One of the most challenging aspects of gardening is keeping your entire harvest for you and your family. Whether you’re tending flowers, fruit, vegetables or greenery, there are outdoor critters that want to share the output of your garden. They crawl, they climb, they fly and they burrow, and they’re all hungry for the food they think you’ve put out for them.
You’ve set their table, so to speak, and they’ll show up, some in the light of day and even more in the dark of night. So, what’s a gardener to do?
First of all, you need to anticipate who your garden raiders are. The most common here in Cherokee County are deer, rabbits, raccoons, moles and voles. Let’s look at how to identify each and then how to deal with them.
Deer are the most abundant large mammal in the United States. You can identify their damage because they lack upper incisor teeth, so plants they’ve bitten off will result in jagged, irregular cuts.
When plants look like they’ve been cut with scissors, the most likely culprit is a rodent, and most likely a rabbit. Rabbits usually avoid corn, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers and most peppers, but they’ll eat almost any other plant.
Then we have raccoons. These may be the most intelligent and are the most difficult of critters to deter. Their ability to climb, to open gates, and to learn how to get to the heart of our favorite foods is legend. They can strip ears of corn, dig holes in melons and suck out the best of the juicy fruit, devastate a tomato patch overnight, and much, much more.
Both moles and voles live underground and tunnel through the loose soil where they munch on succulent things beneath the surface of your lawn and garden. Moles are evident by tunnels close to the surface, and the ground will feel spongy under your feet as you walk over those tunnels; further evidence is small piles of dirt they excavate to dig deeper holes where they reside.
Voles leave less evidence but do just as much damage by eating roots, root vegetables and flower bulbs, and they’ll also gnaw on trunks at the base of shrubs and trees. You’ll know roots are being damaged or eaten as plants die back or begin to lean strangely.
Fencing can be very effective where practical. I garden smack in the middle of the woods, so my vegetable plot is surrounded by a 3-foot wooden fence backed with chicken wire to keep out rabbits. I keep a plastic owl on the fence and move it around occasionally, and I also hang glittery strings here and there as visual deterrents.
Consider a “living fence” that’s unattractive to wildlife. Plants with a strong scent, thick or leathery leaves or fuzzy or spiny textures may discourage hungry critters while these plants dress up your garden. Consider narcissus, sedum, oregano and rosemary, to name a few.
Of course chemical deterrents are available, but many are not practical around food crops and herbs and may not be ecologically sound. If you do use them you may want to spread them around the perimeter of your garden, away from the crops, to deter deer, rabbits and rodents. Home remedies include human hair spread around the garden (but not directly on plants); spraying cheap perfume or bleach and spreading used sifted, nasty cat litter in areas frequented by critters. Of course you’ll have to apply these frequently; their effectiveness is hit or miss for most of us, but fun to experiment with.
Critters are stubborn, and hungry. They want to be where food is most easily obtained, so as gardeners our goal is to make our garden areas undesirable and unappealing to them, while keeping our plots clean, safe and as low maintenance as possible.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.