Keeping Critters and Insects Out of Your Garden
Gardening is a wonderful hobby that provides a connection to the outdoors, a learning experience, health benefits, and the obvious – a harvest of beautiful flowers and plants along with fresh, delicious produce! But what if you’re not the only one looking to cash in on your garden?
Critters like squirrels, raccoons, deer, rabbits, and moles can wreak havoc in your garden when given the chance. Insects like earwigs, aphids, caterpillars, and beetles can wipe out your garden’s harvest in minimal time. Being armed with the proper information, effective products to stop damage, and effective prevention measures is your best bet to outsmarting animals and insects that may destroy your garden.
Animals and Their Effects on Gardens
Where you live has an effect on which animals could become a garden nuisance. Suburban properties often experience issues with squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, deer, skunks and groundhogs. Squirrels, mice, and rats are problematic for city dwelling homes. Warmer climate residents could see damage caused by armadillos.
What kind of damage can occur? Just like humans, these animals get hungry! They appreciate the produce and plants you grow and enjoy treating themselves to a hearty meal. From nibbling on leaves to devouring the fruit of a plant, animals have no qualms about emptying an entire plant of its offerings. Furthermore, some animals dig and create tunnel systems in your garden that can affect the root systems and cause damage to a plant, or even kill it.
Which Critters Cause What Damage
The array of damage caused by animals in your backyard varies. A few common clues to identify these animals are chewed plants, tracks, or rubbed bark on trees and shrubs. Specifically you may see damage caused by the following:
• Deer - Deer have no front teeth but strip bark by raking their incisors upward, making a two-inch gouge. When deer eat foliage, they tear it off, leaving ragged edges, while rabbit and rodent browsing leaves a clean-cut edge. Also, they eat lower parts of trees, up to the height they can reach standing on their hind legs, usually between six and ten feet.
• Rabbits - Wild rabbits usually strip bark off of young trees only a short distance, approximately 2.5 feet, above the ground. Rabbit damage can be identified by a clean, angled cut on the end of leaves.
• Squirrels - Many suburban backyards offer a similar habitat with an added bonus of birdseed. Black oil sunflower seeds are a particular favorite of these furry little critters and they’ll do acrobatics to get to it!
• Raccoons - There are several sure signs that you have a raccoon damaging your property. Areas of damage include tipped over trash cans, pilfered gardens, damaged crops (particularly sweet corn), hollowed out watermelons (having small holes dug in them and their contents scraped out), and freshly laid sod that has been rolled up and searched for grub worms.
• Chipmunks - Chipmunks typically feast on nuts, berries, seeds, and grains. They cause problems when they eat tender plant shoots and leaves. In autumn, many chipmunks begin to stockpile these goods in their burrows, hoarding for the winter months.
• Groundhogs - Groundhogs can remove 700 pounds of soil to complete a 20 to 25- foot-long burrow with multiple chambers, which pose a serious threat to agricultural and residential developments by damaging farm machinery and undermining building foundations. In your garden, the groundhog seeks beans, peas, herbs, strawberries, pansies, and impatiens.
• Skunks - Skunks provide more of a benefit than some people think; they eat many pest insects that cause damage to your lawn and garden. Problems arise when they burrow to make homes in and around your garden and spray causing the very irritating skunk odor.
• Opossum - Opossums are opportunistic omnivores with a very broad range of diet. Opossums like to dine on roots, vegetables, fruit, corn, snails, beetles, ants, eggs, grasshoppers and garbage.
How to Repel Critters
The damage may vary, but there are similarities on how to keep animals from chewing on your garden. Two common options are exclusion and repellents.
Exclusion is an easy tactic to keep your garden from falling victim to hungry animals. Fencing is an effective option for all critters that venture where they are not wanted. Putting up chicken wire or hardware cloth gets the job done. Be sure to place it two to three feet high (so a rabbit standing on its hind legs cannot reach the plant being protected) and bury it two to three inches into the ground.
You may also opt to use an electrified exclusion method. Use an electrical fence kit made for garden protection to deliver a small but memorable shock to any animal that's looking for an easy meal.
