The undeveloped countryside in Yavapai County is full of wildlife, some of which manage to find their way into our gardens. I have encountered snakes, javalinas, killer bees, elk, deer, bears, bobcats and mountain lions. Judging by the numbers of customers asking at the garden center for help to keep critters out of their gardens, we need to handle this issue. I'm glad to share a few tricks I have that can keep wildlife in the wild and out of our gardens.
Although deer and rabbits are the most common pests in our gardens right now, we have seen several cases of pack rats and squirrels, and the occasional javalina. I depend on 6-foot high fencing to keep deer out of my garden. Although I have witnessed a deer clear a 6-foot high fence, most deer won't bother to leap a fence this height. My chain link is effective against deer but rabbits need a field fence with 1-inch mesh or smaller. I have seen a rabbit run full speed right through a chain link fence as though it weren't even there. Electric fences about 1 foot high seem to be the best weapon against javalina invaders. It seems that they don't like surprises, especially 234-volt surprises.
My next suggestion for mammal control is organic fertilizer. Blood meal is an all-natural garden fertilizer made from chicken blood. Its smell, like that of a fresh kill, sends terror through the alert systems of garden-threatening mammals. The message it emits on your behalf is: "I just killed this other critter and if you enter to munch this part of my garden the same can happen to you." Because it is a dry product, the more you water the faster the blood meal breaks down and needs to be reapplied. Although blood meal's scent wears away quickly, at least the garden has the benefit of a good plant food.
Organic magazines recommend predator urines and manures, from either coyotes or mountain lions. They send out a message similar to that of blood meal: "This garden is a predator's domain. Enter here and you will be eaten!" For several years I sold urines at our garden center, but they got poor reviews from customers. I determined that in our arid climate they evaporated too quickly to be effective, so I stopped stocking them. I think urines would work if you owned a coyote or a mountain lion that could guarantee a never-ending supply.
Over the years the best deterrent results have come from repellents. I judge the success of a product by the number of customers returning to the garden center asking for more of the same thing. The favorite organic repellent is Deer and Rabbit Repellent bottled by Biodefend. It is made from rotten eggs with a strong garlic smell that deer, rabbits, squirrels and pack rats do not like. Spray foliage, especially emerging new growth, with this clear liquid. The objective is to train mammals circling your garden that your yard tastes like rotten eggs and smells of garlic. Keep up with the spray until the animals learn that your neighbors have better tasting stuff next door!
As a rule, mammals also don't care for the taste of plants that have a strong herb aroma. Plants such as rosemary, lavender, sage and yarrow are too bitter for most animals. They feel the same about annual geraniums, lantana, marigolds and alyssum. Plants with fuzzy foliage and those with silver to blue coloring also turn them away. Night-time animal visitors to your garden will avoid perennials such as lamb's ears, gaillardia, penstemon, coreopsis, coneflower and primrose.
For more about critter-repelling plants and methods to keep animals out of your garden, come into Watters Garden Center and ask for a copy of "Deer and Rabbit Resistant Plant List." Also keep in mind that this is a frequent topic on "Gardening in Granite", my Saturday radio show from 7 to 8 a.m. on KYCA, 1480AM.
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Ken Lain, owner of Watters Garden Center in Prescott, is a master gardener and certified nursery professional who has gardened extensively throughout Yavapai County.