Garden Pests – the 4-legged Kind!

Kay Hinkle
Adams County Master Gardener

The tender green shoots poking through the ground and new growth erupting from a variety of trees and shrubs provide a tempting smorgasbord for critters that have survived a harsh winter. The homeowner, on the other hand, has spent months - and maybe years - developing a landscape that cannot be easily replaced. You will be glad to know that there are a variety of home remedies that you can use to safely deter hungry critters from your lawn and garden. Harsh chemicals and pesticides can jeopardize the environment as well as the safety of children and pets - not to mention beneficial insects in your garden. The remedies are safe, yet effective:

Squirrels love tulip and rhododendron buds. They also are prone to digging up the bulbs of spring flowering plants when nuts and acorns get scarce. One quick and easy way to deter squirrels is to sprinkle used cat litter around the base of flower plants or around the area where the bulbs are located. A few spoonfuls are enough to convince them that a hungry cat is lurking nearby. (Don’t use this trick for food crops!)

Another remedy for the squirrel situation is to protect tulip growth and rhododendron buds with a spray concocted from 2 tablespoons of cayenne pepper with 1 quart of very hot water. Allow the mixture to steep until cool, then drain through cheesecloth into a spray bottle. Add 1 teaspoon of horticultural oil to give the spray staying power, shake well and spray on the plants as soon as they begin producing buds. Spraying just once should suffice unless the season is especially rainy. Chipmunks will think twice about a second bite of flowers sprayed with this hot sauce, too!

Hungry mice can girdle a young tree trunk by nibbling at the bark. A mixture of ½ ounce of Tabasco sauce with 1 pint water and ½ teaspoon dishwashing liquid can deter mice from this bad habit. Add 1 teaspoon of chili powder to the mixture to ensure that the mice get "hot feet" before they reach the tree. Spray this mixture on the ground around young trees and at the trunk base.

Moles do not directly destroy plantings by chewing, but can ruin a lawn’s looks and damage young plant roots with their tunneling in search of grubs. A concoction of 3 ounces castor oil and 4 tablespoons dishwashing liquid mixed in a blender with 1 cup of warm water yields about 12 ounces of concentrate. When ready to treat the mole tunnels, mix 2 tablespoons in a gallon of warm water. Spray the affected area or locate a tunnel, make a hole with a stick, and pour in about a cup of the diluted mixture. In a large yard this method is quicker and easier than spraying.

If you have moles, you probably have pests like Japanese beetles that eat plant leaves and then lay eggs that hatch root-eating grubs. Grubs are a favorite food of moles; getting rid of them will get rid of the destruction the grubs cause to plants and will send moles to "greener pastures"! A few tips to getting rid of grubs include picking Japanese beetles from your plants in the morning when they are sluggish, dropping them into a jar of soapy water. You can also shake the beetles from shrubs onto a sheet placed under the affected bush. If you wish to defeat grubs by treating your lawn, use milky spore, sold at garden centers. The grubs eat the spores and die – this treatment is somewhat expensive but should be good for 10 years or more.

Hungry deer can easily be deterred by smells that they find offensive. Rotten eggs provide one particular pungent aroma they don’t like. However, we two-legged critters tend not to like the same scent, making a home brew of rotten eggs a nasty chore. Instead, there are sulphurous compounds available for sale that deter deer in the same way without the mess.

One recipe that is more user-friendly yet still deters the deer is made of a fish emulsion that is actually good for your ornamentals. (Don’t use this one on your vegetable garden, as the spray will affect the taste!) Mix 3 tablespoons kelp and 1 cup fish emulsion with 3 tablespoons liquid hand soap. Put this mixture into a 3-gallon pump sprayer and fill with water. The smell of the fish should keep the deer at bay, but if they should be hungry enough to take a bite, they won’t like the taste of the soap.

A deer’s sense of smell is so refined that a smelly blanket from the doghouse may keep deer from the garden. The occasional presence of a dog in and around the garden also helps keep pesky deer at bay.

The deer’s highly refined sense of smell makes small, scented soap bars an easy repellent. Use an ice pick to make a hole in the middle the bar and use a loop of string for hanging. Affix a bar of soap at waist level to trees and bushes, spacing them 20 to 25 feet apart.

One last deer deterrent is an interesting combination of aromatic plants around the area where deer enter your yard. With no tasty morsels to draw them into your garden, deer are likely to bypass this yard in search of plants they prefer. If they do venture into this area, the scent of the plants rubs off on the deer and a cloud of strong scents confuse their senses. Some good scented deer-deterring plants are lemon thyme, spearmint, lamb’s ears, and rosemary. A few prickly or unappetizing plants that discourage deer from the garden include blackberries, Rotunda Chinese Holly, Madagascar Periwinkle, butterfly weed and common foxglove.

Here are a few sneaky pet tactics that will help you to redirect the attentions of your favorite cat or dog so that they don’t destroy your plantings. Cats love catnip and they will frazzle themselves and the plant by eating it, batting it around, and rolling on it. You can capitalize on this catnip compulsion by planting kitty crops of catnip far from the garden and from bird feeders.

If your dog is digging in your garden, you may not be able to change its pesky habit but you can redirect it! Give the dog its own sandbox or fill a kiddy swimming pool with sand if you prefer. Put the sandbox far away form your garden and bury treats, like dog biscuits and chew toys, in the sand. Pretty soon your pooch will look forward to digging for buried treasure in the sandbox and forget about digging in your garden.

Using these non-invasive home remedies can solve many of your 4-legged pest problems. None of these remedies will harm humans, pets or beneficial insects. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a term that refers to a common sense approach to pest control. IPM, as the name implies, is the integration of various strategies to keep pest populations at tolerable levels in a cost-effective and environmentally sound manner. Stay-tuned for more information on IPM…. and stay grounded in your garden!

Read other articles about controlling insects & garden pests

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