Repellents using powerful scent and taste deterrents work to irritate the animal immediately when it smells, touches, or tastes your plant. This unpleasant experience drives the animal away unharmed and encourages them to not return to the treated area.
Common ingredients used in repellents include oil of black pepper, piperine, and capsaicin. These ingredients, combined with a brand’s recipe, work by immediately irritating nuisance animals after they smell, taste or touch areas that are treated with the solution. To humans, it would be like eating a hot pepper on steroids. The unpleasant, peppery experience is one the animal will remember and won’t want to occur again.
When using repellents, be sure to employ a formula that is OMRI Listed and compliant with organic gardening. These substances will be on or around your fruits and vegetables and can be washed off your crops when you’re ready to eat them.
Bugs and Your Garden
Gardeners and farmers, regardless of how experienced or green-thumbed, have experienced insect damage. Knowing how to identify damage, which insects are causing it, and which solutions can be employed to deter and kill problematic insects is the best equation for effective bug control. Common garden insects to watch for, as well as damage they may cause, include:
• Aphids - Since aphids produce a sweet, sticky excretion known as honeydew and you notice a substance on your plants that feels sticky, it may mean aphids are living on the plant. This substance may turn black if it is affected by sooty mold fungus. Leaves may curl and turn yellowish if there is a large infestation of aphids on a plant or tree.
• Cabbage loopers - Cabbage loopers feed not only on cabbage, but also on a wide range of plants. Since they chew holes in the leaves and often attack the heads of cabbage and other crucifers, look for leaves with big, odd-shaped holes and heads of cabbage with pieces eaten out of the heads.
• Cabbage worms – Cabbage worms dig into the heads of cabbage and other crucifers creating small gaps and missing chunks that can be readily seen. It will take larger chunks out of the plants than a cabbage looper will, making it the more destructive of the two. In addition, the fecal droppings of the cabbage worm can stain plants leaves and stems, indicating the presence of this harmful pest.
• Grasshoppers - Since adult grasshoppers will feed on a variety of vegetative plants, including grasses and weeds, the symptoms of grasshopper damage can be widespread and diverse. Their preferences include beans, sweet corn, lettuce and carrots, so when leaves of these plants appear chewed and you notice a grasshopper or two nearby, there is a very good chance that the grasshoppers are the culprits. They make holes in the tissue of the plant as well as the leaves. You may also notice the grasshoppers' dark droppings on the plant leaves. Fruits may look as if they are not developing correctly.
• Japanese Beetles - Leaves with multiple holes, skeletonized plants, and brown patches of grass are all symptoms that may indicate the presence of Japanese beetles, both adults and grubs. It is often easy to see the adult beetles as they land and feed on the leaves of plants and trees.
• Psyllids - Psyllids start their plant feeding and juice sucking in the very first instar and continue through adulthood. When they feed, they may inject saliva that can harm or kill the plant. Leaves and plants may appear deformed or galled when psyllids have been feeding on the plant. Since psyllids produce honeydew, the presence of this substance may also indicate psyllids are present.
• Thrips - Thrips attack plant tissue by sucking out the juices, giving the leaves a mottled appearance. If enough thrips attack a plant, the leaves may take on a silver streaked appearance.
• Tomato Hornworm - Holes in the leaves, fruit and stems of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants may indicate the presence of the tomato hornworm. With a size of 4 1/2", the tomato hornworm might be visible on plants, although its coloring does camouflage it very well. Brown droppings from the hornworm may be seen on plant leaves and parts.
• White Grubs - One of the first signs of a grub problem is an influx of birds and sometimes lawn or garden damage from rooting or tunneling of skunks, raccoons, opossums, moles and other animals. Dead spots on the lawn is another giveaway. Turf pulls up easily like a rug because the roots are severed. Grubs are serious trouble in gardens, particularly rose gardens.
Nature has created an environmental defense against some problematic bugs and the effects they have on our yards and gardens. Beneficial bugs are defined as any insect that improves the soil, pollinates plants, or controls harmful pests. Beneficial bugs you may see around your garden include:
• Green lacewigs – Green lacewing larvae prey on aphids, leafhoppers, mites, psyllids, thrips, whiteflies and the eggs of insects. The larvae are the beneficial stage of the green lacewing with their huge appetites.
