Fuzzy Foes

By Diane Schlindwein

February 24, 2017 4 min read

If you have a garden in your backyard, chances are you are growing food for your family and friends, not for the four-legged visitors that are wreaking havoc on your harvest. Deer, rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks might be entertaining to watch, but they can be less enjoyable when they are dining from your vegetable patch.

Longtime Wyoming resident and avid gardener Barb Tschacher lives in the country and is all too familiar with the damage that can be done when wildlife takes a liking to plants and trees. That's why she believes in investing in fencing.

"If you are serious about gardening, like we are, it pays to surround your garden with fence," she says. "Rabbits are best kept out with chicken wire or rabbit fence. Make certain the fence is close to the ground -- or even partially underneath -- so the rabbits can't get in by going under it." For smaller plants, you can try using a cylinder of mesh, keeping the mesh at least three inches away from the base of the plant to prevent nibbling.

Animals like to eat in peaceful areas. That's why you should also insert pinwheels or hang old CDs or aluminum pie plates from sticks to add noise and movement to the garden.

Rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks also might be put off by chili powder or cayenne pepper. If the powders get on their nose or whiskers they will probably stay away. Or, try spraying plants that are being damaged with a repellant made by mixing two tablespoons of cayenne pepper, two tablespoons of garlic powder and a bit of dishwashing detergent with 20 ounces of warm water. Let the mixture sit in the sun for a few hours and then spray it either on the plants or around the garden. Remember you'll have to reapply the mixture if it rains -- and wash the plants thoroughly when they are harvested.

Gardening expert and author Mike McGroarty says peppermint is another natural repellant. Either plant a few peppermint plants or dip cotton balls in peppermint oil and drop them around the garden. Again, you will have to be diligent about adding more oil as time goes by.

Smaller animals might leave your plants alone if you provide them an alternative food source away from your garden. Try leaving lettuce or cabbage for rabbits and cracked corn for squirrels and chipmunks. Some gardeners even plant a few plants in a separate area to hopefully keep pests away from their main garden.

Of all the pests than can destroy trees, gardens and landscapes, few are as destructive as deer. Give them a night or two and they can trample down and wipe out an entire garden or annihilate trees and shrubs. "You really need a 6- to 8-foot fence to keep deer out," Tschacher says, adding that they don't like to feel trapped. "If they think they can't get in and out easily or don't have a lot of room, they generally won't jump in. We ended up surrounding each of our trees individually."

Tschacher says that other than putting up fences, you can try planting herbs that have a strong odor, such as sage and lavender to deter deer. "They also don't seem to like prickly shrubs," she concludes. "But honestly, besides the fence, we have found that there really is not much you can do to keep them out, other than maybe getting a dog that will continually chase the deer and other wildlife away."

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