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April 19, 2012

Unauthorized Nibblers in the Garden?

How to protect your garden from your wild neighbors

  • Some wildlife, like hummingbirds, bees, bats, and butterflies, make your garden thrive. John Harrison

  • Assessing plant damage to identify the nibbler will help you choose the best way of protecting plants like this deer-munched hosta. The HSUS

  • Where allowed, electric fencing works well to keep deer from feasting on your garden delectables. The HSUS

  • Many critters will beat feet when they see holographic Mylar tape fluttering in the wind. Janet Snyder/The HSUS

  • It takes a wobbly barrier with a footer buried in the ground to keep woodchucks from making a banquet of your broccoli. Laura Simon/The HSUS

Your garden couldn’t flourish without wildlife. Butterflies, bees, bats, and hummingbirds help with pollination; woodchucks, moles, and worms work on soil aeration, just to mention a few of the key players.

Even so, you may not want your favorite flowers and carefully tended veggies becoming someone’s snack.

As you begin gathering seeds and plants for this year’s gardens, include a bit of planning so you can pre-empt those uninvited foraging forays.

Attract beneficial wild neighbors to your garden »

Know your wild neighbors

  • Which wildlife species visited last year, and what did they eat?
  • Learn more about these species and humane ways to keep them at bay: deer, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, woodchucks, chipmunks.
  • If you don’t happen to see the animal(s) dining in your garden, try to match up tracks, scat, or evidence of chewing with photos in tracking guides. Then, you can choose the right fence or other tactics to protect what they’re after.

Gather local garden wisdom

  • Reflect on your own experiences, and keep a garden journal of what does and doesn’t work well in your flower and veggie gardens.
  • Ask neighbors what they’ve found to work in their gardens.
  • Check with your local Native Plant Society and Cooperative Extension Office about which plants are least likely to be eaten by deer and other wildlife in your area, as preferences vary both regionally and locally.

Protect against the predictable

  • Pick timing and placement of plantings carefully. Plants are most at risk before natural vegetation greens up, as are plants that can be nibbled out of view or close to cover. If you don’t want to delay planting, plant the most palatable plants close to the house and protect them with covers or plastic jugs in the early going.
  • Install fencing of the appropriate height and type for the animals you need to keep away from your plants. Single-strand electric fences can be effective deterrents, but they are not appropriate in yards used by young children or pets.
  • Set up scare devices before wildlife begins taste sampling. Examples include: mylar balloons or tape (which scare by fluttering in the wind), motion-activated sprinklers, acoustic alarms or radios, even clumps of dog hair.

Tips for the flower garden

  • Plant species that are not favored by wildlife where foraging animals will encounter them first.
  • Choose daffodils over tulips or crocuses, as they are not tasty to squirrels.
  • Soak other bulbs in thiram-based repellent, and plant them in bulb cages.

Tips for the veggie garden

  • Border your veggie garden with plants deer find unpalatable.
  • Fence in your veggie garden with the appropriate height and type of fence, and use bird netting and plant covers, as needed.
  • Monitor veggie plants daily to harvest what’s ready and to quickly detect any garden visits by wildlife. Follow up with scare devices for the species in question.

A final word

A little careful planning before establishing your gardens will enable you to sit back and enjoy them more once they’re growing—with fewer unpleasant surprises. Knowing that the majority of your flowers and veggies are better protected will make it easier to smile and shrug off the occasional—and surely forgivable—sign of a wild neighbor’s nibbling.

» Purchase a copy of Wild Neighbors, the go-to guide for useful, humane solutions to conflicts with wildlife.

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