• Ladybugs - The adult ladybugs feed on these insects. They also lay their eggs among the aphids or other prey so the emerging larvae can feed on the insects, too.
• Parasitic Wasps - Parasitic wasps help farmers and gardeners in naturally controlling crops by killing those insects that are harmful to the crops. By doing so, these beneficial insects help reduce the insect pest populations and thereby help growers improve their field and garden produce.
• Praying Mantises - A praying mantis has a very big appetite, so it's fortunate that it is also an accomplished hunter. These magnificent insects help farmers and gardeners by eating moths, mosquitoes, roaches, flies and aphids, as well as small rodents in their fields and gardens.
Click here for an illustrated index of Good and Bad Garden Bugs.
Controlling insects in your garden
Often there will be a combination of beneficial bug introduction to a problem area in conjunction with applied substances that help repel or defeat the insect issue.
Traditional pesticides consisting of synthetic chemicals could have harmful consequences to your family when controlling unwanted insect pests, but solutions exist that are free of synthetic materials.
• Insecticidal Soap – These powerful natural solvents quickly dissolve fat-based substances. So the soap removes the plant or insect's protective coating causing them to dry out – quickly! It is highly effective on soft- bodied insects such as aphids and mealybugs.
• Pyrethrins - This compound is extracted from a specific type of daisy, named the Chrysanthemum Daisy. In the plant, it repels insects and protects the flower from predators.
When collected and concentrated, Pyrethrin is a very effective insecticide that affects the insect’s nervous system. This compound breaks down quickly in the environment and has no residual health or environmental impact. Products such as Safer® Brand Yard and Garden Insect Killer use the power of Pyrethrin to protect your yard and garden by killing insects on contact.
• Oils: Essential Oils - Essential Oils are fragrant oils that plants produce, such as orange oil, clove oil, thyme oil, cedar oil, etc. The molecules are very energetic and will affect the insects’ nervous system. These oils are strong natural solvents that will break down the insects’ waxy protective coating.
Fixed Oils are the less aromatic oils derived from plants such as Corn Oil, Canola Oil, Soybean Oil, etc. These oils generally work by clogging the respiratory openings of the insect, causing suffocation. These are also effective against several plant diseases.
Neem oil is extracted from the Neem tree. It is a fixed oil, however, it carries an insect growth regulator (IGR) containing strong insecticidal properties in its unrefined state. This IGR is azadirachtin, often separated from the Neem Oil and concentrated as an active ingredient unto its own. The resulting refined Neem Oil with the IGR removed is primarily a suffocant for use on insects and plant diseases. Safer® Brand BioNEEM® uses this powerful oil to protect your garden from insects and plant diseases.
Effective and organic insect control can be made at home or can be bought in over the counter ready-to-use formulas. Concentrates are available to save space and money and allow you to make multiple batches throughout the gardening season.
Although unconventional, the method of using sacrificial gardens to control pests and animals is effective. A sacrificial garden is a gardening method that supplies plants that either attract harmful pests away from, or natural predators to, the plants that you are trying to protect.
If you’d like to protect your ornamental plants you may plant a row of tasty lettuce to attract pests. The insects will prefer lettuce leaves to the ornamentals and therefore will leave the flowers alone. Additionally, nasturtiums are an excellent plant to attract bugs that may wreak havoc in your garden.
Having issues with rabbits? Planting dill as a border to keep rabbits busy and deter them from entering further into your garden. Consider this a natural fence as it will satisfy the rabbit and keep them from snacking on your other crops.
While having animals on your property can be entertaining, it can also cause damage to your garden and yard. Whether you combat these situations with unconventional methods like sacrificial gardening or beneficial bugs, or you choose to use repellents or electronic exclusion, it is important to understand why animals like your garden and the methods used to protect your garden.
Avant Garden Décor looks forward to helping you grow your best garden yet by offering you the necessary products to promote healthy gardening and protect your harvest from hungry critters.
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