You would think by the comments of customers coming into the garden center that animals have taken over the towns. I moved back into Prescott last fall and the only wild creatures I’ve seen since the move are a few birds and rabbits, both very easy to deal with. We moved from Skull Valley, where we taught the kids what to do if they encounter snakes, javalina, bear, lions, killer bees, deer, elk and the rest. The country around the tri-city area is wild and full of wildlife. I’ve learned a few tricks in dealing with wildlife.
The most common critters in the garden right now are deer and rabbit, but we have seen several cases of pack rats, squirrel and recently porcupine. Deer and rabbit are easy to contend with. I’ll always start off with fencing. Six-foot fencing seems to be the magic height for keeping most deer out of the garden, although I have personally witnessed a deer clearing a six-foot fence. But usually they don’t take the time or trouble to leap a fence that tall. I have seen a rabbit run full speed right through a chain link fence as though it wasn’t there. Use a field fence with spacing down around one inch or smaller to keep rabbits out.
Electric fences work great on javalina when placed about one foot off the ground. They don’t like surprises, especially 12-volt surprises. This has been the best fix for javalina.
The next step to mammal controls are organic fertilizers – blood meal specifically. Blood meal is an all-natural fertilizer for the garden that really is made from blood. It greens up your garden, but more importantly it’s the smell of a fresh kill that sends terror in the minds of animals. The message you’ll be sending to surrounding critters is, “I just killed your friend, and if you enter to munch this part of my garden the same can happen to you!”
The next solution is a messy business. We’re talking about predator urine and manure, or scat. Organic magazines will mention coyote or mountain lion specifically. The same message is sent to surrounding critters: “Don’t enter because this is a predators domain; enter and you will be eaten.” I sold coyote urine for several years with mixed results at my garden center. I finally determined that it evaporated too quickly to be effective. Thus, I stopped pushing a questionable product in my store. I think it would work if you owned a coyote or lion and had access to an unending supply of their byproducts. Until then, I don’t recommend this route.
Blood meal wears off quickly as well, but at least you reap the benefit of a good plant food out in the garden. The product is in a dry form. The more you water, the faster the blood meal breaks down, and more will need to be sprinkled in the garden.
The best deterrents over the years have been from repellents of either scent or taste. If you have new plantings there is a great systemic tablet that can be planted with the tree or shrub that is absorbed by the plant and repels animals for two years. The product is called, “Repellex systemic tablets” and really works, but not on edible plants you wish to harvest. It will make your fruit tree products taste bad as well.
Personally, I have had very good success with “Plant Pro-Tec garlic clips”. For big established plants this one is easy to use and highly effective. Green capsules filled with garlic are broken, then clipped onto shrubs or trees at the pests’ level. There is a distinct garlic smell that deer and rabbit disdain and thus move on to eat at your neighbor’s house. Each clip will last for an entire season.
My best seller is “Liquid Fence Plus”. Just think of the smell of garlic and the taste of rotten eggs, as that’s what the animal will be thinking. I know it’s effective because many of my tried and true gardeners are using the product and coming back for more. I have preliminary reports that it works on javalina. I make no promises with javalina, but several customers have said they haven’t bothered them in months. “Liquid Fence Plus” is the best value per gallon if you need quantity.
The bottom line is this: you need to convince the animals in your gardens that you grow bad-tasting plants. That way they go to your neighbors and eat their yard.
Porcupine have been active in the last few weeks. I have seen obvious porcupine damage on customers plants and never had anyone admit that they have porcupine. However, these nocturnal animals meander through yards at night throughout the tri-city area.
Signs are teeth marks on the trunks of trees, eventually girdling the tree until it dies.
It can be at the base of the trunk, or a porcupine can decide to climb the tree and chew the bark several feet off the ground. You should be worried if you see this symptom, as the tree is in grave danger.
Paint the wound immediately with a black pruning paint to keep the remaining bark from drying out. Wrap the wound with a tree wrap to create an artificial bark for the plant.
Then keep it watered well. You’ve done all you can. Perform the usual rituals gardeners do in the garden – talk to the plant, pray over it, play it special music, but ultimately you’ve done everything you can for the injury. If it makes it through summer, you have a survivor.
Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.
Ken Lain is the owner of Watters Home and Garden Center and is an Arizona certified nursery professional and master gardener.