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Protecting your garden

Many gardeners are upset by their wild neighbors’ enthusiasm for their gardens. In fact, the opposite stance should be taken — it's a compliment to your green thumb! Wild animals unfortunately cannot distinguish between your plants and their food source but with a little careful planning we can all live in peace and enjoy what our backyards have to offer. The main rule is: know who your wild neighbors are, learn their habitats and their tastes, and recognize any potential problems before they happen or early before the animals establish habits of invading your garden. In Minnesota we have a variety of species that can launch an assault on your garden. Rabbits, woodchucks, deer and squirrels seem to be our main culprits although many humane solutions exist to ease this conflict.

Vegetable gardens

The best, most effective and long lasting advice we have for you is build a good fence! A good fence will last many years with minimal upkeep and solve almost all of your problems! We strongly recommend using ½ inch hardware cloth. This type of material is a little more expensive but it is strong enough to stop any larger intruders from bending over a fence made of something like chicken wire or plastic.  Also burying your fence at least 6 inches underground (18 inches for woodchucks) will prevent any particularly persistent offenders from digging under. The fence should be at least 3 feet high to protect against rabbits and woodchucks. Deer can jump as high as 8 feet which poses a unique problem so a less expensive solution than building a very tall or slanted fence would be to utilize commercial heavy-weight deer netting. This will also help protect against birds and squirrels who visit your garden.

If a man-made fence is displeasing to you, you can try utilizing a natural fence, by strategically planting “yucky” plants around the tasty ones. This will take a little research to find who your main culprits are and what they dislike but marigolds, some ornamental grasses, artemisia, tansy, yarrow, lilacs and evergreens can offer protection. Basically the animals will get discouraged by the “icky” plants and not bother venturing beyond them. Be advised this may work better for some species than others, and isn’t as fail-safe as a real fence.

Fruit producing trees can be covered by protective netting to prevent birds from eating your fruit. This will help deter squirrels as well but persistent squirrels may squeeze underneath or chew through the netting.

Decorative plants

Decorative plants can be protected by spraying them with 1 part regular non-soapy ammonia to 2 parts water. This is something that will take a little maintaining as it will need to be reapplied after it rains. It will leave the plants tasting extremely bitter, which is why it works to deter the animals from eating them. Not only that, but you will actually be aiding the plants while keeping animals away as the chemical backbone of ammonia is nitrogen and this acts as a fertilizer!

Scent deterrents

There are two types of deterrents — those that signal danger to the animal, and those that interfere with their sense of smell, making them unable to smell danger. Offensive repellents include bar soap, dirty clothes or human hair. In urban areas human scent will most likely not deter the animals as they are habituated to our smell. Bar soap can be hung around the perimeter of the garden and/or shaved onto the soil.  Studies indicate that soaps containing coconut oil may actually attract deer so be careful in which soap you choose. The effective ingredient appears to be tallow but many suggest finding the smelliest soap you can that doesn’t contain coconut oil. Repellent plants are those that are highly aromatic such as perennial herbs such as artemisia, tansy, and yarrow. Culinary herbs such as mint, thyme, tarragon, oregano, dill, and chives can also be interplanted throughout the garden. Many animals do not like onions or garlic so plants of that variety may also offer protection.

Predator scent deterrents include predator urine (most effective), blood-derived or fish products, processed sewage, and slaughter waste. Be advised that handling sewage or slaughter waste is dangerous as they likely contain harmful bacteria and microorganisms and therefore are not recommended, not to mention they may attract scavengers such as raccoons and coyotes. There are many commercially available products that mimic or contain predator urine. These send the message to animals that there is a natural predator nearby and the area is unsafe to be around. A wide variety of products are available online and in stores.

We strongly discourage live trapping for the following reasons:

  1. It is futile. Studies have found that an area or habitat will hold a limited number (carrying capacity) of any one species of animal. It will hold no more than that because the over-abundant population is reduced by food scarcity and predators. But the fact that is even more significant is that the area or habitat will also hold no fewer than the established number. So, by live trapping and taking some animals from the area other animals of that species will move in.
  2. Live trapping frequently results in the death of a trapped and relocated animal due to the stress and trauma of the situation, carrying capacity of habitat introduced to, resident animals defending their territory, and food scarcity. Also, another special concern is the spread of disease by unnaturally relocating animals. Add to that death count the fact that the trapped animal may be a lactating female who leaves behind babies to the painful death of starvation and dehydration.
  3. We have seen an increase in animals that injure themselves frantically trying to escape live traps. This injury is not the intent of the trapper and often that animal then needs medical attention, rehabilitative care and occasionally surgery to repair the injury.