In addition to insects and diseases, gardeners must keep an eye out for two and four-footed pests. Whether or not one of the critters listed below will cause problems in your garden depends a lot on where the garden is located. If woods adjoin your property, squirrels and raccoons may become pests; if you’re surrounded by fields, mice and woodchucks may invite themselves in to dine on your tender young plants.
As you read the control suggestions listed below, you’ll notice that fencing is one of the most common recommendations. Although it can be expensive, it is the most reliable means of keeping most animals out of the garden. Even a sturdy fence is not a 100% guarantee, however; sometimes trapping may be the only solution to an especially persistent woodchuck or raccoon. (Check first with your state Fish and Wildlife Department to find out if there are any regulations governing trapping of the animal you have in mind.) Live traps can be purchased in most hardware stores; get the appropriate size for the animal you hope to catch. When you have the animal in the trap, be sure to take it several miles away before letting it loose so it cannot find its way back to your garden again. (Be aware that relocating animals like this is often fatal to the animal.)
A fence of 1/4—inch mesh hardware cloth 12 inches high, with another 12 inches buried underground, will keep mice out. Keep the garden free of weeds and keep the area around the garden mowed; mice do not like to cross an open area and expose themselves to predators. You can also set traps in the garden, but make careful note of where they are so you don’t catch an unsuspecting human harvester.
These pests do not feed on plants. They eat insects such as grubs and earthworms, but may damage the roots of plants with their tunneling. In gardens, traps set in tunnels are most effective in controlling moles. To find active tunnels, tamp down the raised soil, which indicates tunneling. The tunnels that are raised a day later are active.
Also known as groundhogs, these pests will happily feed on just about everything in the garden. A fence at least 3 feet high, with another 12 inches bent underground (as recommended for mice), is the best way to keep them out. Leave the top 18 inches of the fence unattached to the support posts. This way, as the woodchuck attempts to climb over the fence, it will bend back down under the animal’s weight. A strand of electric fence at the top of a woven wire fence will also discourage them.
In the western part of the country, gophers can raise havoc with gardens, eating roots and the underground parts of plants. Trapping is the most practical solution in most cases. Find an active runway by probing the soil near a fresh mound of dirt with a crowbar. Set two traps in the runway, one facing each direction. Tie the two traps together, then cover them with soil to keep out all light. If your garden is small, you may want to erect a gopher barrier. It’s a lot of work, but it will do the trick.
A gopher barrier of 1-inch chicken wire will keep this western pest out of permanent beds. Roll out a panel of wire along the bottom of a dugout bed and another around the sides. Carefully attach the chicken wire with baling wire along the lower edge. Tho wire should last about five years.
A fence with 1 and 1/2 inch mesh that is at least 2 feet high should keep rabbits out of the garden. Make sure the bottom is tight to the ground or bury the bottom edge as recommended for woodchucks. Dried blood sprinkled in the garden will repel rabbits, although it will need to be renewed frequently.
A fence similar to the one recommended for woodchucks, but 4 feet high instead of 3, will usually keep raccoons out. A strand of electric fencing on top will act as an added deterrent. Some gardeners claim that planting squash vines solidly around the perimeter of the garden (or at least the corn patch) will keep raccoons out; they don’t like to cross over the prickly leaves.
Cats and Dogs
Fences work best to keep both your pets and the neighbors’ out of the garden. Cats are a problem mainly early in the season when they like to dig in the newly tilled ground; laying chicken wire or hardware cloth over the seedbed until plants sprout will encourage them to dig elsewhere.
Starlings and crows have an uncanny sense of where you planted your corn seeds. To keep birds from eating seeds or pulling up newly sprouted plants, protect the seedbed with a tunnel of hardware cloth. By the time the plants have outgrown the tunnel, they are no longer at a stage that is appetizing to birds.
A slanted fence is a good way to keep deer out of the garden since their instinct is to try to crawl under a fence before jumping it, and they are less likely to jump a fence that is wide. A slanted fence can be 4 to 5 feet high, while a vertical fence must be at least 8 feet high to keep deer from jumping over it. Deer are also repelled by bags of human hair hung along the edge of the garden, or dried blood sprinkled on the ground, although both need to be renewed frequently.
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