Every Year thousands of people around the world spend a ton of time working in their garden just to have it ruined by pests. You go out in the morning and half of your vegetables are gone and what is there is half-eaten. The frustration mounts and you say “never again”. So what is a nature-loving gardener to do when rabbits, groundhogs, moles, and other furry pests and insects destroy your garden? Well, here’s how you can fight back without resorting to harsh tactics or chemicals.
Deer are graceful, endearing, and destructive animals. They are animals that strip leaves and buds from trees, vines, and roses. Covering fruit bushes, vines, and young trees with simple nylon netting will discourage them. The netting should be lifted slightly once a week to keep random branches and vines from growing through it. You can also hang balls of human hair or soap around your garden which will also help to deter them. To protect larger gardens, you can use a homemade or commercial spray of capsaicin, the “hot” ingredient in peppers. Garlic sprays and fish emulsions also deter deer but many sprays need to be reapplied after you water or it rains.
These little pests are cute but can wreak havoc on your garden. Eastern cottontails can quickly clear out your vegetable garden and sometimes they can do it in a single night. Luckily there are many things you can do to deter them from having their way in your garden. Typically cottontails will avoid areas with unpleasant odors. Coyote urine, soapy water, vinegar, and cayenne pepper are all deterrents, but need to be applied frequently, as rabbits eventually become used to the smell and taste. You can also protect individual plants or rows with cages, or mesh. Physical barriers are generally the most effective though. Another strategy that you can do is place fake snakes in the garden. They work like a charm but if you’re like me it could lead to bullet holes in your garden if you forget you put them there. Plants such as rhubarb, tomatoes, garlic, hot peppers, basil, mint, and catnip are all unpleasant to rabbits so they can also keep them at bay.
Nocturnal Raiders: Raccoons, opossums, and skunks
These pests sure appreciate those ripe tomatoes, summer squash, plums, and berries for their midnight shindigs. A fence is the best protection against such unpleasant guests, as these omnivores are easily discouraged and will wander off in search of another food source. You can use netting to protect individual trees or garden rows, but you must be sure to fasten the netting to the trunk or the ground, so the hungry invaders cannot crawl underneath it. Capsaicin sprays will also discourage them. You will need to wash vegetables thoroughly when harvesting. Other good tips to remember are to not leave pet food outside overnight, to clean up any picnic debris before heading inside, and to cover garbage tightly.
Blackbirds, starlings, blue jays, and other fruit-eating birds
These guys can strip an entire dwarf plum tree or row of raspberry bushes in a matter of a couple of hours. Birds quickly become accustomed to scarecrow-type deterrents, like foil strips and plastic owls. However, if you use foil strips early in the season, and change deterrents every month throughout the growing season, they do work. Netting can be put over fruiting plants and trees as soon as the green fruits begin to soften. You will have to be sure to fasten the netting securely around the tree trunks and bushes to prevent birds from hopping up onto the plant from underneath. I have also seen people enclose their garden with fence and then run fishing line across the top of the garden at 1 inch increments. This allows the sun to get to the plants without any problems but can also keep birds out.
These animals are also called meadow mice. They are bashful creatures that dig shallow tunnels in areas with lose, abundant, ground cover. They gnaw on garden plants, bulbs, vines, and young tree trunks. Weeds and heavy mulch provide them with food and protection, so clear a 4-foot diameter circle around young trees; and mow or cultivate field edges, ditch banks and other adjacent areas. Moles eat insects and snails, not garden plants, but since they tunnel high in the subsoil they can separate plants from their roots. They seldom cause significant garden damage, except for the unsightly dirt mounts in otherwise pristine lawns.
Gophers and Groundhogs:
These little furry animals are a gardener’s nightmare. These mammals will uproot or pull under full-grown plants. Since they are attracted by the aroma of pungent greens, they head directly to your favorite vegetables and flowers. They also dig deep tunnels, which make underground barriers impractical, but chain-link fence sunk 12” does help to deter some of them. Flooding the tunnels discourages them from burrowing by making the soil too sticky for digging and causing it to found their fur. Bulbs, tubers, and ornamental plantings can be protected by fine wire mesh around root balls. Many burrowers prefer perennial plants, so when planting or replacing perennials, you can dig a bed at least two feet deep and cover the bottom of it with wire mesh before planting.
There are a ton of insects that attack your vegetable plants and flowers. Being able to identify them is important because some insects, like ladybugs, are beneficial. The well-known red ladybug does not eat any vegetation but does protect plants from aphids by consuming up to 75 of them in a single day. There are lady bug impostors though as well such as the Asian Lady Beetles, that can do a lot of damage.
Slugs and Snails:
Nearly every gardener has experienced the disappointment of watching curling sprouts emerge from the ground, only to see them disappear overnight beneath trails of sparkling slime. Hand picking slugs and snails is an effective natural control, but it must be done early in the morning. As they sun rises, they retreat to holes under cool debris, and can be impossible to find. When handpicked, they can be dropped into a bucket of brine or sale or even fed to chickens. Saucers of beer are also very effective traps; or bury a cup of beer in the dirt and fill it with stale beer. Slugs fall in and don’t come out. Copper strips also work because they cause a slight electrical charge with deters slugs and snails from crossing the strips. Copper wire from a hobby supply shop is less expensive than the strips sold at gardening centers, and does just as good. You must be careful to keep the copper barriers away from plant stems.
Mexican bean beetles:
These things look like copper ladybugs and feed on bean leaves, pods, and steps, causing severe damage to all varieties of bean crops. One method that has been used since 1841, and is still effective today, is to cover a row of plants with a light fabric like cheesecloth or spun, bonded polyester fabric that admits light and water, but keeps insects out. Get rid of overwintering sites by eliminating weeds and burning crop residues in the fall and winter.
These little things aren’t little at all. They are 3-4”, pale green caterpillars that strip tomato, eggplant, pepper, and potato plants of new leaves and flower buds. Cabbage loopers are very common and feed on cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. Hand picking is the most effective way to get immediate relief from these pests. To rid a garden of repeated infestations, you can use Bacillus Thuringiensis, a bacterium parasite.
In late summer, yellow jackets swarm around gardens and your house. Worker yellow jackets don’t need to feed a nest’s larvae in late summer so they wander, searching for ripe, fallen backyard fruit, beer, soft drinks, and meat. In addition to having painful stings, yellow jackets are sometimes responsible for transmitting anaerobic bacteria that can cause blood poisoning. Fruit should be picked as it ripens, and all buckets or containers used for picking fruit need to be kept washed. Trash cans must be tightly covered, and meat, eggshells, and cheese kept out of compost bins. Pet food must not be left outside. A good rule to follow is to feed pets in the cool hours of the morning and evening, and keep the pet dishes clean and rinsed out during the heat of the day.
One thing that many people do is turn chickens loose in their garden during the day and then lock them in their coop at night. Some chickens are better than others for insect control. Bantams are some of the best because they typically won’t destroy your garden and instead will focus on the bugs and insects.
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