Who’s digging in my garden?
Before you can start to protect your garden you first have to find out who is digging in your garden! Identify the pests that cause the damage by looking at the various holes and mounds they make. It’s kind of like being able to identify animal tracks in the snow!
- Small holes that seem to follow a wall, raised bed or other structure is likely from an opossum. They tend to follow structures, as they have poor eyesight.
- A hole somewhere around the garden, about the size of a large golf ball, is probably the work of a gopher. If there are several other holes nearby, some with fresh dirt outside of them that looks like it has been finely filtered- that’s a gopher! You know this by the “kickback” soil that they leave behind as they are digging the holes.
- Mounds without any sign of a hole, accompanied by raised tunnels, indicate moles or voles. These are very common in lawns. You are seeing the raised depression of the tunnel underground.
- Irregularly shaped holes accompanied by some produce in the garden (like tomatoes), being half-eaten is typically the work of a rat!
- Voles are the likely cause of tunnels on the surface, in the grass or in dense, weedy vegetation.
- Finally, large tunnel entrances that are level with ground suggest ground squirrels. Ground squirrels tend to go into the ground at an angle versus gophers that go straight down into the ground to connect with a tunnel way.
We see the evidence of pests, now let’s look at the corresponding damage!
- Gophers are the most common and persistent garden and farm pests; they cause damage by gnawing on roots, bulbs, and seeds. They are particularly damaging in orchards where they can cause extensive damage if left unchecked.
- Moles are carnivorous and usually won’t cause garden damage. They can even be beneficial by eating grubs of pest insects and worms. Moles do leave mounds in lawns that damage grass and turf, but raking out the mounds as soon as they are found can minimize this problem.
- Rats dig out freshly planted seeds, gnaw on fresh produce and can be very damaging to baby seedlings as they can destroy a whole greenhouse – trust us! It’s happened to us!
- Voles feed on the surface, gnawing on plant stems and the woody trunks of young trees.
- Ground squirrels usually wait for crops to mature and then try to beat you to the harvest. They also make a mess of garden areas by digging tunnels.
- Birds are typically damaging in the orchard where fresh fruit is. White droppings by stripped plants are a sure clue to bird damage. Otherwise, birds can be extremely beneficial to gardens as they eat insects.
- Rabbits like to chew on stems of herbaceous plants, especially fresh plantings and will eat almost anything. If left unchecked, they can ruin your gardening dreams!
After you identify them, you can then find ways to manage them.
Fence them out
The first line of a good defense is a fence or barrier. Be thankful if you live in areas where you don’t have deer. Deer can be extremely difficult to fence out. If you do have deer, you have to build a tall fence of at least 8 feet, secure the lower edge by staking it, or even better, burying it.
If you do not have deer, a simple 3-4 foot fence can be extremely helpful at keeping out rabbits, neighborhood dogs and more.
For small areas or raised garden beds, you can bury gopher wire under your beds to ensure they can’t steal your produce.
You can also protect individual plants, perennials such as rose bushes and citrus, and even trees from gophers and moles by planting in wire baskets. Make your own baskets or buy ready-made ones. In larger areas, fencing for gophers and other small animals becomes extremely labor-intensive and other management techniques are more efficient.
Annoy or scare them
Some gardeners succeed in frightening or annoying pests until they go away, using one of the sonic or ultrasonic devices on the market. We never had a lot of success with this method. To save money that could be wasted, do your research and start out with the least expensive ones and work up to the high-tech models if you’re getting good results. For birds, the reflective stripes of bright plastic are effective if placed in an area where the wind will move them to scare them.
Bird damage is often hard to control in a large area, but row covers or bird netting works well in a garden bed or even in rows in a field. Row covers are very light, sheer fabrics that breathe, allow moisture to enter and leave, and help to retain heat. They also protect young plants from insect damage. They are particularly helpful for protection from cabbage loopers if used at the correct time.
Attract natural predators
The common barn owl can help with gopher and vole control. This wonderful, silent night hunter has a diet that consists mainly of gophers, field mice, and voles, and can eat up to 1,000 prey a season. On our farm, we depend on our sweet cats Moana and Napali to take care of our garden pests. These rescue cats catch hundreds of mice each year! When we first took over the farm, it had been vacant for a year and overrun with rabbits. Our cats took pleasure in helping to manage their populations. Because of these furry felines, we rarely have to use any other method of pest control!