How do I keep critters from eating my garden before I can?

June 14 |
Harvest Squirrel
Photo by KayVee. Used under Creative Commons license.
Jessi B. asks:

Since it's gardening season, I was hoping for some advice on humane and eco-friendly pest control in the garden.

How on earth do I keep these insane squirrels away from my pumpkins? How do I save my blueberries from the birds? How do I do this without spraying toxins or harming the animals?

For what it's worth, I live in an urban area in a warm, dry climate. Thanks!

I've been meaning to get my hands on some coyote pee to dribble 'round our garden and stave off deer and rabbits.

What else have you homies got? Surely you can help Jessi deter birds and squirrels — and I'd love to hear about earth-happy ways to get rid of insects, too.

  1. Certain types of soap hung on a string irritate deer's noses and keep them away. As for birds and squirrels- we use chicken wire with netting over the top. Additionally, weave a smaller wire through the larger openings to prevent the squirrels from squeezing through. We also house our dog near our garden…

    2 agree
  2. At a large test garden I used to work in, the head gardener would set up an old radio in the middle of the garden. She'd turn it on to talk radio before she left for the night – the sound of human voices and laughter would scare the deer away. They eventually got brave and/or hungry enough to venture in, but the radio trick usually worked for several weeks.

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  3. To keep the birds away, you can hang shiny things in your garden. Aluminum pie pans, bird flashing tape, pinwheels. Anything that will move and reflect light. Also, a balloon with the shape of a human face on it works.
    I have never had to use animal urine, but I do brush my dog and then clean out the brush and leave the hair around the perimeter of my garden, which tends to keep the squirrels away. I also keep bird netting on hand to hang over my raspberries, strawberries and blueberries in case the birds decide to get really daring.

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    • The dog hair idea is brilliant! I don't have a veggie garden yet, but I'm excited to try this.

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    • We have shiny red and silver streamers that we hang in the garden near the blueberries to keep birds away. It works great because the birds think it's fire.

    • We have a fluffy dog, and i tuck the hair around the perimeter of my raised garden beds and along the neighbor's fence where a groundhog comes in. Also letting your dog roam your backyard twice a day helps!

  4. I've yet to try it (I have a bug problem and they don't mind people) but I've heard hair sprinkled in will help because it still carries the scent (and it's full of nitrogen so it's good for your soil). Next time you get a haircut (or ask for some from a salon, or ask a guy friend – they tend to get more hair cuts) ask to keep the clippings and just throw it willy nilly whilst singing whatever show tune suits your fancy. I also let my dogs wander through the garden daily so their scent is around.

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    • Also, my husband's grandparents grow a shitton of strawberries every year and take old CDs and string them up on lines. The reflection confuses the birds and they usually don't make it to the berries.

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    • We have people come in to work all the time to get hairclippings. They say it keeps the deer and bunnys out.. Im sure others too

  5. nets, nets and more nets is our cure! We have Deer, rabbits, badgers and so many different birds to contend with its the only thing we've found that works.
    We net seedlings and then when they are strong enough most things can have the nets removed.
    I'd love to find a different solution but at the moment we can't fence off our allotment so this will have to do. We're also right near a main road so it also deters human pests from stealing our veggies.

    I've got a white fly problem that I haven't been able to solve yet.

    • The best luck I ever had with whiteflies was when the chickadees got on the job. I keep a birdfeeder near the garden and when I accidently let it run out after they got used to it as a food source, suddenly I saw them all over the cages for the tomatoes and my whitefly population plummeted. Then I started filling the feeder again to make sure they stayed near.

      I don't try to completely rid my garden of whiteflies. It's too challenging and a small population doesn't appear to cause much of an issue.

      1 agrees
  6. to keep squirrels (and let's be honest, neighborhood cats) away from my potted plants/veggies, I sprinkle cayenne pepper (from your spice rack) on top of the dirt once a week. The sensation is itchy & unpleasant to paws trying to dig into your plants/get to the roots, but it does not harm the little guys. eventually, they will learn to stay away from your potted things.

