Protecting Your Plants from Predators
Nothing is as discouraging as having nurtured a dream to the point of fruition only to have it ripped away before you realized its fruit. The dream itself is intoxicating: one of beautiful green and well-fertilized rows that you grew from seed, an abundant approaching harvest that you can almost taste, and then, just before you reap this beautiful bounty, disaster strikes.
It might be weather-related: a flood, drought, frost, or hailstorm. It could be an invasion of locusts or other pests. However, the threat to most backyard gardeners comes in the form of a wide variety of animal life. Here is how to prevent animals from destroying your harvest.
Know Your Wildlife
What creatures lurk just out of sight? Are your animal pests large, small, or both? The answers to these questions are primarily determined by where a person lives. For example, someone living adjacent to a national park or forest is likely to have a wider variety of visitors than the person whose plants are in suburbia, which naturally has a higher number of dogs and cats. If unsure about what garden pests make their home in your area, call your local agricultural extension agent. The following predators are the most common to most people.
Not all birds will bother plants. The birds that will do the most harm to any garden are fruit and seed-eating birds. Suggestions to repel them include the use of scarecrows, netting, noise, movement, and the cunning placement of fake predators, such as rubber snakes and predator raptors. Some trial and error may be required to figure out precisely what measure of control works best in each location/crop environment. If your garden plants need a trellis, you can use the trellis to mount balloons, strips of Mylar, aluminum pie pans, and the like as a deterrent to birds.
Deer are ubiquitous to the majority of the world. They are found in the country and in the suburbs, where many a vacant lot or creek bottom sports a population. Their calling card is their cloven hoof prints and the identification of depressed areas in nearby thickets where they sleep during the day. Unfortunately, there isn't much in the garden that they won't trample or taste. Deer are capable of jumps as high as seven feet, so the best overall defense against deer is a tall and well-built fence surrounded by shrubbery. Other deterrents include sprinkling the garden with human hair and urine, electrified wire, and guardian dogs.
Raccoons are deadly to a garden because they like to eat many of the things that people plant. Fruit, nuts, and seeds are all raccoon favorites. They also eat earthworms and grubs that they find by digging in the roots of cultivated soil. A raccoon's calling card is the turned over earth that it leaves behind. Short of encasing the entire planting in wire, the best option to defeat raccoons is a nocturnal sprinkler, set to turn itself on when the raccoon moves. Another well-known remedy is to spray the ground around the plants' roots with a castor oil solution. This method solves the problem, but keep in mind that the castor oil requires reapplication after each rain.
Dogs and Cats
Gardeners who anticipate damage from dogs and cats and plan to keep these animals out of their planted areas will likely also eliminate most smaller animals, such as rabbits, squirrels, and groundhogs. Cats like to use cultivated soil as a place to use the bathroom, which should be discouraged for health and sanitation reasons. Dogs are apt to race through a planted area, breaking adult plants that took all season to develop. Some dogs also are prone to digging holes. Plants growing in plant growth media are particularly vulnerable and require protection from these outside destructive forces.
Dogs require sturdy fencing, underground electric fencing, or careful training to keep them away from plants. Cats respond well to odors they find unpleasant, such as essential oils of rose geranium, citrus, and citronella. Many gardeners carry a high-powered water gun with them at all times, filled with a mixture of vinegar and water. Most dogs and cats get the idea after being greeted with this harmless mixture when they step into the garden and start to stay away. Fencing costs more but takes less time and effort than training.
Moles and Voles
Moles are little digging creatures that live underground and tunnel about looking for grubs and earthworms. Voles, on the other hand, look like small, chunky field mice. Voles use the tunnels that were previously created by moles to munch on the roots of garden plants. Often, getting rid of voles requires also eliminating moles that are present. There are several repellants and poisons on the market to get rid of moles, but the best way is to use a product that gets rid of underground grubs, thereby eliminating the source of their favorite food.
Trap voles with traps during the fall and winter months. Use an ordinary snap mouse trap. Bait it with a slice of apple smeared with peanut butter. Set the trap near the mole tunnel, beneath a box or bucket as voles feed more readily when they have an overhead covering. Protect vulnerable plants using a 22" cylinder of quarter-inch mesh. Place this cylinder approximately ten inches below the surface of the ground and twelve inches above it. It will prevent the vole from reaching any part of the plant. Voles may also be discouraged by placing ground-moving pinwheels near existing mole tunnel entrances and exits.
Today, it is not uncommon to see growers and gardeners who have developed unique ways of gardening indoors, underground, and even in water, using hydroponic systems, tapping into geothermal heat, and implementing various other innovative methods. However, the vast majority of people grow out of doors, in full sunlight, and these are the people who are in danger of watching their dreams get trampled unless they plan to foil the visitors they are sure to get from the animal kingdom. Be armed with the knowledge you need to succeed.