Most experienced gardeners have known the gut-wrenching feeling of seeing entire crops decimated by insects, disease or four-legged critters. There is a large variety of chemicals, sprays, traps and gadgets you can buy to save your garden from unwanted pests. Garden maintenance can cost a fortune if you aren’t careful. With a little bit of work and some basic items found around the house you can save your garden and your wallet.
Deer, rabbits & other small mammals
While deer and rabbits will nibble your garden at any time, there’s nothing worse than having them devour mature fruit and vegetables. Once mature, it is typically too late to start over. Several years ago I had the most beautiful corn coming in. I had planted enough for a summer of fresh corn for our family. The ears were big, fat and just about ready to pick until one night when a family of rabbits knocked over every plant and stripped them clean. After the deer were finished around dawn there was nothing left but corn plant parts strewn all over the garden and yard.
Since that summer I’ve experimented with different ways to keep the deer and rabbits out of my gardens. Here are a few non-toxic, eco-friendly, humane ways to discourage these pests from devouring your garden before you get a chance to.
Human & Predator Scent
One way to scare off animals is to fool them into thinking a predator is hanging around. There are quite a few ways to accomplish this and I’ve used them all with a great deal of success. The most important thing is to make sure you cover the entire garden or you will find deer happily munching your green beans close to the ground because they simply can’t smell the bar of soap you stuffed in a sock and hung on the other side of the garden.
A well-built scarecrow gives you plenty of opportunities to incorporate human scent. I save old jeans and shirts for my scarecrows and do not wash them after the last time they were worn. Periodically, I spray hair spray or rub deodorant on the clothes. I also tuck bars of soap into the pockets.
Last year I started wearing bandanas draped around my neck to help absorb sweat. It wasn’t hard to thoroughly drench one bandana while finishing my gardening chores for the day. Before leaving the garden I tied the bandana around the scarecrow’s neck and took the previous day’s bandana inside to be washed and worn again.
Sprinkling human hair in and around a garden may be an old wive’s tale, but I’m not above giving it a try. One year I sent my husband to the barber shop with a gallon size bag and asked him to have the barber fill it with hair left on the floor. It took me a bit to get over the eww factor involved here. I did use that bit of hair and don’t know how successful it was since I used it in combination with other methods. Now, I will save our own hair after a trip to the salon, but I don’t go to great lengths to get much more than that.
Perfume, soaps & deodorant
Using personal hygiene products is one of the least expensive and least harmful ways to discourage deer, rabbit and other small mammals from entering your garden. As mentioned above you can tuck bars of soap into the pockets of a scarecrow or you can slide a bar into the foot of a pair of painty hose or trouser sock and tie it off on a trellis, tomato cage or other garden structure.
To effectively use liquid products take a container like a pill bottle or herb container and drill a series of small holes slightly above the base of the container. Soak a cotton ball in the liquid and push it into the small plastic bottle. Place or hang these close the plants you want to protect. They should be nose level for both rabbit and deer. Refill these weekly or as often as necessary to keep the scent fresh.
Like liquid personal hygiene items coyote or other predator urine can be placed around the garden using small plastic bottles and cotton balls. Unlike the other products, most people don’t keep containers of coyote urine around the house. It has proven to be very effective in my garden, but I can understand why some might not feel comfortable using it.
Decoys and inflatables
When I first started using huge inflatable snakes and plastic owls with bobbing heads I got a kick out of seeing them in the garden. They are fairly easy to move around to different areas and are reusable from year to year so they aren’t a recurring expense. The only problem with them is that they can also scare away birds and birds can be a tremendous help in controlling insect pests. Once the fruit and vegetables are too large for birds to pluck from the plant I put the decoys out to help scare the critters.
Products like Deer Off are intended to be sprayed directly onto the plants you want deer, squirrels and rabbits to avoid. The ingredients aren’t toxic, but they are noxious enough to fend off animals and include ingredients like rotten eggs. If you have a very large garden to protect, these sprays can also be quite expensive.
Movement and noise
This is one of my least favorite ways to scare off mammals because it can also scare off the birds that eat the insect pests in my garden. I have noticed that hanging aluminum pie plates from wire strung a few feet off the ground does tend to ward off deer without bothering the birds quite as much. It is especially helpful at night when the deer bump into the wire and simply move along.
Before you spend a small fortune buying products to discourage small and not-so-small mammals from nibbling away at your garden, give a few of these homemade methods a try. Combine those with items like decoys and inflatables that only have to be purchased once and you should be able to create a very cost effective pest control routine for your next garden.