Dear PoPville – How Do We Protect Our Garden?

by Prince Of Petworth May 27, 2011 at 2:30 pm 32 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoPville,

We are trying to start a vegetable garden in our back yard. We built two raised beds for this purpose. I planted some peppers, some basil, parsley, cucumbers and zucchini. The next day I looked out the window and thought Hey, where’d the basil go? It looked like something had come along with scissors and cut the leaves off the basil and the parsley.

The next day, several leaves were missing from the pepper plants.

Last year we had cutworms eat the tomatoes, but somehow i don’t think cutworms are going to neatly snip off a couple of leaves a foot off the ground. Horticultural oil only mildly deters whatever-it-is. Birds? Squirrels? Has anyone else experienced this, and caught the plant vandals in the act?”

I was once told that Blood meal is a good deterrent. What do you guys do/use?

  • Anonymous

    It’s probably rats.

  • Anon

    What the heck is blood meal? Sounds terrifying.

    I’ve heard executing the squirrel and putting its carcass on a pike outside your garden is a good deterrent. Is that the same thing as blood meal?

    • TEM

      The squirrels (and rats) would probably just eat the carcass. Though maybe then they’d be distracted from your garden.

  • Anonymous

    I had the same thing happen last year and it was European Starlings (very invasive bird species). I had the same experience wondering what happened and then witnessed my second to last basil plant get snipped off and carried away. It looked like the bird used it to build it’s nest. I used tomato cages covered with bird netting to keep my second planting safe until they were bigger. I’m not sure if it was the bigger plants or time of year but had no problems when I uncovered the plants mid June. Good luck.

  • X

    We used this stuff called “Liquid Fence Deer & Rabbit Repellent.” It kept everything away – it smells disgusting when you spray it (it is basically rotten eggs and garlic), but it goes away in a few hours. And nothing non-human has come near our tomato plants since!

    • Anon

      And your tomatoes come pre-seasoned for use in a sauce!

  • dj_woowoo

    Squirrels ravage our plants. We can’t plant a garden it is so bad. Last week I took some habanero powder and put it on the soil of one of our plants. Seemed to work pretty well until it rained and they are now back digging through it. Considering BB gun to kill them. Are they legal in DC?

    • iowan

      sadly, yes – squirrels are legal in DC.

  • Mt P Resident

    We built chicken wire cages (wood frame at the base, pvc pipes perpendicular to the base at the corners, and chicken wire wrapped around the perimeter – but with the height low enough that we can reach over it) and then put bird-resistent netting over top of it – works great to keep out feathered & non-feathered critters.

    • GreenLineGarden

      I did the same, more or less, with similar success. Didn’t know it was birds, though — just assumed it was the rats trying to seek revenge for plugging some holes.

      Blood meal is an organic fertilizer that has a slow release so don’t go crazy with it, and use it with bone meal to balance out the nutrient content. And if you have a dog, like I do, be aware that they think it’s a delicious sprinkle topping you’re adding to the dirt. Mine started licking the garden bed repeatedly.

  • BB

    sounds like you guys need some bb guns

  • Anonymous

    You want to get in touch with Tommy Saxondale at Stealth Pest Control.

  • Anonymous

    Blood meal works great for us – we use it to protect our tulip bulbs. Repels mammals, can be easily bought at home depot etc

  • andy

    Is it simply called blood meal at home depot? Is it with the fertilizer?

    • Anonymous

      I think so, IIRC. Small bags of a red, dusty type substance. Sprinkle it on top or into the soil.

    • jcm

      It actually is a fertilizer, and it’s very high in N. If you are going to use it as a repellent you need to take that into account.

  • anon. gardener

    OP here. I think it’s starlings – glad to see some third party confirmation that starlings do this kind of thing. We also have pigeons on our roof – I’ve been dreaming of a BB gun for quite some time. I know it’s not squirrels because our alley cat posse keeps them at bay. (Ditto for rats.) Guess it’s off to Home Depot for some netting.

    • NE DC

      For rooftop pigeons, I recommend installing some spikes in their favorite spots (usually at edges or on a portion of the drainpipe).

