Keeping common pest animals out of your garden might be far easier than you think!
We get a lot of emails and social media comments that read like this: “I love to garden, but (insert animal name) keeps eating or destroying everything I grow. What should I do?”
Hey, we get it. You’re growing food for you and your family, not for your furry neighbors. Having dealt with all manner of critters over the years, we thought we’d provide you with a quick rundown of remedies we’ve found effective for virtually any four-legged pest you can imagine.
Before going through the list, we’d ask you to adopt a humane philosophy towards our furry friends: they have a right to exist and were here long before people were. So, if at all possible, don’t kill or harm these animals–especially since doing so is almost never warranted (except for certain circumstances such as an animal having rabies).
November Tip of the Month: How to Keep Animals Out of Your Garden
We hope this list will help you safely and permanently keep your most hated pest animals out of your garden beds:
Groundhogs are also known as “woodchucks” in some parts of the country. We have no idea how much wood a woodchuck can actually chuck, but we recently had a single groundhog clear out an entire bed of lush greens in a single day. Scaring them off will work temporarily, but trust us: they’ll keep coming back when you’re not around to finish off what they started. Since they can tunnel and climb pretty well, fencing is likely only a temporary solution.
What to do? Trap and relocate them. (Here’s a good trap that will pay for itself rather quickly if you have groundhog problems.)
We tried multiple types of bait to catch the rogue male groundhog that was ravaging our garden. Nothing worked… until we tried cantaloupe. Leave a trail of a few small pieces of cantaloupe leading into the trap to draw the groundhog in. Once trapped, relocate asap to a location that provides good habitat at least a few miles away from your home of more.
These beautiful ruminants can make life absolutely miserable for food and landscape gardeners alike. There is no shortage of expensive contraptions that you can buy to fend off deer. My dad tried nearly all of them before stumbling on to an incredibly simple and inexpensive solution: fishing line. You can read exactly how to keep deer out of your garden using fishing line in this Tyrant Farms article.
What’s worse than having a possum eat the fruits and veggies out of your garden? Having your cat wake you up at 3am to tell you that a possum has come inside the house through the catdoor to eat its food. What’s worse than that? Having it happen multiple nights in a row.
Yes, this happened to my wife and I recently. Over the course of a week, we trapped not one, but three different possums that had learned about our garden and the cat food “dessert” waiting for them inside. The same trap that worked for our groundhog also worked for our possums, although we had 100% success baiting our possums with peanut butter rather than cantaloupe (obviously cat food can work as a bait too).
Yes, skunks smell absolutely terrible when they spray, which they only do when they feel like their life is in jeopardy. (After all, their spray is their only line of defense against predators and it takes about 10 days to reload, leaving them defenseless in the interim.)
In our experience, skunks do not do much, if any, damage to a garden, although they may eat ripe fallen fruit (we think skunks likely enjoyed some of our fallen pawpaws this year). In fact, we have a family of skunks living under our front porch and we’re coexisting just fine. The only damage we’re certain we can attribute to skunks is each fall when they dig small holes in our grass paths to eat underground grubs. We’re ok with that.
If you’re determined to get rid of your skunks, bait them with peanut butter and trap them (using the same trap used for groundhogs and possums). Now, here’s where it gets tricky: you have a trapped skunk that’s going to naturally be quite anxious. You, naturally, don’t want to get yourself or your car sprayed relocating them.
If you have a trapped skunk, you’ll want to get a large, old heavy towel or blanket. Slowly walk towards the trapped skunk, talking in a low soothing voice. Skunks have terrible vision, but good hearing and smell, so this simply alerts it that you’re headed its way. Slowly put the blanket over the entire trap. Then, slowly lift the trap and wrap the blanket underneath the trap as well. Essentially, you’re trying to do two things: 1) protect yourself from getting sprayed, and 2) keep the animal as calm as possible by reducing any external stimuli/sense of threat.
Secure the trap + blanket in a truck bed or car trunk on top of plastic bags or liners. If the cage tips over during the ride, you may well end up with a skunk-sprayed trunk (not good), so be sure the cage is tied down or wedged in securely. Once you’ve gone a few miles from your home. Slowly and gently open the trunk, remove the piece of blanket immediately covering the cage opening, and release the critter.
Oh, and if your cat or dog has been sprayed by a skunk, despite what you may have heard, tomato juice does not remove skunk odor! Here’s how to get the skunk odor off of your pet (unfortunately, we’ve had to become experts at this technique).
CHIPMUNKS & SQUIRRELS
Dang, chipmunks are such cute little creatures. Squirrels are pretty cute too. However, they also love our strawberries, ground cherries, and melons. What to do?
For starters, we have a cat that manages to keep most rodents away from our garden. (We keep our cat from killing birds with these Birdsbesafe collars.)
Between our cat, our neighbors’ cats, and native predators, the chipmunk and squirrel population is kept in check enough not to seriously threaten our strawberry supply. However, before we had a cat, we’d use smaller traps to catch and release them.
Are you simply trying to keep rodents from eating your melons? Here’s a simple and 100% effective way to make “melon cages” to protect your fruit.
Voles are probably are most hated and hard-to-deal-with pest. They’re basically an underground mouse that eats the roots of plants. They’ll suck down entire kale, lettuce, and chicory plants. They’ll eat the roots of young squash plants. They’ll feast on certain alliums, and seem especially fond of elephant garlic, shallots, and bulb onions.
They drive our cat crazy since he can hear them munching roots, but has trouble getting to them since they’re underground.
Sure, you can poison your voles, but then you have that same poison in your garden – not to mention a poisoned vole could potentially be eaten by your pet, which means you now have a poisoned pet.
What to do for permanent, safe solutions? A few things:
- Plant your fruit trees in 1/4″ wire mesh baskets. The roots can grow through the openings but the voles can’t get inside the caging or close enough in to the plant to kill it.
- Plant daffodils in circles around your fruit trees. Daffodils are toxic and repellent to voles, and this keeps them away.
- If you’re growing in raised beds, put 1/4″ wire mesh in the bottom before you put the soil in. This will keep the voles out.
- Grow vole favorites in inexpensive yet high-performing root pouches instead of in-ground (no assembly required).
- If you want to go high tech, use these highly rated ultrasonic vole, gopher, and chipmunk repellers.
Yes, cats! As mentioned, we have a cat that helps us with rodent control. However, he can infuriate us by turning a freshly sown garden bed into a litter box.
Obviously, trapping and relocating your cat isn’t an option (we hope). Instead, when we’ve just planted or seeded new beds, we’ll lay our unused concrete wire tomato cages down on the surface of the beds. This makes it all but impossible for our cat to do his “business” there, and he opts for easier targets.
We hope this tip of the month helps you keep animals out of your garden and fresh produce on your table!