University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
ANIMAL PESTS IN GARDENS AND LANDSCAPES
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
Effective control of animal pests is
possible though your success will depend on your timing, method, and
perseverance. A control that works for
your neighbor, or that worked for you last year, may not work this
You may need to try a variety of methods and devices and, if first
succeed, try again. Remind yourself that animals may be clever and
humans are smarter!
Here are some common animal pests
found in the Northeast and some recommendations for control. None of
fool proof, but all are worth a try to control pesky animals.
MICE AND VOLES: Although these
rodents look similar and cause similar damage, they are only
Both live in grassy areas and leaf mulch and travel in tunnels. They
any vegetation, including bulbs and tubers, as well as bark on young
shrubs. Exclude them with barriers or trap at main runways with
bait or vitamin D (death results from calcium imbalance). Other
as castor oil may help, as will cats or dogs.
If using a common poison bait trap
or packet, be aware that cats or other animals may be attracted to
the trap to
feed on the bait, or birds and other large animals may be
by feeding on a poisoned small animal.
MOLES: Moles live in tunnels
that, while helping to aerate soil, also provide passageways for
and may cause excessive soil disturbance and plant upheaval.
Although moles help
by eating insects like grubs, they also hurt by eating earthworms.
Control them by
eliminating the insects they feed on or trap as you would voles.
CHIPMUNKS: This rodent lives in
tunnels or burrows and is adept at running up trees and shrubs as
well as along
the ground. Chipmunks feed on seeds, nuts, fruits, roots, bulbs, and
their tiny size they can uproot new plantings. Trap them using
oats, nut meats, or sunflower seeds.
Spray repellents on bulbs, or place jagged shells or stones in the
when you plant bulbs. Fine-mesh plant cages will keep them out. Or
get a cat or
TREE SQUIRRELS: Squirrels are an
occasional problem as they like to nest in trees and will feed on
insects, bark, and seeds. Protect new plantings with cages.
Squirrels can be
trapped and released using sunflower seeds, peanut butter, and
raisins as bait.
RABBITS: Rabbits are a serious
problem not just in the Northeast, but throughout the entire
country. They live
in grassy areas and thickets, feeding on vegetables, flowers, and
during winter. They are active during the day year round in most
best bet is to fence them out with chicken wire or hardware cloth
higher than snow level. Inflatable snakes or repellents, such as
those used for
deer, also may help.
GROUNDHOGS (WOODCHUCKS): These
rodents (related to rats and squirrels) cause only occasional
problems in the
northern states, mainly to herbaceous plants. They live in burrows
with two or
more openings with mounds at entrances. You can find them feeding in
morning and late afternoon on grass, tender vegetables and flowers--
pencil-thick stems like phlox, and occasionally on bark. They don’t
“chuck” on wood, this name coming
from a native American name for this animal.
Your best bet is to trap them live
(if legal) or fence them out with a three-foot high fence. Bury
in the ground to prevent them from tunneling under. You also can
repel them with taste sprays
applied to desirable flowers or by placing oily substances at hole
If all else fails,
you could insert poison gas cartridges in their holes and cover to
kill. Don’t use the latter around buildings,
though, which they like to make holes alongside or under.
Live traps with release of animals a
distance away may not be the best alternative as you may catch
animals. For example, you may catch
domestic cats, or even skunks. Your
community or state also may have regulations against relocating
animals such as woodchucks. Be sure to know your local wildlife laws
act. If trapping large live animals, use caution to prevent being
many carry communicable diseases such as rabies.
Snap or leg hold traps are banned in
most areas, though even if permitted they are not a good choice as
it is a
cruel and inhumane way for any animal to die. There's also a good
you could catch a pet or worse, injure a child. Shooting is usually
permitted, and especially not in populated areas. You may choose to
wildlife specialist to catch and dispose of such large animals.
SKUNKS: Skunks live in rural,
wooded areas where they feed on insects, small rodents, fruits,
other vegetables. They are actually more of a nuisance because of
than from eating flowers, although they can carry rabies. Fence them
trap (if legal) as you would groundhogs. If trapping live, bait with
or cat food. Be sure to wear protective clothing and eye goggles
skunks, and cover the cage with a tarp when transporting.
RACCOONS: Like skunks, raccoons
generally are not a problem in flower gardens although if you have
corn, be on
the lookout for these masked marauders. They live in wooded rural or
populated areas in natural shelters such as hollow logs or near
feed on insects, small animals, grains (especially corn), seeds
seeds, vegetables, and other plant materials.
Keep them out with a wire fence (about four feet high with another
in the ground) or
electric fencing, or trap (if legal) as you would skunks.
DEER: Deer are a serious problem
throughout the country, even in populated areas. Being quite
few natural predators and strict control laws, they can be difficult
control. Deer prefer wooded areas and tall grass and thickets. They
plants and the bark of woody plants.
Many deer controls are available,
including various taste and smell repellents (deer have a keen sense
light or noise emitters (must be moved often as deer are smart and
quickly); or an electric fence baited with peanut butter (one taste
but will deter deer). A key with such repellents is to move them, or
among various ones, every few days.
The best and often only solution,
particularly if many deer and they are hungry, is exclusion with
triangular or slanted fences, or eight- to ten-foot high deer fences
wire mesh or heavy fishing line strung at two-foot intervals up the
using the latter, flag the lines as deer can't see well and will try
through. For narrow or small gardens, a lower fence 5 to 6 feet high
works as deer are afraid of getting trapped inside.
DOGS: Dogs can devastate gardens
by running and romping. They also dig up soil and plantings and
droppings. Keep them out with fences or repel with plant sprays
specifically to deter dogs. Tie up your own dog or use invisible
keep it from getting into areas you want to protect. Ask neighboring
to keep their pets out of your yard.
CATS: While cats usually are
good at keeping small rodent populations in check, they can be a
they dig up new plantings. Use repellents or lay chicken wire on new