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  7. we make a solution out of hot sauce, garlic powder, and just enough water to make it sprayable…and we'll spray everything on our quarter acre of "farmland." we don't have a problem with rodents or lagomorphs when we use the spray, but it does need periodic reapplication – usually after it rains.

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  8. I've heard the hair thing, and something about blood meal or bone meal, which I think is just gross, but hey whatever. My mom bought it at Fleet Farm and it seemed to work on a lot of things. Um… Monitor exactly what pests you have in what areas, then check out certain spices and how they deter things. Cats usually don't like citrus. Certain insects avoid cinnamon.

    • Complete side track, but my mom's cat loves grapefruit and oranges. Worst Cat-like Cat Ever. Just sayin'.

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  9. Birds, especially small ones can get caught in the netting and strangle themselves. After finding a dead finch in our strawberry netting we stopped using it. We mostly use scare tape to keep the birds out of our garden. It's what they use in the vineyards here and does a pretty good job. As for squirrels, I'm finding that my ducks are a fantastic deterrant and I don't know why. I thought we'd have to come up with something for our cherry trees that they decimated last year but since having ducks they haven't come into our yard.

    • We use netting with really small holes. Never had a problem, the farmer uses the same and so does everyone else on our allotments.

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  10. Awesome! Thanks for posting my question! Also, thanks for all the suggestions, I will definitely try some of these out!

  11. Just remembered our farmer uses like a cross between a kite and a balloon he flies it above his fields thats next to our allotment and its pretty effective and keeping certain birds off.

  12. I don't let my boys pee in the house after May. They know the key spots to perimeter the garden and if there is company over, they go in the watering can and fill it with water. We also brush the dogs in the yard. I have over 60 tomato plants, 2 strawberry patches, raspberries, peppers, etc…. and never have a problem. I watch the birds eat my neighbors strawberries right thru her nets, every year.

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  13. My mom has had a lot of luck with chicken wire. She says the squirrels don't like the unsteady surface and won't climb up it. She just wraps long pieces around her pots or beds and says it works like a charm.

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  14. In Brisbane I battle against both possums and bush turkeys for my garden. The possums want to eat my herbs, but the bush turkeys just want to dig up EVERYTHING. The best way to keep possums out of things really is double rolls of chicken wire, buried into the side of my pots, around everything they want. We're looking to put up netting when we have a real garden and not a rental courtyard. The Bush Turkeys? I have a string of bells around my balcony that they knock when they make the rare foray up there. (How they manage it I don't know, a flapping fall out of a tree they've climbed perhaps). It seems to scare them off a bit, but more than once I've come home to several pots dug out over the balcony and a sleepy bush turkey nesting in my mint.

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    • We have used a product called Kings Bush Turkey Solution. It is only new and made from all natural ingredients. The Brush Turkey stopped building it's mound and went elsewhere. Very happy.

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  15. We found that hanging old CDs works well to prevent birds from eating all our yummi ripe fruit.

  16. I know that my roommates had some success last year keeping squash borers off the pumpkin vines by sprinkling crushed eggshells around the plants – apparently the creepy crawlies didn't like crawling over that, although your perimeter has to be pretty solid and also encircle the entire plant, not just the base.

    I've also had some luck with coplanting- putting basil with my tomatoes, for instance, bc the bugs that like tomatoes hate basil and vice versa. I've heard of other pairings like that too.

  17. What about Snails?!? We live in the city so critters are not much of a problem. But there are an overabundance of snails that like to eat our fruits..

