Gardens: Fast food for hungry critters

Cute critters by day, gardeners' worst enemies by night.
Most gardeners know the frustration of having a beautiful garden decimated by wildlife, said University of Missouri Extension horticulturist David Trinklein.
"Our four-legged 'friends' can be more formidable garden foes than insects, diseases and weeds," said Trinklein. "Because of their size and our inability to control their numbers in urban and suburban areas, deer probably are the most formidable offenders."
Deer and other critters like food that is tasty and convenient, he said. A garden is wildlife's equivalent of a fast food drive-thru. Gardens are especially enticing to wildlife when they cannot find food in their native habitats, such as during drought.
Avoid animal pests by putting barriers in their way, Trinklein said. Pungent smells and unpleasant tastes may dissuade wildlife such as deer. Some gardeners choose chemical repellents with repugnant odors. Spray these around the edge of the garden. Keep in mind human and pet safety, plant toxicity and expense when considering these options, he said.
There are numerous homespun remedies for repelling wildlife. One of the easiest is a mixture of 20% whole eggs and 80% water. Reapply monthly. Some commercial repellents contain capsaicin, the chemical that gives the fire to hot peppers. Other homespun remedies include sachets containing dog hair and highly perfumed soap.
Objects such as scarecrows, foil, aluminum pie plates, predatory bird figures and mirrors can help deter deer, raccoons, rabbits and other pests. These are most effective when moved frequently, said Trinklein. Animals become accustomed to them if they're left in the same place.
More drastic methods include fences, netting and small cages over individual plants such as tomatoes. These can be effective but expensive, he said. Using 36-inch-high chicken wire buried 6 inches in the ground can exclude smaller wildlife such as rabbits and squirrels. For deer, fences must be 8 or more feet high to be effective.
Electric fences also are an option. Deter small species with two strands of electric fencing 2 and 4 inches above the ground. Larger animals require taller fences. Trinklein recommends clearly labeling all electric fencing to avoid accidental contact by humans.
Plant selection is another way to deter wildlife. Common garden flowers considered to be deer-resistant include ageratum, geranium, marigold, morning glory, nasturtium, salvia, snapdragon, Shasta daisy, canna, liatris, petunia, phlox, verbena, vinca and yarrow. For a more complete list, go to ipm.missouri.edu/MEG/2009/7/Critter-Control-in-the-Garden.
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