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How to control garden pests and varmints?

It was only last year, my third year with an open raised garden, that something discovered the bounty within. Racoons maybe, it seemed to be overnight. Until late last summer I didn't have to worry about anything, but I am sure they are now looking forward to this summer and making plans, and will probably be starting even earlier.

My local farmer had told me that the only thing that works for him is playing an AM radio talk station all night, it scares them all away. Works better than scarecrows or barbed wire he says.

I am ready to go to war...what works for you?

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  1. I had problems with raccoons a couple of years ago, a fishing buddy runs a pest control business, he let me use a couple of his live traps. He also advised me to leave a radio on. I baited the traps with the oil from canned tuna fish. The traps worked.

    His live traps were ~$75 each, I purchased 6 DP Coon Traps for ~$20 each. I didn't have problems with raccoons last year, but in February I saw 3 on the road. The DP traps are deployed but I haven't seen any evidence they are on my property. I did catch a couple of skunks and a weasel so far this year. I am not playing the radio now, I don't know if it worked, and it took some getting use to, "hearing voices outside at night". I tried sports talk and settled on Mexican Music. I joked with people, that I would find the raccoons sitting in front of the radio listening to Rush Limbaugh, doing fist pumps.

    With the live traps one has the option to relocate the prey, with the DP traps, the prey has to be killed.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Alan408

      My neighbor traps the raccoons around here and releases them, or so he says. Maybe I could pay him to do my yard too?

      Yeah the radio I'm wondering how loud it would have to be, it's pretty quiet in this neighborhood. Someone will probably investigate eventually.

    2. I scatter dry lint, swept-up dog hair, and clippings from hair cuts in mine.

      You could probably ask your barber/beautician to collect clippings for you. Human scent, etc., etc.

      11 Replies
      1. re: sunshine842

        OK now there's an original idea! Do you have to refresh it often?

        1. re: coll

          every few weeks -- I see that should have been "dryER lint"!!

          the hair and dryer lint will degrade pretty quickly -- I toss it into my compost bin, too, where it acts as a brown.

          Another idea I've heard that works very well, but have not been desperate enough to try....I've also heard that pouring human urine around the perimeter of the bed will keep critters away, too. Some send their husbands and boys out to wee around the edges, some collect it and carefully pour it along the edges (old milk carton or similar) Makes infinite sense, but I've never had critter problems quite that bad....

            1. re: sunshine842

              Most males are for rent, and will pee for beer. It helps if you 'pay' them first...:)

              1. re: Veggo

                I know...I just haven't had that severe a problem yet....

                1. re: sunshine842

                  For most men it is a pleasure, not a problem, and we like to be helpful. The world is our urinal....:)

                  1. re: Veggo

                    I have some neighbors, now that you mention it.....a themed party?

                      1. re: Motosport

                        OK drawing up some creative invitations right now.

              2. re: sunshine842

                Oh, goodness, we've been doing that for over 20 years! First to keep the raccoons out of the corn, now to keep the bears out of the house.

                1. re: c oliver

                  BTW, I learned this from Organic Gardening magazine.

          1. I trap the raccoons and groundhogs and release them near coll's home.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Motosport

              Oh so that explains it! I should have known ;-).

              1. re: coll

                I keep them in the cage for a couple of days so they're really hungry when they get to your garden.

            2. The AM radio works; it doesn't have to be loud.

              Hair and dryer lint will work if the birds don't gather it to incorporate into nests. Dog hair is especially effective.

              If you can buy it in large containers for not too much money (Big lots, etc), crushed red pepper flakes, liberally, liberally sprinkled works well.

              I have heard, anecdotally, that urine perimeters work. So far it hasn't come to that at my house. :-)

              Finally, if you have "prickly" perimeters, that helps....zucchini on the outside edges, etc.

              12 Replies
              1. re: pinehurst

                I have a groundhog burrow a few feet from my veggie garden. I blocked it with stones and small logs to no avail. In desperation I even peed down the hole!! I felt a bit like Bill Murray in Caddyshack. Finally I just erected a substantial wire mesh fence around the garden which is fairly small. Success!!

                1. re: Motosport

                  Moto, did you sink the fence into the ground at all? :-) Caddyshack :-)

                  1. re: pinehurst

                    Sort of. I sunk some RR ties and attached the fence to them. Not to say the varmints could not burrow under but in two years it's been ok.