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    • My Dad used to put pie tins of beer in the garden for slugs and snails. They could crawl into the tin but not back out. Not the most snail friendly policy, but effective and at least they went happy…

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    • Save your empty egg shells and keep them in the fridge in a bowl. when you have a dozen or so make sure they are dried out and crush them up (not too finely) and sprinkle them around your garden. Snails and slugs cant stand the texture and will (usually) move on. (:

  18. 1. YOU pee in your garden (Dilute half human urine with water so that it doesn't burn your plants
    2. Sightly less scary: spit on it. Spit smells like human, and sticks, plus you don't have your parts hanging out in public
    3. mix 10 oz of cheap hot sauce with 1-2 tbsps dish soap and a gallon of water. Use a pump spray mister of some kind. (Either the pressurized kind or the ordinary spritzer) the soap makes it stick, the hot sauce makes it repulsive to squirrels, etc. Most importantly, remember to reapply once a week and or after it rains.

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  19. I've found good success using noxious plants as a border. Lots of rodents don't like mints or rue, and neither do lots of bugs, for that matter. For birds, I keep seed for them on the other side of the house, so they don't generally venture that close to the garden plot, except for the hummers who like my petunias (it doesn't hurt that my cat hangs out in the tomato patch, either). Crawlies don't like watery dish soap sprayed on the tomatoes and squash.

    1 agrees
  20. The squirrels are far too daring at my house. After trying all sorts of crazy tricks (CDs, pepper, pee, etc.) I finally bought some redwood and made a raised bed with a 4 foot enclosure completely covered with fine galvanized steel mesh. I haven't had any critter problems (except bugs) since then and I'm happy to report I have artichokes plants nibble-free. :)

    1 agrees
  21. This has come afew weeks late for me. I've lost all my silverbeet, baby beetroots and brocolli to a mouse! He's made a tunnel under my vege patch and nibbled the tops off these veges, he kindly left my lettuce, carrots and strwberries. I've never had this problem in my vege patch before.

    1 agrees
  22. A volunteer at the farm where I work asks her husband and sons to pee in a watering can. She fills it with water to dilute the pee and then waters the plants with that. She swears by it, but I can't admit to trying it myself.

    1 agrees
  23. A kind of home made habanero pepper tea in a spray bottle has saved my flowers from the deer pretty well. God help you if you get any on you, though.

    After spraying stuff constantly for about a month, all the animals tend to give up and go eat the neighbor's stuff.

  24. we are having alot of problems with ducks and rabbits wanting eat our garden up… so if we can get some pointers on how to keep this from happening please do tell thank you.

    • We have a lot of rabbit problems. For general landscaping plants that haven't become established I spray them every 2 weeks with Liquid Fence (a repellant) or surround them with some temporary fencing, and also mostly plant things that rabbits don't tend to eat (sages, fuzzy leafed plants). Most of my garden is in raised beds which they can easily hop into but for problematic areas I use temporary fencing inside the bed. This is basically rabbit wire or something similar — I use the stuff that is about 2 feet wide with square holes (1/2" or less). I just stake it. There are places where technically a rabbit could burrow underneath but they don't bother. I don't know if this is because there is enough other green stuff to eat or they don't want to work that hard. It's usually a relatively small area. Our main garden has buried mesh to stop burrowing but the wire above ground has large enough holes that rabbits can pass through.

  25. Go to the local "cheap oh" store and buy a bunch of mouse traps. Set them all over the garden. They won't kill the squirrels, but when they trip one, they run!! Problem solved.

  26. Critters are not that troubling. I am facing a big trouble in keeping cats away from my garden. As far as digging up and messing in the garden are concerned, cats can cause a lot of disturbance to both their owners and their neighbors.

  27. Anybody have suggestions for how to keep moles out of the garden? I have tried poison peanuts, poisonous gummy worms, traps, smashing their tunnels down, and smoke bombs. I'm at a loss and they are so destructive.

    1 agrees
    • Try electronic sonic device but depending on the size of your lawn it can be expensive. Also.. Moles are usually sniffing out grubs in the soil and dig to get to them for feeding. Consistent grub control should help.

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