How to Keep Bambi Out of Your Garden



by Barbara Pallenberg

Border Patrol

Of course, I have nothing personal against our animal friends, and in fact, rather like them. They can, however, do a mean business on your hard-earned loot. So to keep your garden intact, you'll want to deter animals and insects while doing both your plants and the invaders the least amount of harm.


Animal Repellents

Poisonous, sticky plants, or those with an unpleasant texture or nasty taste, will keep deer and other animals away, but be warned-they'll eat anything if they or the winter has finished off their favorite food source. Thorny plants, such as the Natal plum I have in my yard, will also do a nice job of deterring uninvited guests.

Because they emit the odor of humans, hair trimmings are effective against wild animals (but you have to be the family barber, as I am, unless you have the nerve to ask a salon, preferably your own). Put them in the foot end of a stocking and hang at head level against deer and raccoons, lower for rabbits. Hanging mirrors and silvery tape sometimes keep deer and other larger animals away.

Not a guerrilla method (i.e., you have to buy them), but I saw in a seed catalogue once that the bulbs of crown imperial tulips, in addition to being huge, have a scent that repels gophers and moles.

Most nonchemical, commercial products made to protect your garden against wild animals and insects are simply a mixture of common ingredients you can make in your own kitchen for a lot less money. Use garlic, rotten eggs, hot pepper flakes, vinegar, and dish soap, pureed in the blender, then diluted with water. Easy as pie, although I sure wouldn't want to taste it. It helps to add an anti-transpirant spray, which is very sticky and will keep the stuff from washing off leaves. If you can find it in a restaurant supply or discount canned goods store, you might buy a huge bottle of hot sauce, and just try that-buying it from a pest-control firm can cost more than $100 for a gallon. If you're worried about harming birds, don't-it doesn't bother them at all, for some reason. You can also try rotten eggs by themselves, which is less offensive than having to mix them in your blender, because you can just crack them open out in the fresh air and run.

Try the above mixture (or a reasonable facsimile) to deter rabbits from gnawing around the soil line of trees and bushes. Or tear up an old sheet (so you have six-foot-long strips), dip the strips into the repulsive (but nonpoisonous) mix, and wrap them around the trunk. If skunks or squirrels are the problem, try using rags soaked in ammonia.

You can also try elephant garlic rubbed directly on your tree trunks (two or three feet above ground level for deer, lower for rabbits). As an alternative, try planting a bed of garlic or chives, which you can then mow. The odor should keep animals (as well as many bugs) away.

Perhaps the ultimate in guerrilla gardening is to use human urine. I haven't tried it. I guess I could strew my baby granddaughter's very wet diapers around, or offer to take them off the hands of a childcare center, but I think I'd ultimately prefer the pesky animals-and who knows-maybe animals can tell that it's harmless baby pee. A rather pricey option (think about harvesting it!) is to buy coyote, fox, wolf, cougar, or bobcat pee to frighten off deer and other animals. I once bought a tiny, expensive bottle of cougar pee concentrate for my sister, whose garden in Sag Harbor gets ravaged every week by flower-loving deer. I don't think she ever used it-she just buys new plants every weekend.


Insect Repellents

For bugs that injure and kill plants, you can plant flowers that attract beneficial insects-the ones who eat the bad guys. Lady-bugs and praying mantises are well-known bad bug eaters and they're both pretty attractive as insects go. Try rosemary, fennel, nasturtium, yarrow, angelica, alyssum, anise, and any yellow flowers-marigold, a deep orangish-yellow, is a famous repellent. There's also a flower called ebony shoofly with gorgeous blue flowers and purple stems, whose leaves contain alkaloids that bugs don't like.

A simple blast of the hose works on aphids, but only if they haven't established a beachhead. Then you have to keep at it for a few days to really discourage them. I've been doing it to my son's emerging rosebuds, and it definitely works. If aphids have really gotten a hold, use soapy water.

For whiteflies, which when they've really settled in make furry beards underneath leaves, an oscillating sprinkler works best. I use a hose with a nozzle that delivers a really strong stream on my son's hibiscus bushes, which are plagued by whiteflies. You have to do it every other day until they finally give up and set up house at your neighbor's. (I also use a hard spray on my pine trees to wash off dust and smog and dead needles. The spray reaches up about twenty feet, and sometimes I get on my roof to do it, which adds another ten feet. I clean many of my other trees this way, too-and it nourishes them.)

Most of us know that some birds eat an extraordinary amount of bugs every day. You can make your own yard hospitable to birds by giving them somewhere to live and eat. Of course, different birds live in different climates, so you'll have to check out their habitats. For clearing your yard of insects, try to attract purple martins. You don't have to buy a fancy house for a colony of them, which is the way they like to live; you can make entrance holes in gourds (which you can grow!) and hang several of them together. Orioles love orange nectar, so you can make a feeder for them. You can cobble together an owl house, although they have been known around my yard to eat baby birds and squirrels, so I myself wouldn't welcome them-I've actually tried using a slingshot on them, which they completely ignored. Hummingbirds of course love nectar, which you provide by planting flowers; but you can also put out a dish of nectar you can make in your kitchen, with water, red food coloring, and sugar. Change it every day in hot weather because bacteria will form.

And then there are bats, which I am irrationally afraid of (although when not flying, and up close, they have adorable little faces). In addition to being big bug eaters, they're a species that needs protection so you'd be doing double duty by making a house for them. Bats live in colonies, so unfortunately you really can't house just a few. If you do decide to go this route, note that bats like to enter their dwelling from underneath, and your bat cave will need to be accessible at the bottom.


From Guerrilla Gardening by Barbara Pallenberg. Copyright 2001 by Barbara Pallenberg. Excerpted by arrangement with Renaissance Books. $16.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800-452-5589 or click here.