Critters And Pests In The Garden

There are solutions to help curtail the damage that they leave in your gardens

By Jan Brick
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Spring will bring out the newborn critters and the evolving pests to your freshly planted gardens and flower beds, drawn to all those fine-looking plants that you have just replaced after another cold spell of winter weather.

Critters may include mice, rats, opossums, squirrels, rabbits, frogs, bats, and even a stray animal or two. Then there are the pests…slugs, mealy bugs, whiteflies, worms, and so on and on.

All your hard work becomes the playground and delicious meals for these common garden pests. Do not let these critters and pests discourage you from planting your vegetable garden and the garden beds of which you are so fond.

There are solutions to help curtail the damage that they leave in their trek and trail through your landscape. Some suggestions are quite unique and easily accomplished, and then there are others that may need the use of an occasional blast from the “big guns” of pest control, pesticides, insecticides, and animal traps.

Jean Lafitte 

Squirrels, Mice, Moles, Raccoons and Opossums
These small mammals and rodents head up the list under “critters.” An easy solution could be a small dog or a cat; if not practical in your situation, there are many other resolutions.

Some methods are more effective than others, some may work for a period of time then fail later giving you an opportunity to try another potential option. The good news is that there are many deterrents and solutions.

Placeholder imageA few simple choices include spreading blood meal around plants (re-apply after rain), placing rocks around the plants, and adding coffee grounds, cayenne pepper, hot pepper spray, cinnamon, or pieces of Irish Spring soap to the soil.

Vinegar, ammonia, or bleach will deter mice while mothballs and bleach will put off possums. If you are looking to repel squirrels, scatter mothballs over the area, and sprinkle cayenne pepper in bird feeders.

Raccoons are nocturnal animals and they prefer to go about their business at night when it’s dark and quiet. A simple way to keep them away is to install motion-activated security lights around your garden area. The idea is that once they step into the sensor line, the lights will go off and frighten them away.

You can also set out “have-a-heart traps” with relocation of the critter in mind. In extreme conditions, try planting bulbs like daffodils, crocus, and tulips that are toxic to moles and squirrels (these fall under the “big guns” theory).

Bats, Bunnies, Snakes and Slugs
Bunnies are adorable critters until they chomp and chew their way through your garden - not so cute, after all. When they eat those maturing plants and shrubs down to the ground, a deterrent is definitely needed.

Liquid Fence may be the “big gun” in this case, but before you choose this option there are a few other options to consider. Plant bulbs and perennials that bunnies do not like; those include marigolds, daffodils, catmint, and salvia. Other options could be to install a small fence around your planting areas, or as a last resort, get a dog to scare then away.

Slugs are not as cute nor as endearing as bunnies, but they are a common pest in most gardens. They love our plant selections even more than we do, can be found in all gardens and do, indeed, proliferate in large numbers.

Slugs and snails cause silvery trails that wind along the plants and leaves. They are mollusks - relatives of oysters and clams - and work mainly at night to protect their soft bodies from the sunlight.

Some gardeners claim that containers of beer will draw the slugs to the scent and cause them to fall into the container and drown. If you prefer not to have cans of beer lying about there are other options.

Try spreading crushed eggshells around the plants in your garden area. This will keep the slugs from traversing into your beds because of their sharp edges and provide needed calcium to your plants.

Epsom salts (often used as a fertilizer) will also dry out the slugs and kill them. Chickens or ducks roaming the yard will eliminate slugs quickly as they find them quite delicious.

Brown bats are generally nocturnal but will now and then emerge in daytime to fly around hunting prey before returning to the nest. Favorite food options for bats are beetles, moths, and mosquitoes as well as fragrant flowers, herbs, and night-blooming plants.

Bats don’t like the smell of mothballs, cinnamon, or eucalyptus. They also are averse to bright lights or objects that reflect light: think strips of aluminum foil, tin pie pans, mylar balloons, and old CDs.

Bats are at risk critters due to White Nose Syndrome, a fungal infection. Always handle bats with extreme care as they are commonly found to be carriers of the rabies bacteria.

Effective snake deterrents are oils like cinnamon or clove and mothballs. Snakes will leave the area when these easily applied resources are introduced around the gardens. The “big guns” of snake repellents can be found at commercial feed or home improvement stores.

Natural Management
Broad spectrum insecticides are formulated to kill nearly every bug that come in contact with them. They may be toxic to birds and bees, beneficial insects, and humans as well, and as result upset the natural balance between the good and the bad bugs, critical to maintaining a biodiversity that allows both to coexist in harmony.

The first line of defense should be natural management and an ounce of prevention. Grow healthy disease-free plants, inspect your plants for signs of distress or damage, deadhead or remove spent blooms and leaves, water appropriately (do not overwater), and keep weeds under control.

You can also try attracting natural predators to your garden by planting certain herbs and flowers, creating a “wild plant” area with wildflowers, or even by creating a small garden pond or water area. Good examples of natural predators include birds, lizards, frogs, wasps, ladybugs, lacewings, and dragonflies.

Your garden may seem over-run with bugs, critters, and pests since nature is teeming with bugs, critters and pests, all eagerly awaiting an opportunity to feast on your precious plants. Nature also has abundant amounts of harmless and beneficial bugs and critters that will consume or at least discourage the bad guys.

Some gardeners may deal with a variety of garden pests while others may focus on one specific pest or critter. The best approach is to grow a variety of plants and experiment with different methods of control to protect them and deter the undesirables.

Placeholder imageOne of the most annoying of all pests is the tomato hornworm, a recurrent visitor to all gardens that feature tomatoes as a repeated crop. The tomato hornworm larva is green in color with L-shaped stripes and a black “horn” appendage at its rear.

It has an appetite to match its large size (nearly four inches at maturity), and it can strip a tomato plant of its leaves and new stems rapidly. Although it prefers the tomatoes in your garden, the hornworm will also make a lunch of eggplant, potatoes, and peppers.

The tomato hornworm is the larva stage of an adult sphinx moth. The moth lays its eggs on the underside of tomato leaves in the spring. The eggs take about a week to hatch, and the resulting larva will feast on your plants to maturity which takes two to four weeks.

At that time, the worms will burrow into the soil to pupate. Shortly, a new moth will emerge from the soil to lay another series of eggs (each moth may lay up to 2,000 eggs).

The hornworms are easiest to spot in the morning. In small gardens, the best control is removal and disposal although applications of bacillus thuringiensis, sold as Dipel or Bio Worm Killer, will help control and prevent outbreaks. The “big guns” in this case is the employment of Sevin or malathion products.