about 2-1⁄2 feet.
To confirm your suspicions, look around for the ubiquitous 1⁄4 to 1⁄2-inch round fecal pellets that rabbits seem to drop constantly. The presence of their characteristic footprints, consisting of an alternating pattern of small front feet and large back feet, is another clue to the identity of the culprit.5)http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/4816/keeping-rabbits-out-of-the-kitchen-garden
Next is a video on installing a garden fence.
Garden Pest Solutions
Picket fences have that country charm, but these may only keep the dogs out. If you have cats or other creatures prowling, crawling, scampering or digging about, you need something more heavy duty.
Taking the time to create the proper fencing barrier up front will save you a lot of grief in the long run, and once it’s up, it should last awhile.
TIP: Don’t Use Rabbit Fencing
In our sleuthing of fencing products, here’s an interesting FYI that can save you bucks and disappointment:
Most of the so called “rabbit fencing” is ineffective against rabbits.
That’s right! They can easily squeeze through those 2 by 3 inch holes. Some “rabbit fencing” has a lower section with tighter mesh but according to customers, the rabbits just jump through the upper section with the larger openings. It pays to read the reviews before buying a product. While no system is perfect, this was an eye-opener.
The 6-minute video clip below by Kenny Pointe offers a quick and concise how-to tutorial.
For garden fencing, here again, chicken wire is a relatively inexpensive option. Stretching woven wire fencing between posts (using a strand of wire to tension the bottom or forming an “L” and burying as such like the gentleman does in the above video) can discourage garden raiders from burrowing under your fence.
If you don’t like the look of a wire fence, or perhaps you’re building an urban garden and your neighborhood code is particular about fencing, there are still attractive DIY options that are less expensive.
Cute but Functional: you can choose a cottage picket fence or rustic wood fence and just use the wire to line the lower section, up to as high as you need it on the inside.
If you’re near woods, you can even use sticks from branches for a real country feel. Sure, these won’t last and they will rot, but they will hold up for awhile, especially if you anchor them with some solid posts. Then it’s relative easy to replace pieces as they wear out. These are just decorative “place holders” for stapling the mesh.
If you decide to build your fencing, your local home improvement store can be your best bet for all your materials.
TIP: If time is an issue, order what you need.
You can save a lot of time by ordering your supplies online via your local home improvement store. Some of the local home stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot in our area, will shop your list for you. Fax them your supplies list and let them shop for you for free, then stop by to pick up your order!
Quick Fix Garden Kit: if you’re just getting started and want the shortest, simplest solution, this cool garden kit on Amazon will get you up and running quickly. One kit will only provide you 36 square feet of garden space (a good start), or you can add another kit and double that.
For individual plants, you can place chicken wire around the plants you want to protect. That may work for rabbits. You will need to bury a bowl-shaped piece of hardware cloth 6 -10 inches under the plant’s main root system to thwart burrowing animals. It’s not the most attractive option and it takes more work but it works for those few special plants under attack.
Squirrels deserve their own heading. Cute little bushy tailed bright-eyed, fun to watch… until they raid your tomato patch. Seeing the bandits, nip off with our pride and joy and almost-ready best tomatoes and suddenly, they’re transformed into conniving, thieving limb rats. Grrrrrr!
Forget fences – unless you enclose the entire garden with some kind of barrier. Trapping, AirSoft “tapping”, tangle foot, pepper coating, fake raptors and snakes, urine products, used cat litter… we’ve been through all of these with some marginal success. Our cat has likely been the best deterrent, when she decides to stake out the garden which to her is only a part-time job when it’s not raining. For the best protection, Mother Earth News advises using a 2-strand electric fence.6)http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/whos-raiding-your-garden.aspx
What we’ve found works the best in our garden is a motion activated sprinkler. We have several of the Hoontz brand and they’re working really well.
Please, do let us know what you’ve found that works to foil squirrels. That would be of great service to many here.
To Make your garden less appealing to critters
- Clear out brush piles and tall grass that make cozy nesting places
- Cover compost piles
- Clean up bird seeds to remove a food magnet for raccoons and squirrels
- Cover access to under porches and decks
- Place repellent plants in and around your garden
Rabbit and Squirrel Repellent Plants
Thankfully, there are many repellent plants. We favor those with double duty: plants that repel while also being edible, medicinal, beautiful or otherwise useful.
Castor oil, garlic, can be used as natural repellents. Hot peppers and products made with hot peppers can repel rabbits and other nibbling animals. You may also try these as a deterrent: fritillaria (a type of flower bulb), castor beans, ammonium soap and mothballs.
Be cautious if you are using mothballs because they could be dangerous to children or pets. These are temporary repellents and would need to be reapplied regularly, especially after rain or a watering.
Plants that Repel Rodents
Planting some mint, which is a natural rodent repellent, is also a great option. Spearmint, peppermint, wintergreen, and lemon balm will all help keep mice and other small critters away. Many small animals, specifically gophers, can be discourage by just sprinkling some Epsom salt.
Predator urine – Rodent Defense All Natural Rodent Repellent Spray
Epsom salt – also adds discourages small animals while adding magnesium to the soil which can benefit your plants!
Auditory and Visual Repellents
- Ultrasonic devices (these aren’t reported as working great, but this is the top seller on Amazon)
- Motion activated water sprayers (we’re using these with mostly great results)
- Reflective tape
- Predator Deterrent
- And… don’t forget “scarecrows” like fake snakes that may scare rodents too7)https://www.gardensall.com/how-to-keep-birds-away-from-your-garden/
Your Own Pet Guards
Having a furry creature of your own can help keep away the ones you don’t particularly want around. Cats can catch mice, rats, voles and gophers, while staying busy chasing the squirrels away. Most dogs will do their part to chase away anything that moves too… you just need to keep them from “watering” the plants or digging in the dirt! So best to keep them on the outside of the garden.
Most gardeners enjoy nature and wildlife, but simply do not want these little creatures eating their fruits, veggies, or flower bulbs. Hopefully these tips can provide a safe and natural way for you to keep a peace between gardeners and critters.
To get more specific information by the type of animal that is plaguing your garden, Gardeners.com8)http://www.gardeners.com/how-to/keeping-animals-out/5452.html has a great article that dives deeper.
And Wikipedia has an awesome list9)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pest-repelling_plants of plants beneficial for every kind of garden pest.
Feel free to comment below OR join the conversation on the Facebook Page and share how you’re keeping the rodents, squirrels, rabbits and other furry critters out!
Gardens All Facebook community member, Johnny Amo:
“For squirrels I trap them with a cage trap baited with peanut butter. Works every time. Then I drive them down the coast 5 miles or so and release them.” ?
Thumbs up on that one, Johnny! We’ve done that with mice for years… calling it the “critter relocation program”, using the HavAHart brand of traps.
And lastly, some really sage advice from several Gardens All Facebook fans:
One lady plants lettuce all around her perimeter for the rabbits. What they don’t eat, she harvests for her family, but the overall effect is they tend to leave the garden inside of that ring along. So, sometimes it’s about sharing more than caring if you lose a few. That’s what nature does, and you win some and lose some, but it tends to work out alright in the end.
We also enjoyed this article with good tips from TheRusticElk.com.
G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson
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