Lakewood Observer's Victory Garden 3: Pests In Your Garden

A woman approached the checkout at the garden center last week and asked if there was anything we offered that would successfully repel squirrels from her vegetable garden. Another lady, six feet away at the closest, chimed in, “You know how we got rid of them at our church?”

“No Ma’am, how?” I inquired wondering where this was going.

“We made them members, now they only show up on Christmas and Easter,” she answered as the room broke into laughter.

If you have fought critters in your vegetable garden, you understand how maddening it can be getting to harvest. The suburban garden is under relentless attack by the animals and insects around it as well as the families that grow them. Properly preparing for such an invasion can save hours of frustration and countless profanities.  

Squirrels are consistently the pest we seem to be helping customers fight off at the shop. Although we have tried numerous approaches over the years, the best defense against squirrels is always an enclosure. Some sort of frame with a chicken wire wrap is the best defense. In our own experience a combination of repellants paired with aromatic herbs around the edge of the garden has been the most effective approach. One approach we are excited to test this year is hanging Christmas ornaments on tomato plants that have yet to fruit. The idea is to use a red ornament in the shape of a tomato, the squirrel comes to claim its prize and finds out this tomato is not appetizing and avoids your plants for the duration of the season.

Deer can be amongst the most devastating animals to the home garden. Commonly referred to as overgrown rodents these pests come out of the valley, travelling the train tracks or the lakefront to wreak havoc on the landscape. As with squirrels the best defense is an enclosure. If your garden is large enough, you should consider at minimum a 6’ fence, however 10’ is best. If you are unable to use such a fence, we have had good results using feather meal to keep them away from crops. Deer are creatures of habit and trust their noses more than their eyes. Aromatic plants will work to some degree with deer although a hybrid approach is still best. If you can find a repellant that they do not like the smell of, you will have a better chance. A new tactic we will use this year is a scarecrow that we will move around the garden to keep them guessing.

Birds can be an issue for those who grow berries. Netting usually eliminates this threat, however we suggest that you make your netting visible by attaching ribbon or streamers to it so birds can see that it is there and avoid it. Removing birds from tangled netting can be a daunting task. Many farms use predator decoys to deter birds and other small animals from their crops. A well-placed plastic owl can work wonders.

However you decide to fight the pests in your garden this season, make sure that your approach is proactive. Allowing animals to find out that they like the same foods as you will make keeping them out harder. Our offensive this year will be multi-faceted and is already underway. After we prepped our beds, I sprinkled them with bone meal and blood meal. Both products are fertilizers that are known to have some repellant qualities. The garden has also been fenced off. I am considering a roof of chicken wire that will be poorly attached to from fence to fence. Racoons and squirrels are less likely to climb an unstable structure. Around the perimeter of the garden we will plant the aromatic herbs such as lavender, rosemary, and thyme. We will add marigolds here and there, while they repel, they also attract pollinators. In situations where they are compatible, we’ll use garlic and onions as under plantings, especially around our tomatoes.

Regardless of what you grow, something will be coming to eat it. Be prepared. Be proactive. Be well.

Paul and his wife Jenna own Lakewood Garden Center at 13230 Detroit Avenue. In the coming months we will be working with Lakewood Garden Center and Lakewood Hardware (16608 Madison Avenue) with helping us all build COVID-19 Victory Gardens.    

Paul Bilyk

Publisher, Lakewood Observer, Inc.

Read More on Lakewood Victory Gardens
Volume 16, Issue 11, Posted 8:02 PM, 05.19.2020