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Animal Pests in the Garden

By Judy Sedbrook, Colorado Master GardenerSM, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County

There are a number of animals commonly found in the urban setting that can become pests. Squirrels, raccoons, even stray dogs and cats can tear up turf and flowerbeds, destroy bird feeders and consume pet food.

During the winter, these animals will take advantage of spaces in homes and storage buildings that can provide them with shelter and warmth. Common damage caused by animals in attics and crawlspaces include torn insulation, chewed electric wires and odors from their excrement.

SQUIRRELS and RACCOONS

Squirrels and raccoons can enter a structure by traveling along electrical lines, cable TV wires, or by jumping from nearby tree limbs and entering holes in siding, unscreened vents or chimneys. Once inside, they often damage insulation, wiring or household contents.

Squirrels can also cause extensive damage in the vegetable garden or flowerbeds by eating vegetables flower bulbs and freshly planted seeds, and may strip the bark off of ornamental trees and shrubs. They are often a nuisance around bird feeders, frightening desirable birds and scattering seeds. Raccoons are attracted to easy food sources, like garden produce, garbage, and pet food.

In addition to causing all of the previously listed problems that squirrels cause, raccoons have also been known to wreak havoc in the water garden in their attempt to catch the fish in a pond.

CONTROLS:

  • Because using firearms within city limits generally is prohibited, shooting squirrels or raccoons is not recommended in urban areas.
  • Trim overhanging tree limbs and limbs that are within jumping distance (5 to 6 feet) of the house.
  • If they are traveling along a power, cable TV or telephone line have the company or an electrical contractor place a slit piece of plastic PVC pipe , 24 inches long, over the wire. When a squirrel or raccoon tries to cross it, the pipe rotates and the animal loses its footing. Do not attempt to do this yourself.
  • Cover chimneys or attic and crawl space vents with mesh screen. If a squirrel does get into a chimney, it may be unable to get out on its own and have to be removed. Consult your local animal control agency for help in accomplishing this. Also be sure to remove any material in the chimney that the squirrel may have brought in for nest building.
  • Distract squirrels away from bird feeders by providing ear or shelled corn away from bird feeders. Place bird feeders at least 8 feet away and 6 feet off the ground. If the bird feeder is atop a pole, place a baffle on the pole so that it cannot be climbed or lubricate it with petroleum jelly to keep the animal from getting a good foothold.
  • Place plastic pipe over ropes or wires suspending feeders so that the squirrels cannot get a good footing.
  • Animal-proof trees by placing 2-foot wide metal bands around them, 6 feet off the ground.
  • You can protect vegetable gardens by surrounding them with a fence of 1-inch mesh wire at least 30 inches high. The fence should extend 6 inches below ground, with an additional 6 inches bent outward at a 90-degree angle to discourage burrowing. Set at least two electrified strands, one 2 to 6 inches above ground and the other at fence height, off the fence about 3 inches.
  • Protect newly planted bulbs with l-inch mesh poultry wire over the plantings and covering it with mulch. You may also want to try soaking the bulbs in a squirrel repellent before planting.
  • Protect trees by wrapping their trunks with metal sheeting or using baffles to keep the squirrels from climbing the tree. Remember to allow for tree growth when applying wrapping.
  • To help prevent scavenging by raccoons, use metal trash cans that are fastened to a pole or to another solid object. A strap or latch that secures the lid of the garbage can is also helpful.
  • Consult your local animal control agency before attempting to trap any animal so that you don't violate any local laws and always take precautions to reduce hazards to non-target wildlife or pets. If you do resort to trapping, good bait to use with squirrels is peanut butter. Trapping raccoons can pose problems. Cages or live traps won't catch the smartest raccoons, and if successful, you would still have a ferocious animal to transport and release. Raccoons can travel quite a distance to feed, so you have to release it at least two miles away. Even then there's still a good chance it will show up back at your place in a few days.
  • Repellants and Poisons: There are repellants that target both squirrels and raccoons available at most nurseries and garden centers. Poisons are not recommended because they place other wildlife and pets at risk.
  • A three-foot, single-wire electric fence is the surest way of keeping raccoons away from a pond. Do not use this method if children are a concern.

DOGS and CATS

If you have nuisance dogs or cats which are defecating in flowerbeds, chewing plants or simply walking in your yard, there are ways of controlling this behavior.

CONTROLS:

  • Sturdy fences will keep most dogs out of the yard.
  • To keep stray dogs and cats (or even your own) out of a pond, try a three-foot single-strand electrified wire around the area.
  • A temporary electric fence might help train dogs to stay away from new shrubbery and other areas, too.
  • If a fence is impractical or undesirable, try a commercial odor repellent. These products require periodic renewal. They release a scent, which makes dogs and cats uncomfortable and will keep them away from treated areas. Granules can be used to cover large areas such as lawns, where defecation may be a problem. Sprays are more easily used on individual objects or plants that are being chewed. The repellent tastes terrible, and once an animal gets a taste of it, they will not chew the treated object again.
  • In flowerbeds, you can lay down one-inch mesh poultry wire. This prevents cats or dogs from being able to walk comfortably or dig on this surface. Lay the wire flat against the soil and cut out openings to accommodate the plants. Secure it in place by bending the edges and pressing them into the ground. Conceal the wire by lightly covering it with mulch.
  • To remove the unpleasant odors that may be left from unwanted dogs or cats urinating or defecating in your yard, try one of the commercial products available at pet and garden shops for this purpose.

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Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010