Animals come looking for food, for freshly turned earth, and for companionship. Deny the pests the things that attract them, and there's a better chance they'll leave your yard alone.
- Keep meat, fats, and bones out of the compost. Wrap these things up well when you put out the household garbage, so the scent won't attract hungry meat-eaters. For the same reason, clean up carefully after a backyard barbecue or picnic.
- Don't let your own pets run loose. If possible, train your own pet to stay out of forbidden areas of the property, spay or neuter outdoor pets, and keep unspayed females inside through mating season.
A fence may protect your yard and garden from unwanted animal visitors -- particularly dogs -- but there are no guarantees that the expense will be worth the results. Deer can often jump fences, cats and squirrels can climb them, mice ignore them, and groundhogs can tunnel underneath. Sometimes other measures are required.
- Cover newly seeded garden beds with netting or chicken wire to discourage hungry birds and squirrels as well as digging cats.
- To keep the bark from being stripped off tree trunks, wrap them with netting, chicken wire, or several layers of heavy paper.
- Some people with lots of garden space plant extra seeds each year, so their families don't miss the part of the crop that goes to feed rabbits and raccoons.
Repellents trigger the natural fears and dislikes of animal pests, so it helps to be sure which animal is causing you problems. If you can't tell who's been eating the vegetables or digging in the flower bed, spread an even layer of ordinary white flour on the ground and watch for footprints. Once you know what animal is visiting, you can choose your tool for repelling it.
Bats, snakes, and toads aren't really pests at all, but some of the best natural allies we could have in the yard and garden. For example, one bat can eat thousands of mosquitoes each night, while toads love grubs, cutworms, slugs, and other insect pests. The harmless snakes native to New Brunswick help to control rodents and insects; garter snakes in particular are great for controlling slugs.
Birds are also welcome insect-eaters in the yard, but not when they take all the strawberries or make a meal of expensive grass seed where you hoped to have a lawn. Where netting isn't practical, try constructing a network of threads to discourage the birds from landing. Try to keep in mind that birds will always do more good than harm.
- Provide fresh water and keep the birdfeeder filled, or plant "decoy" bushes of the sour berries birds prefer.
- Scare off small birds with a statue of an owl, or cut the silhouette of a hawk from dark paper, cover it with plastic or some other weather resistant covering, and place it like a shadow in the garden. Lay out short lengths of an old garden hose to look like snakes.
- Make shiny pinwheels from old foil pie plates, fastened to fence posts, or to sticks pushed into the ground. Hang milk cartons, crumpled foil, cardboard, styrofoam food trays, or other household discards in trees and change the display often.
Cats go for patches of soft earth more than what grows there -- unless it's catnip! Cover bare earth with chicken wire, stick a 'forest' of twigs and branches into the ground between young plants, or mulch with a coarse material such as shredded bark, pebbles, or wood chips. Avoid fish emulsion fertilizer, which attracts cats.
- Try to catch digging cats "in the act" with a splash or spray of cold water: it won't hurt the cat, but he/she won't want to risk it too often. Remove any wastes and mask the lingering odour with a strong scent that cats don't like.
Deer can jump fences up to 6 to 8 feet high. Build a tall fence, or two lower fences (4 or 5 feet high and the same distance apart). Spread chicken wire on the ground where you can't otherwise close off your yard: deer don't like how it feels underfoot.
Dogs can be frustrating if you don't have a good strong fence. They cheerfully ignore most repellents, and walk right over chicken wire or netting covers.
- If dogs are attracted to one particular shrub, perhaps on a corner of your property, try pounding a "decoy" stake into the ground, about a foot out from the drip line of the branches. A dog will often lift his/her leg against the stake, if it's closer, and won't damage the bush.
Groundhogs don't nibble, they devour. And they're tricky for the inexperienced person to trap successfully.
- If a groundhog has already made a home on your property, be an annoying neighbour. Disturb its sensitive hearing with vibrations in the ground: pound a pipe deep into the ground near the tunnel and rig up pieces of metal or wood, like wind chimes, to hit the pipe almost constantly.
Mice and rats may go elsewhere to eat if grains in bird feeders are accessible only to birds, and other tempting food is kept in sealed garbage containers, and the yard is cleaned of anything that might serve as a nesting place.
- If you have old plastic dropcloths or shower curtains, spread these between garden rows: raccoons, like many other animal pests, don't like to walk on plastic.
- Some people plant just the outside rows of a corn patch with a later variety. With luck, the raccoons will be fooled into waiting for the late corn to ripen, and the gardener can enjoy the earlier crop.
- Another tactic is to plant pumpkin or cucumber seeds between corn rows, because raccoons don't like to eat where they can't see, and these vines have a thick crop of large leaves.
Skunks are relatively harmless, not very intelligent, and great little night-hunters of rodents and insects. If a digging skunk leaves holes in your lawn, be pleased that it's hunting for harmful grubs: the holes will disappear in no time. Stay very still, when you meet a skunk, and let it wander away. Skunks spray only when they're startled or threatened -- tomato juice is still the best remedy for the smell.
Squirrels may cause havoc in bird feeders, but they don't do much other damage, except when they root up young plants while digging for something else. Flowering bulbs are an exception, often planted just when the squirrels are gathering a winter's supply of food: hide your tasty tulips bulbs among others that repel squirrels, like daffodils and the crown imperial fritillaria.