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How to keep animals out of your flower and vegetable gardens

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Here are a few tips for keeping critters away from your favourite plants
Photo: Eric Bégin
Squirrel

Do small animals come uninvited to your flower and vegetable gardens? Learn to put up with them if they aren't doing too much damage, or share a bit of your crops with them – after all, they are part of nature!

If they are too greedy or wreak havoc, try the following tips. It is often by combining different strategies that you will achieve the best results.

Squirrels

  • Squirrels are particularly fond of tulip bulbs and crocuses (except Crocus tommasinianus). Choose bulbs that aren't these little rodents' favorites. Good choices are alliums, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, daffodils, scillas, glories-of-the-snow, winter aconites and snowdrops.
  • If you wish to grow tulips, plant them deeper. Squirrels usually do not dig up to 20 cm. If your soil is light, you can plant large tulip bulbs up to 30 cm deep.
  • Some gardeners report having fewer problems with squirrels when tulip bulbs are planted later in the season. It is however recommended to plant them a few weeks prior to soil freeze-up.
  • You can also protect your bulbs by covering the planting hole with a wire mesh (like chicken wire). Form a cage with the wire mesh by folding the sides perpendicularly downward over a length of 5 to 10 cm. Install this cage above the bulbs, then fill the hole with soil. Thus, small rodents will not have access to the bulbs, even when digging on the sides. It is not necessary to remove the wire mesh, but if you wish to do so, wait about a month after planting (the smell of the bulbs should no longer be perceptible by the squirrels) or remove it early in the spring, before the emergence of foliage. Also, protect your acorn and nut seedlings with a wire mesh. Keep this barrier in place for one year in the case of walnut seedlings and for two years for other tree species. 
  • Sprinkle a natural dehydrated chicken manure fertilizer on the ground or on the soil of plants grown in containers (leaving the granules at the surface). The smell of chicken manure will keep squirrels away for a few weeks. Reapply if necessary, but always follow the directions on the product label, as it is a fertilizer. 
  • There are commercial repellents with black pepper oil, piperine and capsaicin as the active ingredients. The manufacturer's recommendations must be followed. The effect of these repellents is temporary. These products should not be applied on edible plants.
  • Install a motion-activated sprinkler.
  • If these methods do not work, you can cover your vegetable garden with a wire fence supported by stakes, so as to form a "cage".

Cats

  • Plant shrubs with thorny twigs (roses, barberries, raspberries, etc.) in spots where cats come into your garden.
  • In the open areas of the garden used as litter by felines, apply rough mulch, prickly branches (like spruce branches) or a chicken wire anchored to the ground.
  • To protect your seedlings, cover them with a floating row cover, a mesh or insert several sticks in the soil on an angle.
  • There are commercial repellents with black pepper oil, piperine and capsaicin as the active ingredients. The manufacturer's recommendations must be followed. The effect of these repellents is temporary. These products should not be applied on edible plants.
  • Install a motion-activated sprinkler.
  • If these techniques don't bring the desired results, erect a fairly high fence, the base of which has to be buried in the soil surrounding your flower or vegetable garden.

Groundhogs

  • Preferably grow plants that are unattractive to groundhogs. See the link Plants groundhogs tend to avoid in the For more information section. Make your own observations and modify your layout if necessary.
  • Block off any areas where these animals like to go, like under balconies, decks and sheds. Be careful not to block off the entrance if the animal or any babies are inside. Use a very strong wire mesh (chicken wire is not strong enough). The wire fence must go down vertically at least 30 cm deep into the ground and a 20 cm section must be folded into an L-shape horizontally outwards (at the bottom of the trench).
  • There are commercial repellents with black pepper oil, piperine and capsaicin as the active ingredients. The manufacturer's recommendations must be followed. The effect of these repellents is temporary. These products should not be applied on edible plants.
  • Install a motion-activated sprinkler.
  • If these strategies don't work, build a solid wire mesh fence around your vegetable garden (avoid chicken wire, as it is not sturdy enough). The mesh size should be 5 cm or less. The wire fence must go down vertically at least 30 cm deep into the ground and a 20 cm section must be folded into an L-shape horizontally outwards (at the bottom of the trench). In the above-ground portion of the fence, the mesh must be fixed to the posts up to a height of about 1 m. In the upper part, an additional section of 30 to 60 cm, which is not attached, should be tilted slightly outwards.

Skunks and raccoons

  • Use garbage cans with lids that are difficult for these animals to remove. Metal cans are a good option because they can't be chewed. Scrub out your garbage cans regularly to remove any odors that might attract animals. As skunks and raccoons are active at night, you should ideally take out the garbage on the morning of waste collection day.
  • Block off any areas where these animals like to go, like under balconies, decks and sheds. Be careful not to block off the entrance if the animal or any babies are inside. Use a strong wire mesh that goes down at least 30 cm deep into the ground with an L-shaped section folded outwards (at the bottom of the trench).
  • These animals sometimes dig up lawns to find white grubs, which they love. If they aren't causing too much damage, leave them be, because they're your allies in keeping down the grubs! You will need to replace any patches of lawn that they dig up every day, though. If your lawn suffers serious damage, apply nematodes (microscopic worms that are parasitic on white grubs) between mid-August and mid-September to reduce the number of larvae in the soil.
  • There are commercial repellents with black pepper oil, piperine and capsaicin as the active ingredients. The manufacturer's recommendations must be followed. The effect of these repellents is temporary. These products should not be applied on edible plants.
  • Install a motion-activated sprinkler.
  • If necessary, install a tight mesh wire fence (5 cm or less) of about 1.2 m high. The fence should go down at least 30 cm deep into the ground with an L-shaped section folded outwards (at the bottom of the trench). At the top of the fence, it is recommended to leave 30 to 45 cm of wire mesh hanging outwards. To keep raccoons away, an electric fence is more effective. This animal being a skillful climber, the fence (electrified or not) will not be useful if tree branches allow it to access the garden. In more problematic cases, it is possible to build a mesh “cage” to protect the garden.

White-tailed deers

  • Ideally, layout your land with plants that are not appealing to deers. A link to a list of 250 Deer resistant plants is available in the For more information section.
  • There are commercial repellents whose active ingredients are, for example, putrescent whole egg solids or dried blood. The manufacturer's recommendations must be followed. The effect of these repellents is temporary. These products should not be applied on edible plants.
  • Install a motion-activated sprinkler.
  • If deers are wreaking havoc, install a high fence. For more details, see the Guide de protection contre les cerfs de Virginie in the For more information section.

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