                    1. re: Motosport

                      I am trying to avoid manual labor; but if it comes down to it, I'll figure it out somehow.

                      Many of my neighbors also have vegetable gardens, so all I have to do is make it a little less accessible than theirs I figure.

                      1. re: coll

                        Or just plant daffodils. Nothing eats daffodils. You then trade the dafs for the neighbor's veggies.

                        1. re: Motosport

                          I really have to do some serious research, aren't marigolds the answer to everything bad? since my tomato seeds just popped above the soil this morning, I should have a few good weeks left.

                          1. re: coll

                            Some critter lopped off every single marigold head during the night, right after I had planted 'em. I think it was snails who had a vendetta 'cause of my other snail baits. All the stalks and leaves were intact, just off with their heads (the marigolds, not the snails).

                            1. re: pine time

                              That kills that idea! The other day, something ate all the crocus stems that hadn't even bloomed yet. Squirrels? The neighborhood cat? Wish I could afford security cameras, it'd be more interesting than watching TV!

                                1. re: Alan408

                                  OMG another thing to worry about. We had an infestation in our mailbox last year.

                                  1. re: coll

                                    Gardening is not for the faint of heart, is it? Vicious out there!

                                    1. re: pine time

                                      Over the winter, I always forget about the existence of bugs. I have to get my tick outfit out pretty soon though.

                2. You can buy relatively inexpensive electric fencing--look for it in the pet department, not in the farm store. 'Training' is important for electric fences--depending on what you are trying to keep out, hang bacon on it, smear it with peanut butter (before you turn it on!) or drape some apple slices over it. One sniff or bite and beasties will hightail it out of town.

                  And it doesn't permanently injure them, just scares and smarts a little.

                  For more money, you can buy electrified poultry wire.

                  1. Be warned that trapping and transporting wild animals is illegal in most places. Our MO conservation officer says it is fine to trap most nuisance animals and kill them, but moving them somewhere else is a no-no. It also generally ends in the death of the animal anyhow, because they don't know escape routes in their new neighborhood, and they may be infringing on another animal's territory, leading to fighting and injuries.

                    1. Got a phone message today, I have 3 raccoon traps deployed, caught 1 racoon and the two other traps had been tripped.

                      Regarding pee and hair, I have dogs, they shed and pee, doesn't deter anything. And, there have been a couple of humans who peed in the area too.

                      I have a chicken coop at the cabin, I have (had) pheasant and partridges in them. Double fenced, the traps are inside the first fence.

                      Raccoons kill and eat my birds, weasels kill and drink the birds blood, I think the skunks eat the feed and any dead birds. I have learned by the remains, what killed them.

                      A neighbor occasionally raises chickens in the enclosure, sometimes he spends the night out there, I know this because I sometimes hear gunfire.

                      He burns the carcasses, he thinks that deters their relatives from visiting. Another neighbor used to hang coyote carcasses on his fence, said a coyote won't cross a fence with a carcass on it.

                      Sometimes I think I would rather deal with the live raccoons than deal with the smell of them in a burn barrel.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Alan408

                        Thanks my husband will be happy to hear. I had told him about my plans to clip his hair short and collect urine samples this summer, I don't think he was thrilled ;-)

                        1. re: Alan408

                          greeeeeeeen acres is the place for me.....

                        2. For what it is worth: I probably have a thousand daffodils in my yard. Nothing eats dafs, NOTHING!!!
                          I gave up on battling the wildlife that's lived here way before my time.
                          Except of course for the strong fence around my small veggie garden.
                          Just saying!

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Motosport

                            I have the materials for a deer fence, but probably not enough for all four beds. Plus it would be so ugly, ha, yeah I know. My neighbors did a white picket fence around theirs, but they also have a couple of beagles and I think that's what really does the trick.

                            I do have a neighborhood cat that likes to hang out in our yard and I don't discourage her. The women at my gym were just discussing this very subject this morning as I arrived, at least I know it's not just me.

                            1. re: coll

                              Deer can jump anything under six feet. If on a slope, they can jump even higher.

                          2. A proven, wide-spectrum deterrent for sniffing animals is ground hot red pepper, scattered on the soil. I'm surprised not to see this prominent already in the thread. Forget your gimmicks like urine crystals (more below). Ground hot pepper is the most effective measure (of many) that I've tried, short of trapping.

