Garden Zen: Dealing with Stubborn Pests

August 3, 2017

It’s time to reap the bounty of all of your hard work thus far on your summer garden. However, if you’re like many gardening enthusiasts, your garden may beset with all manner of critters that are just as excited about your squash, tomatoes, strawberries, etc. as you are! The list of suspects is quite long: chipmunks, gophers, mice, opossums, rabbits, raccoons, rats, skunks, squirrels, voles, woodchucks, bear, deer, dogs, cats, birds and snakes.

Bunny and Carrot

We thought you might enjoy reading about one gardener’s experience, Jen Miller of Jen Reviews, with dealing with and ultimately coming to a (uneasy) truce with some of these animals that frequented her garden.

You might mistakenly believe the woodland creatures or those in the shrubbery of your suburban neighborhood to be of lower intelligence but trust me, they were actually born highly psychic and are greedily contemplating the abundance from your garden even now as you are indoors innocently planning it.

There are gadgets and gizmos and wives tales of many a fix to deter animals, but save your money and just nod kindly at the neighbor telling his tall tales. The scarecrow with the banging pans, the sensor flood lights, the hose blasting shots of cold water, the fox urine, the Irish Spring soap, the locks of cut hair… these things may cause a deer or groundhog to hesitate once, but the second time they will simply ignore it.

You might try a kinetic sculpture like one of these. You could strategically place bells on it to further terrify the foraging beasts.

Then even if it doesn’t work to deter deer or groundhogs, birds or rabbits, you will still have a cool piece of artwork to console you.

A lot of the advice about deterring animals appears to have a solid premise, but don’t be seduced. I have an entire book on deer proofing my garden by planting only plants that deer don’t eat.

But I have seen them eat them.

The other premise is that deer don’t like to be near plants with a pungent smell because it will mask the smell of any predators they are on high alert for. But I have seen them linger near the mint as they demolish the corn.

And I have seen them leap over posts freshly smeared with fox urine.

With much effort, I erected a slant fence around my vineyard upon the advice of a USDA pamphlet, indicating that tensile wire a foot apart at seven levels spanning a 75 degree plane confused deer. They wouldn’t jump it.

One of my gun-slinging neighbors showed up drunk one evening itching to shoot into the horde hovering patiently on the hill across from my vineyard waiting for me to finish my chores and leave.

In a deep Southern slurring drawl he argued, “But deer don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no optical illusions.”

Turns out he was right. Or if they did know anything about optical illusions, it was how to ignore them.

I do plant dark orange and gold French marigolds around the perimeter of my garden in the belief that the fragrance discourages rabbits. I don’t know if it does or not. This is the first year I have had a lot of rabbits, but the ground hogs beat them to the feast.

French marigolds do deter whiteflies from tomato plants though, and after they are fully established, they control nematodes, so along with their burst of color, they are welcome in my garden.

Your best defense against warm-blooded pests is a good fence and a smart, frisky, hunting dog that keeps vigil around the garden.

Your best offense is a catch and release trap. Or, uh, so I am hoping.

Turns out that the ancient androgynous groundhog who has been content living alone under the smokehouse these past sixteen years up and gave birth to a litter of strapping lusty sons.

Did you know that young groundhogs become teenagers and move out before their first summer is over? And that they each strike out and build a summer home and a winter home and multiple exits and entries to each?

And that throwing hot peppers and rocks down these holes does not discourage them at all? They just toss them right back out.

I can personally corroborate the veracity of much of Michael Pollan’s results in his war on woodchucks described in his garden manifesto, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, Garden Press, 2003, available through Amazon.

My farmstead is now littered with piles of rocks surrounding holes leading to long tunnels under each outbuilding and my cabin. It was after I was startled by the scratching awfully close to my dining table that I bought the trap.

I was already a bit put off that the ground hogs did not spare any of the five varieties of squash I had planted.

I had been particularly inspired by the previous summer’s crops of acorn squash and winter squash. They were tasty and lasted well into the winter months. So I got carried away and ordered five varieties.

I don’t mind sharing ten percent of the garden with my woodland neighbors, but I lose my will to share beyond that. Maybe if they helped with some of the work on the farm, I’d feel differently.

But when I heard that unnerving scratching, I mean how does an animal bury beneath a cellar? That ‘s when I started seriously shopping for a catch-and-release trap to be delivered as soon as Amazon could get it to me.

I caught that fat sucker too.

First thing I read when I was reading about how to trap a woodchuck was how much they like watermelon and wouldn’t you know, for the first time ever, I had a watermelon growing? Indeed it was tiny, but it was perfectly formed and showed tremendous promise.

It was growing just outside his door, the entry to the long sandy tunnel running beneath my house. He would have to step over it until he felt like eating it.

This perpetual threat was eating at me and I threw the juiciest produce I could conjure into that trap and set it immediately outside his hole.

I caught him not long after I set out the trap. Nervous that somehow the door would open, I put him in the back of the car and drove him to the abandoned farmstead in the hollow a couple miles down the road.

I drove pretty fast. The sun was setting behind the mountain and my imagination was at its peak.

Next I caught a possum. That scared me a bit as well.

He kept his very sharp teeth bared as he looked at me. His fur was matted with goo and blood and he had a wild look about him that made me uncomfortable.

The trap I bought is supposed to be humane. I’m not sure what happened, but there was some bloody hair pasted to the bottom piece of metal.

I don’t mind possums around, but I drove him out to the abandoned farmstead too, for practice and to rule out possibilities of revenge.

The next day when I woke it seemed like maybe the skunk and one of the groundhogs had got in a standoff during the night. This got me to thinking: what if I caught a skunk? What if I caught a skunk?

I couldn’t leave him in there and I had no idea how I’d get him out. I still don’t.

But it’s winter now and I’ve been traveling, so I am just going to have to ponder this one and redouble my efforts in the Spring if I want to reap the bounty from my garden.


For a detailed compendium on gardening, please see Jen Reviews “How to Start a Garden – The Ultimate Guide”