Monday, September 21, 2015

Preventing Animal Damage in your Garden By Joyce D’Agostino

Squirrel damage photo Missouri Botanical Gardens
Few things are as disappointing to a gardener as to find a vegetable or fruit you were looking forward to harvesting has been destroyed by an animal. 
Depending on your area, the animals that can invade your garden can be as large as deer or small like voles, chipmunks and small rabbits. All of these animals are used to foraging plants and welcome any readily accessible source of edibles. These edibles often include many of your favorite plants including lettuce, greens, fruit and even tomatoes.
I first noticed few weeks ago that the squirrels seemed to be nipping off the heads of the sunflowers. Then shortly after, I found some tomatoes and peppers that had been pulled from the plants, a bite or two taken out of it and then left to rot.  This was especially disappointing when these animals seemed to be doing this on a regular basis and actually starting to thin out the fruit on the plants.
Since the damage seemed to have been done by a larger animal, I suspected that the damage done was possibly by a small raccoon that I had seen several times this summer. In talking to an exterminator, I found out there were several methods they could use to trap and release these animals, but it was very costly.
One method that might be more affordable is placing some screen or fencing around your plants to make a barrier so that the animals can’t access the plant and the fruits and vegetables. I tried this and it has helped just in keeping them physically apart from the plants they want to raid. If it seems each year these visitors want to return, then a permanent screen or fence may help.
Another method I tried is a repellent. You can find these repellents in hardware stores or plant nursery stores.  If you choose to use a repellent, read the label carefully first to make sure that the product is suitable for the animal you think is causing the damage in your garden. Some may say they will repell small animals but may be ineffective in the animal that is coming to your garden.
The other thing to note is the toxicity of the product. The labels on products like these are legal documents that tell you how you must use the products, the safe handling, where it can be applied and other important features. In order for the product to work as described on the label, you must follow the instructions exactly as written. For example, some products cannot be applied on the plant or directly around it, so it is important to read all of the information completely for safe handling. 
Also, if you choose to use organic gardening methods, look for the “OMRI” certification on the label. This stands for Organic Materials Review Institute, an international non-profit organization that reviews hundreds of products to see if they meet the organic standards. Remember however that even if a product has OMRI on the label, you must still read the safe use and handling of the product to make sure it is used correctly and effectively.