In San Luis Obispo County, our suburban homes rub up against the wilder habitats of our native animal neighbors. Sometimes we interrupt their natural patterns of survival, and often times add attractive alternatives to their food choices.
Colorful flowers, nubile sprouts and fresh fruit often become more attractive to native creatures than their normal fare of wild grasses and scarce foliage. But for the home gardener, the animals may be considered wildlife pests that damage pretty plants, edible fruits and tasty vegetables.
How to manage this inherent conflict is challenging, but not impossible. Here are a few tips for the backyard gardener.
Most wild animals feed at night or in the early morning and late evening, so they are not easily seen. This is especially true of large animals such as deer, raccoons, opossums and rabbits.
The most general advice that can be given about controlling these prowlers is to provide barriers. The largest and most pastoral looking animal, a deer, requires the most effort to block from your garden. Physical barriers, such as 8-foot fences, are required to keep them out of large gardens. Tall, wire-mesh fencing may be used around smaller areas and trees.
Besides physical barriers, odor repellants are available, although some have limited effects. Check with your local nursery about deer resistant plants such as digitalis, euphoria, narcissus, tulipa, nepeta and ornamental grasses. Roses and other thorny plants are not resistant to deer.
Rabbits, skunks, opossums and raccoons are also pests in local gardens. They, too, need barriers. Those that climb need tall fences with 1-1/2-foot unsupported wire above fencepost tops so the animals fall off.
A large dog will generally be a helpful deterrent, as will odor repellants. Random lighting and sprinkler systems will confuse them and cause them to look for easier places to forage.
In all cases, garbage should be carefully stowed away in a container with a tight-fitting lid so as to not provide an attractive dining area. Overgrown vines and ground covers should be trimmed since they are favorite habitats.
Steve McDermott is a UC Master Gardener.