                            This is a standard adjunct to birdseed to discurage rodents from taking it (hot pepper doesn't affect birds, just animals that sniff). I even saw a Pest-Control guide from one of the large university agriculture schools comparing pest repellents and recommending red pepper (the comparison said that some commercially sold "repellents" actually attract some pests). It's benevolent to the plants, and it even smells good. Just be sure not to scatter it during a breeze (or you may get "pepper-sprayed") and renew it periodically, especially after rain.

                            I get mine inexpensively from Indian grocers here in silicon valley. At times, when running short, I've diluted it with ground BLACK pepper from a local bulk supplier. Side benefit: the combination smells even better, like a spice rub.

                            21 Replies
                            1. re: eatzalot

                              Thanks for a completely different idea. I have tons of hot and black pepper on hand, can't hurt to try. Will check back later in the season.

                              1. re: coll

                                when I had a dog who was a world-class digger, I went to Costco and bought a restaurant-sized jug of ground black pepper.

                                shook it liberally on the areas that he liked to tear up (making sure I was upwind -- yike) --

                                That was the end of that problem.

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  This is good to know. I was just cleaning out the cat litter pan and was thinking.....nah forget it!

                                  1. re: coll

                                    that was for a domestic digger...truly don't know if it would work on wildlife.

                                    You also don't want to put cat litter on your garden -- never, ever mulch with poo from carnivores (parasites, stench, varmints) -- but if your garden smells like cat pee, your cat will absolutely want to, um, add to the aroma. (the clay wouldn't do your soil any favors, either)

                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                      Oh I didn't mean IN the garden OMG! I thought somehow near the perimeter but that's as far as I got ;-)

                                      1. re: coll

                                        wasn't sure....lots of people think you ought to be able to compost dog and cat poo....

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          Nope, horse, cow, goat and chicken for me. Wish I could get elephant (Zoo Doo) but don't think the Bronx Zoo sells it anymore.

                              2. re: eatzalot

                                Yeah, I put out suet cakes loaded with cayenne. Squirrels ate more than the birds.

                                1. re: mcf

                                  They wouldn't if you scattered loose cayenne around the suet cakes (the technique I suggested here).

                                  The point is that rodents and other foraging animals rely on sniffing. Just a little hot pepper inhaled by nose is devastating (as I have experienced when handling bulk red pepper in the past).

                                  Incidentally, birds are particularly adapted to hot red pepper. I understand that some of it may be evolution (here in the Americas where pepper plants originated, birds have been an important vector for spreading the plant seeds and at the same time, pepper plants have nourished the birds). I feed my tropical birds (Latin-American species like the little guy in the avatar pic) food pellets including 1% cayenne -- they conspicuously prefer this to the plain pellets. A taste for spicy food, no doubt inherited from ancestors.

                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                    I've sprinkled entire Costco sized bottles in other areas. Maybe our local critters just like it spicy. I've read that planting peppermint and lavendar helps to deter rodents.

                                    1. re: mcf

                                      I don't know the peculiarities of your experience but again, loose, HOT, ground red pepper is a proven preventative for sniffing animals, _inherently_ effective for the reasons I mentioned. It might not affect other types of animals, but rodents etc that sniff are notoriously vulnerable.

                                      I was able to stop squirrels digging in the roots of young trees, and also to stop night creatures (cats and/or 'possums) from pooping in a gravel walkway, by dusting with ground hot pepper. It is important to renew the treatment in a couple of weeks or so, and it loses effectiveness faster, of course, if it gets wet or windy.

                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                        It must work at least some of the time, because I see the advice and reports of improvements often. I just haven't had impressive results.

                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                          The rabbits failed to get your memo.

                                      2. re: eatzalot

                                        The Red Green Show did a segment on hot peppers in bird seed. It's at the very beginning of the video. Just make sure you stop watching after the bird bit. If you don't you'll end up binge watching, and there goes the day.


                                        Corny, but good for a chuckle.

                                        1. re: jammy

                                          10 or 15 years ago there was a (PBS?) TV documentary about ongoing battles between human residents and squirrels (stealing and stashing things like Xmas bulbs and, especially, raiding bird food).

