What to do about those pests that ruin a gardener's hard work

Posted: Friday, June 01, 2001

POUND RIDGE, N.Y. (AP) -- Beginner gardeners soon learn that other creatures besides themselves enjoy flowers and vegetables. You are working for the furry and feathery kingdom as well as yourself when you sow seeds and plant plants.

Unless you are an extraordinary animal lover, you look around for ways to keep the product of your labor for yourself. But as the years and decades roll on you find yourself engaged in a difficult and never-ending war with what you call predators, if ''pests'' seem too gentle a term.

In many parts of the country, Garden Enemy No. 1 is deer, highly destructive of vegetables and ornamentals and bearer of the Lyme disease tick. But important spots on this Most Unwanted list are also held by raccoons, foxes, woodchucks, rabbits, squirrels, skunks, moles, crows and the cute but voracious chipmunk. Dogs are a mixed blessing. They guard against intruders, but also poop up the garden.

(Some gardeners, now and then, would put children on the list.)

Trial and error teaches you that the best protection is a fence, equipped, if possible, with electric wiring that gives a memorable but otherwise harmless shock.

If a fence is not possible for you, sprays such as Deer Away and Get Away and other commercial or homemade deterrents will work to some extent, but must be constantly renewed as rain and time decreases their efficiency. Offbeat remedies include mothballs; spray mixes made of cayenne pepper, soap and water; human hair; blood meal. Empty soda bottles, buried with the tops exposed, whistle eerily in the wind and may scare away rabbits.

Nurseries peddle natural scent repellents like coyote or fox urine. You could try your zoo for wolf urine.

Some plants protect other plants. For example, beans and pumpkins planted between rows of corn are said to discourage raccoons from raiding your prized ears because they don't like the feel of the vines and foliage.

In my wooded area of New York, 50 miles north of Manhattan, deer have become so destructive that gardeners who can afford it erect steel fences around their entire property. This can mean an expense of thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the enclosure and the quality of the fencing. Electrifying the fence is permitted by some communities and forbidden by others.

Around my vegetable garden, I've got an inexpensive, 5-foot-tall plastic fence armed with electric wiring, but I use other deterrents to protect flowers, like dried blood and Milorganite, an organic nitrogen fertilizer derived from sewage.

I put up the plastic fencing because the chicken wire I had used would rust out every three years or so. At first I ran one electric or ''hot'' wire at the top of the fence, but after a couple of years rabbits learned they could chew their way through the bottom. So I placed a second wire along the base of the fence. This has kept them out.

Other animals also stay away. It takes only one touch of the hot wire to impart a lasting impression. The wiring is connected to the power supply by a charger in my shed. These chargers, also called fence controllers, are available at pet shops, some hardware stores and horse shops. One I saw online at www.PetVetSupply.com cost $27.98. When used as a cattle guard, it activates up to six miles of fence, so you don't have to worry about its efficiency around a garden.

Where electrification is forbidden, some gardeners try building fences as tall as nine feet around their vegetables. They can work, but deer are always trying to find ways to get in. Determined bucks have been known to crash their way in, if not leap over. As for raccoons, my experience is that nothing will bar them except an electric shock.

If rabbits or woodchucks are a problem and you're using a chicken wire fence, remember that the bottom should be buried at least six inches in the ground to prevent their burrowing under. You can also try interplanting your crops and flowers with garlic, onions and Mexican marigolds. Rabbits are said to dislike the smell.

Deer are not satisfied with just vegetables, they gobble up many kinds of flowers and shrubs. They stay away from daffodils, but tulips are a delicacy. Rhododendrons they love, but ignore andromedas. Consult garden clubs and nurseries for lists of plants they like or dislike.

I've found Milorganite, the sludge granular fertilizer pioneered in Milwaukee 75 years ago, to be highly effective in keeping deer away from tulips. It's sprinkled around the plant, but should be renewed every three or four days or immediately after a rain.

To protect against birds, some gardeners cover their seeds with wire mesh to deflect their bills. Most agree that scarecrows don't work. Plastics owls perched near the corn patch may do better.


EDITOR'S NOTE: George Bria retired from the AP in 1981 after 40 years that included coverage of World War II from Italy.

End advance for Thursday, May 31

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