Criminal Critters: Management Strategies

Yep. Definitely guilty. Image source: Kelsey Behl

Yep. Definitely guilty.
Image source: Kelsey Behl

Last week we met our prime suspects for animal damage in the landscape. This week we'll turn to management strategies. There are five main options: taste and odor repellents, visual and sound repellents, poisons and traps, altering the habitat, and professional grade repellents and trapping services.

Taste and odor repellents include most of the products you'll find at the garden center. Most rely on smells like rotten eggs and garlic combined with a spicy pepper flavor to keep critters away, but there are some products that use animal pheromones to signal to specific animals that the area not safe. Sprays and granules are common options, and there are some slow-release odor products as well. Some common DIY remedies fall into this category as well, such as hanging human hair or chunks of bar soap. These repellents are popular because they're easy to find, but their effectiveness varies widely, and it can be expensive to treat a large area all season. Specific products are designed for different animals, but these options can be used to control rabbits, deer, squirrels, and chipmunks.

Visual and sound repellents aim to frighten away animals with strange and unexpected sights and sounds that could suggest danger. Options include motion-activated lights (for nighttime invaders), owl decoys, any moving shiny objects, and ultrasonic sound emitters. Sound and visual deterrents should not be used alone - animals quickly learn what does and does not pose a real threat. They are most effective when combined with taste and odor repellents and when changed frequently. These methods are most effective for deer, but can also help with rabbits

Next up are poisons and traps. These are especially effective for moles, which can't be controlled by any of the other methods we mention. Poison bait worms and peanuts work fairly well for moles, and there are also metal traps you can set in their tunnels. There are live traps for chipmunks, squirrels, and raccoons if you prefer an option that doesn't kill the animal, but most of the methods in this category are lethal to the animal.

I considered listing altering the habitat as the first method since it's often the most effective, but it can involve significant changes to the landscape that not everyone will be interested in. Plus, they don't work for all of the pests we mentioned (good luck making your garden uninviting to chipmunks and squirrels). These methods focus on making it impossible (or very difficult) for the animal to get in, or removing whatever it was that attracted the animal to your garden in the first place. For example, deer love hostas, so if you live in an area with a lot of deer, they will probably find ways to eat your hostas no matter what. Astilbe and brunnera are great shade alternatives (for a longer list of deer-tolerant plants, check out our deer control post from last spring). Fencing can keep out deer and rabbits, as long as rabbits can't wriggle under and deer can't hop over. To keep moles from wanting to live in your lawn, keep insects and grubs under control with insecticides and let your lawn get a little drier than you might want (dry soil is harder to dig in). Removing brush piles or heavy undergrowth and sealing off crawl spaces can eliminate cover for animals and encourage them to go elsewhere.

If all of these options fail, and you feel like your culprits are doing enough damage that they absolutely must go, you can call a professional pest control company. They are experts and knowing what methods are best for each situation, and there are some trapping and repellent options available to them that aren't available to homeowners. You can also check out the sidebar links on this website for more specific control options for different species that might be causing problems. Good luck! We have to share our gardens with wildlife, but it's good to have some choice in who's invited to the party.

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