By Melinda Myers
They're cute, they're furry and they love to eat -- your landscape that is.
If you are battling with rabbits, deer, groundhogs or other wildlife, don't give up. And if you are lucky enough to be wildlife-free at the moment, be vigilant and prepared to prevent damage before these beautiful creatures move into your landscape to dine.
Anyone who has battled wildlife knows the frustration and difficulty involved in controlling them. Your best defense is a fence. A 4-foot-high fence anchored tightly to the ground will keep out rabbits. Five-foot-high fences around small garden areas will usually keep out deer. They seem to avoid these small confined spaces. The larger the area the more likely deer will enter. Woodchucks are more difficult. They will dig under or climb over the fence. You must place the fence at least 12 inches below the soil surface with 4 to 5 feet above the ground. Make sure gates are also secured from animals.
Some communities allow electric fences that provide a slight shock to help keep deer out of the landscape. Another option is the wireless deer fence. The system uses plastic posts with wire tips charged by AA batteries. The plastic tip is filled with a deer attractant. When the deer nuzzles the tip it gets a light shock, encouraging it to move on to other feeding grounds.
Scare tactics have been used for many years. Motion sensitive sprinklers, blow up owls, clanging pans and rubber snakes strategically placed around a garden may help scare away unwanted critters. Unfortunately, urban animals are used to noise and may not be alarmed. Move and alternate the various scare tactics for more effective control. The animals won't be afraid of an owl that hasn't moved in two weeks.
Homemade and commercial repellents can also be used. Make sure they are safe to use on food crops if treating fruits and vegetables. You'll have the best results if applied before the animals start feeding. It is easier to prevent damage than break old feeding patterns. Look for natural products like those found in Messina Wildlife's Animal Stopper line. They are made of herbs and smell good, so they repel animals without repelling you and your guests.
Live trapping can be inhumane and should be a last option. Babies can be separated from their parents, animals can be released in unfamiliar territory, and trapped animals can suffer from heat and a lack of food and water. Plus, once you catch the animal, you need to find a place to release it. The nearby parks, farms and forests already have too many of their own animals and therefore they don't want yours.
The key to success is variety, persistence and adaptability. Watch for animal tracks, droppings and other signs that indicate wildlife have moved into your area. Apply repellents and install scare tactics and fencing before the animals begin feeding. Try a combination of tactics, continually monitor for damage and make changes as needed. And when you feel discouraged, remember that gardeners have been battling animals in the garden long before us.
Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including "Can't Miss Small Space Gardening." She hosts the nationally syndicated Melinda's Garden Moment TV and radio segments and is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Myers' web site, www.melindamyers.com, features gardening videos, gardening tips, podcasts and more.