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WICHE: Furry pests in the garden, barriers best bet

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Sometimes nature gets in the way of our desires to cultivate.

By Jeneen Wiche

If you have a garden, chances are you appreciate nature in all its glory. But sometimes nature gets in the way of our desires to cultivate.

Deer browsing, rabbit munching, squirrel digging, bird pecking, mole trenching and resident vole feasting have all come up in the last two weeks. I have no silver bullet for any of these problems. but I do have some practical approaches to offset the shared use of our gardens.

Squirrels are notorious for taking one bite of a tomato and then throwing it on the ground. In some cases providing a water source will temper this behavior; if it doesn’t, a barrier is the most assured prevention.

Wrap your tomato cages with chicken wire to prevent access, leaving a section that can be easily opened by you for harvest. Providing a water source for the birds also will help deter them from pecking your ripe tomatoes.

I have used shade cloth similarly to keep birds from pecking tomatoes. Just wrap the lower parts of the cages up to about waist height.

The most frustrating thing about rabbits in your perennial garden is that they don’t seem to eat what they destroy. They cleanly slice off the stems of flowers, leaving the remains where they fall.

What’s the point? The old remedies like sprinkling baby powder or blood meal around your plants seems to work but you have to reapply after rain and heavy dew.

Hot pepper wax spray deters anything with an excellent sense of smell. I have rabbits about this year, and they nibbled my young pole beans the other night. I wrapped chicken wire around the bed and so far so good.

Decoy crops like soybeans and red clover, favorites of rabbits, can deter them from eating your favorite garden crops. But, really, the best and most practical defense here is to create a barrier.

The question of field mice and vole damage has come up a bit lately, and I think part of the problem is that people mulch too thickly, and they pile mulch around the base of trees (which you absolutely should not).

This creates a cozy environment for mice during the winter, with a food source right in house. This time of the year, voles and mice will feed on other plant parts, which is a little harder to deter.

I rely on two healthy, active cats and at least one adult snake that I see around the house from time to time (another argument for getting over your fear of snakes) to keep the mice population in check (and I do live in the middle of a field). You can also use peanut butter and a good old mousetrap.

Deer browsing is a tough one to break. I have an 8-foot fence around my vegetable garden, but everything else if fair game.

They are not supposed to like prickly plants (although they have eaten some of mine). Plants with aromatic foliage, such as Russian sage, the true sages, catmint, and caryopteris, are not favorites.

Deterrent spray products work unless the deer pressure is strong (and they must be reapplied). Some research suggests, too, that using fish emulsion fertilizer deters browsing, especially in the vegetable garden.

Stringing fishing line about chest high and ankle high (about 2 feet apart) around the vegetable garden can deter deer from entering, as well.

The No. 1 pest that plagues many gardeners is the mole. Learning to set a harpoon tap is the most assured way of eliminating the problem, or getting a dog or cat with an affinity for digging.

Here’s one approach that sounds promising: ammonia.

Poke holes every 5 feet along the tunnel, pour about a half a cup of ammonia in each and cover. Avoid mashing down the tunnel, because you want the trapped fumes to permeate the entire mole run to chase the moles away (into your neighbor’s yard). Or they may just make more new runs in your yard.

Castor oil-based mole deterrent products will deter moles unless the environment is particularly inviting. They love earthworms, so the better your soil the better your chances of having a mole problem.

Grubs can sustain a healthy mole population, but that is not always the problem so be mindful of using grub-control products. Use them only if you truly have a grub problem, which can be determined by slicing up some turf in stressed areas.

If you do have a problem with grubs and moles, look on the bright side…at least the moles are ridding your lawn of grubs.