UC Master Gardeners

How to manage animal pests in your garden

UC Master GardenersMay 21, 2013 

This little fellow may look cute, but raccoons can do serious damage to your plants, fruits, vegetables and flowers.

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    Contact the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners: at 781-5939 from 1 to 5 p.m. on Monday and Thursday; at 473-7190 from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesday in Arroyo Grande; and at 434-4105 from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday in Templeton. Visit the UCCE Master Gardeners Web site at http://ucanr.org/sites/mgslo/ or e-mail mgsanluisobispo@ucdavis.edu.

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.

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