                                          A central segment concerned someone who laid out trays, like aluminum ice-cube trays, of birdseed along some deck railings overlooking a rural back yard. To deter squirrels, the resident coupled some kind of fence electrifier, switched on and off manually, to the trays would give the rodents an alarming jolt if they stood in position to take the bird food. Then videotaped the proceedings. The show's producers edited this to several slow-motion sequences of squirrels leaping convulsively into the air, to classical dance music.

                                          I found it much easier just to use a rodent-proof bird feeder, hanging from an overhang by a wire. Rodents can't climb down the wire, and if they do get onto the feeder by some means, their weight shuts the ports by which the birds get to the seeds. Great investment at $15 or so, I've put maybe a ton of bird seed through it over several years.

                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                            I have one of those feeders. The squirrels chewed thru the plastic cylinder at the top of the feeder to get to the seeds.
                                            I also have a feeder that looks like a globe with small rectangular openings for small birds to get in to the seeds. The chipmunks get inside, fill up their cheeks so much that they can't get out thru the openings. It's comical.

                                            1. re: Motosport


                                              Maybe I've been lucky with my feeder. OTOH, its rectangular top is covered by a sort of overhanging sloped sheet-metal "roof" and one way or another, squirrels have difficulty getting into position on it. The few that try usually start down the wire from the overhanging building roof, slip off, and end up on the ground. However, they also scavenge the leftovers there from the birds' feeding, which keeps the ground underneath fairly clean and is downright synergistic.

                                              I save the ground hot pepper for other issues, where animals are rooting around in plantings, etc.

                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                The squirrels ate right thru the plastic below the metal cover.

                                              2. re: Motosport

                                                I've had one that's all metal, no plastic, it's eleven years old and not one squirrel has done more than climb around trying to get some sunflower hearts: http://www.rakuten.com/prod/duncraft-...

                                                Keeps out grackles and starlings, too, though long billed birds can hang sideways for a moment flapping one wing and grab a seed. But it's such a hassle, they don't stay long.

                                      3. re: eatzalot

                                        Our Bear League recommends Pine-Sol in addition to urine.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          hell, Pine-Sol keeps *ME* away from things.

                                      4. I tried the AM radio thing a while back, but when my wife woke me up at 3am saying, "Wake up luv, there's people talkin' out back." After that, the nightly AM radio broadcast was shut down permanently.

                                        Thankfully we're deep enough in the sticks to be able to deal with varmint problems via the combination of snare traps, a Ruger 10/22, a skinning knife, and a cooking pot.

                                        Now the only varmint issues tend to be possums, hawks, and feral pigs. The racoons have learned that my back yard is a killing ground.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: deet13

                                          and the feral pig? I'd be half-tempted to leave food out for him. That sounds like barbecue to me!

                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                            They are nasty beasts and difficult to clean.

                                            1. re: Veggo

                                              Feral hogs are nasty to clean, but they're damned tasty if you know how to clean them, and if you don't mind putting in the work.

                                              The herd of feral swine was pretty large when we moved out here (about forty or fifty so adults), but between us and our neighbors we've pretty much culled the herd.

                                              That said, possums create more garden and livestock issues around here than anything else. But the two little guys below are my primary defense against them...

                                        2. gourmanda: "The rabbits failed to get your memo."

                                          Let's be fair: I've yet to see a rabbit tolerate a sniff of loose hot pepper. But its effectiveness as a repellent requires two factors: The pepper must be loose and potent (not old, wet, etc.), and the animal must be navigating by nose. Unfortunately, that doesn't cover all situations. It worked in the two cases I dealt with (squirrels digging around roots, and unknown nocturnal poopers on gravel).

                                          Below, assorted reading on hot pepper products as animal repellents (many other references deal with sprays, which have some overlapping application to repel certain vertebrates, but are more often used as contact insecticides for plants):





                                          Commercial dry pepper-based products:




                                          Novel side note: Archived US EPA correspondence permitting maker of Havahart "Critter Ridder" granules to add "chipmunks" to approved list of repelled animals in product labeling:


                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                            Well, it was an exceptionally dumb rabbit. After we got it out of the middle garden by continually blocking the entrance to its nest with bricks and rocks (the loose, potent red pepper was not effective). It then built it's nest in the middle of our backyard (unbeknownst to us) where of course it was found by our dog who loves to hunt varmints. That was a gross scene.

                                            Liquid Fence keeps usually keeps the lillies safe until it's washed away by rain.