Whether you’re trying to protect your tomatoes from the rats or your roses from aphids, the key is to know what critter you’re dealing with and what method works best.
We can’t control nature, at least not to any degree, so we do our best while learning to accept a little loss and defeat.
During the recent Bay Area News Group The Newsroom @Home webinar series, we discussed “Gardening with Wildlife” and how to deal with animals and insects that we consider pests. Check out the video and read on for more tips about how to tackle those ticklish wildlife issues.
Damage: Loss of fruit and vegetables, damage to patios, decks, irrigation, furniture
Control: Exclusion, chemical deterrents, distraction
- Exclusion — Putting up netting, mesh and fencing around the vegetation you want to protect is the most effective, if not the most attractive, way to keep squirrels out of your produce.
- Chemicals — Squirrels have an aversion to certain scents and tastes including capsaicin (the stuff that makes peppers hot) and peppermint oil.
- Distraction — If the squirrels are gnawing on things you don’t want them to, try providing an alternate source, such as a small stack of kindling, beef bones or deer antlers.
Critter: Ground squirrels
Damage: Their tunnels can weaken foundations and break underground pipes. They also chew on pipes and electric wires.
You’ll need to erect a fence, burying it at least 2 feet down. The height above ground isn’t that important, but running a shock wire along the top is. The wire does not injure them or any other creature, but it gives them a mild jolt that makes them unwilling to climb over the fence and into your garden.
Damage: Loss of fruits and vegetables; damage to structures from gnawing
Control: Exclusion, chemical deterrents, landscape modification, trapping
- Exclusion — Put netting, mesh and fencing around the vegetation you want to protect.
- Chemical — Rats don’t care for the scent or taste of capsaicin and peppermint oil. Apply these to problem areas.
- Landscape modification — Remove things that could be attracting the rats to your yard such as ivy and thick ground cover, wood piles, openings beneath decks and into roofs and garages; also remove pet food, water and bird seed.
- Trapping — If you don’t have an aversion to killing rats, simple snap traps are the best choice. Electronic rat traps also are effective, but cannot be used outdoors. Make sure traps are secured so you don’t accidentally kill other creatures. Never use poisons of any kind or glue traps, two methods that kill cruelly.
Damage: Loss of fruits and vegetables; destruction to property; general mess
Control: Exclusion, prevention, deterrents, landscape modification
- Exclusion — Block entrances into your yard and close off any empty spaces beneath structures. Fence or cage your plants. To prevent raccoons from climbing into trees, prune branches away from close buildings and fences; wrap tree trunks with metal flashing that is at least 2 feet high.
- Prevention — Remove things that could be attracting raccoons, such as pet food left out overnight and water sources.
- Landscape modifications — Often, the damage done to lawns is from raccoons hunting grubs. Get rid of the grubs to get rid of the raccoons. Beneficial nematodes will destroy the grubs without the use of poisons. Follow good gardening practices by watering early in the morning, which will allow excess moisture to evaporate through the day and prevent the wet conditions where grubs thrive.
- Deterrents — Motion-activated sprinklers and lights can temporarily discourage raccoons from coming into your yard. Leave a radio playing overnight, tuned to an all-night talk station. Combine deterrents with exclusion methods to enhance their effectiveness.
Damage: Loss of fruit and vegetables.
Control: Exclusion, chemical, landscape modification.
- Exclusion — Opossums aren’t known for causing a lot of garden damage and most don’t stay around in one place very long. However, closing off access under decks and other structures will prevent them from making themselves at home. Fence and cage vulnerable fruits and vegetables.
- Chemical — Some of the commercial products for driving away wildlife can work with opossums.
- Landscape modification — Remove possible lures, such as pet food left out overnight. Use good gardening practices to reduce the number of slugs and snails — some of the opossum’s favorite foods — in your garden.
Damage: Holes and tunnels in your lawn; loss of plants
Control: Exclusion and traps
- Exclusion — Bury hardware cloth or fencing below ground, surrounding your yard of planting beds to prevent tunneling; plant in gopher cages to protect plant roots; line the bottom of raised beds with hardware cloth.
- Traps — Gophers are not easily driven away, which makes some people resort to using lethal traps. Follow package instructions.
- Deterrents — Using electronic stakes, flooding tunnels, deploying smelly products and other homegrown theories are not proven to be successful in getting rid of gophers.
Damage: Unsightly tunnels in lawns; accidental loss of plants
Control: Prevention, landscape modification, trapping
- Prevention — Moles don’t eat plants and only cause damage to them by accidentally damaging roots when tunneling. They are after the grubs, worms and other denizens of the soil. Use beneficial nematodes to get rid of the grubs, and use good gardening practices to reduce favorable conditions for them.
- Landscape modification — Tamp down tunnels and knock down mounds to encourage the moles to leave.
- Trapping — Moles are more difficult to trap than gophers.
Critter: Wild turkeys
Damage: Landscape destruction, damage to buildings and cars
Control: Deterrents, prevention
- Deterrents — Confront turkeys with loud noises such as an air horn or beating on pots, or spray them with the hose to frighten them off. Both are highly effective.
- Prevention — Remove any food that might be attracting them; don’t encourage them to linger.
Damage: Loss of fruit, vegetables, plants
Control: Prevention, hand picking, chemicals
- Prevention — Monitor plants often to identify insect damage as soon as possible; use good gardening practices to avoid certain conditions that lead to insect infestation. Plants that are stressed from either too much or not enough water or lacking proper nutrients become targets for insects.
- Hand-picking — Insects such as aphids and tomato horn worms can easily be picked off the plants by hand; knock aphids off plants with a strong blast of water from the hose. Learn to identify the pest, so you can avoid killing off beneficial insects as you try to get rid of those that are damaging plants.
- Chemicals — Use of pesticides should be an avenue of last resort. They are not specific to only certain insects, and you often kill off beneficial insects and throw your garden out of balance with nature. Avoid using systemic pesticides or fertilizers as they are linked with the death of bees. If you have to use them, use them sparingly and always follow directions. Find more information on the UC IPM website.