Thoughtful Gardener | Critters in the Garden -
Coyotes are among the wildlife that can be seen in and around Las Cruces.

The wide variety of creatures that visit and inhabit my garden bring me joy. True, some may harm plants, however, I take a live-and-let-live attitude to my visitors. However, if you prefer they don’t visit, there are numerous humane ways to interact with critters invading the garden.

Critters in the garden are a natural and necessary part of the ecosystem. Skunks may ramble through at night as they search for grubs, fallen fruit, and other edibles, leaving holes or digging up plants. On the other hand, I’ve never had a grub problem in my garden. Thrashers may tear up flower beds as they search for insects. Snakes, cats, and dogs eat rodents and other fuzzy pests. I’ve never had a pocket gopher problem in my garden since they don’t like to share the space with cats.

There are a variety of approaches for managing bothersome critters, such as deer, javelinas, cats, dogs, rabbits, skunks, rats, mice, squirrels, and snakes. To discourage critters in your garden, employ methods to block, deter, and deflect.

Fencing to deter unwanted visitors

The obvious first choice is a fence surrounding the garden. Luckily, I have a rock wall around my garden. This thwarts many visitors, especially those that can’t climb, such as javelinas, rabbits, and skunks. A solid gate that sits just above a hard surface prevents many other unwanted visitors that can’t climb or enter through small openings.

Protect specific plants with wire fences, cloches (bell-shaped protectors made from wire or other materials), nets, screens, and row covers. Raised garden beds, planters, and pots discourage smaller creatures from loitering in the garden. If rabbits, skunks, or squirrels are digging under barriers, bury wire or screen along the fence line. Insert wire fencing or screen in the bottom of raised beds to prevent mice, squirrels, and pocket gophers.

Spiky mats can be placed on the surface of vegetable and flower beds to prevent animals like cats from walking on the space. Chicken wire placed on the surface prevents many creatures from scratching and digging, but still allows the plants to grow through.

Startle and frighten

To deter many garden invaders, employ methods that startle and frighten them. These include ultrasonic repellers, motion-Mexican ground squirrelactivated water sprayers, noisemakers, and visual scare devices such as reflective tape and faux predators.

One of my first recommendations to deter cats, dogs, birds, and other small creatures is a water scarecrow. There are many versions of motion-activated sprinklers that attach to a water hose. When a critter interrupts the motion sensor, the sprinkler blasts a jet of water that startles and soaks the animal. Most animals will stay away since they don’t like to be surprised or wet.

In some instances, especially for pesky birds and timid animals, reflective tape, pie tins, old CDs, and other reflective objects will discourage them from visiting or staying.

Garlic, capsaicin, and fish emulsions

Some invaders, such as deer, rabbits, cats, coyotes, and other curious critters can be discouraged by strong scents. Hanging balls of human hair or soap will often repel deer from individual plants. To protect larger plantings, use a homemade or commercial spray of capsaicin, the “hot” ingredient in peppers. Garlic sprays and fish emulsions also deter deer and other creatures with sensitive noses or palates. Cottontails will avoid areas with unpleasant odors. These sprays also discourage skunks, raccoons, and opossums.

To deflect wildlife from your garden, make it less attractive to them. Eliminate hiding or nesting areas, such as brush piles and tall grass. Minimize food sources: covering your compost pile will discourage raccoons and cleaning up birdseed will discourage squirrels.

Rabbits and hares often are an irritating spring problem. Deflect them from your precious plants by providing food and water in an area away from your garden, then find the space they are sneaking through and seal it.

Encourage wildlife to bypass your garden by growing plants that have strong scents or tastes. Although deer and rabbits will eat anything if hungry enough, given a choice they tend to stay away from succulent plants, poisonous plants, pungent flavored plants, and plants with hairy or furry leaves. You can also plant vegetables and herbs that rabbits find unpleasant, such as tomatoes, garlic, hot peppers, basil, mint, and catnip. Plant rosemary and sage hedges or blend them in with your landscape to discourage wildlife.

Some small creatures, such as rabbits and mice, can be encouraged to bypass your garden with strategic placement of rubber snakes or fake owls.

Gardeners have an arsenal of actions to block, deter, and deflect unwelcome wildlife in the garden. Trying to outsmart nature’s survivors is an ongoing challenge. Personally, I’m more likely to grab the binoculars and enjoy my wild visitors and repair any damage later. After all, most of the critters have been surviving in our desert longer than we have been here.

Written by Jackye Meinecke • Photos by Cheryl Fallstead
Originally published in Neighbors magazine

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