      They sell them at Home Depot (packs of around 10 x 1 foot long each). It doesn’t hurt the birds, it just makes it impossible to land. And if they can’t get a comfortable place to land, they’ll find somewhere else to go instead.

  • anon. gardener

    And I have to have a talk with the alley cat posse – they are falling down on the job.

  • Anonymous

    Coyote urine – you can get it at 17th St Hardward – just ask. sprinkle it around (it’s urine in sand) and the animals will think the area has a predator bigger than them.

  • MichelleRD


  • pworthy

    Squirrels–any ideas for keeping them off of our house? They don’t give a shit if we’re out on the porch or not, they’re all over the porch, posts, roof, side of the house.

  • victoria

    Check for aphids. I had all the shoots chewed off a tender new tomato plant overnight. Vigorous daily hosing and spray with soapy water will help.

  • Markus

    concurring on some of what was written above.

    My basil was getting decimated a few years ago, and it took a while, but I finally saw the birds doing it.

    Later in the summer, the squirrels will make off with your almost-ripe tomatoes.

    Here’s what worked for me.

    1. Buy a $15 plastic owl and hang/place it near your herbs. That takes care of the birds. We haven’t had an issue with birds since we got our guy set up on the fence.

    2. Deer netting around your tomatoes/peppers. It’s too annoying for the squirrels to deal with. Works for us.

    • Mike

      Plastic owls are great for keeping away crows, but it is very likely that there are already very real live owls living near you.

      I hear owls outside nearly every night, but they are super elusive and hard to spot.

      We have Barred Owls and Great Horned Owls here. The other night I recorded a really amazing mating conversation between four barred owls.

      Great Horned Owls are atop the food chain and love to eat Barred Owls, so I’d wager your plastic owl is made to look like a Great Horned.

  • Mike

    Where in the city do you live? Depending upon the exact location, it sounds as though you may have one or more of the following:

    1. whitetail deer – Deer can be a real problem to eliminate. They are voracious eaters and destroy gardens. They can jump over twelve feet high and have only one local predator – the coyote. We have tried just about everything to keep the deer away. Coyote urine seems to work well.

    Now we have a family of eight foxes living next door, and they do a great job of keeping the deer away (as well as #2 and #3 below)

    2. cottonrail rabbits (they are everywhere, and breed 3-4 times per year. If you have a raised bed they might not be the problem. Use spray or get a dog.

    3. groundhogs/woodchucks – again they are everywhere and they love to munch on gardens. They can be a real pain to get rid off. They enjoy grazing alongside roads and highways. Strangely – and unlike deer – they seem smart enough to avoid getting squashed in the road.

    In my experience it sounds unlikely that birds, mice or rats are the problem. Squirrels aren’t ungulates and I have never seem them eat leafy plant materials, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.

    I think it’s also unlikely that birds are the problem. Back in the day, we had cherry, apple, pear and plum trees and the birds loved to eat the seeds, but they’ve never eaten our lettuce, tomato, pepper, cucumber, potato, bean, or herb crops.

  • It’s definitely starlings. They wiped out our tomato plants a few years back. I wasn’t sure who the culprits were until I saw the birds in action. This is our solution.


  • Girard Fairmont

    I also had problems with young basil plants getting snipped off but thought it was slugs. Our solution is to take a 2 liter plastic soda bottle, cut off the bottom and plant it around the basil plant until the stalk grows strong enough that it can’t be easily pinched.

    • Girard Fairmont

      Oh, and make sure you take the cap off the top of the bottle so it can get air.

  • too hot to handle

    I’ve used cayenne pepper mixed with water in a old windex bottle. usually keeps all the animals that are looking to eat away. washes off with rain though.

  • Vegnout

    I’m sick of the evil squirrels and ants getting to my plants every year, so yesterday (when I finally got around to putting something into the ground), I planted organic garlic cloves next to each item in the hopes that it might keep some predators at bay. We’ll see how that goes – but it already seems to be helping a bit with the ants… And hey, I might even get some tasty garlic snape too!

  • Angi

    I just bought a basil plant yesterday and since I live in an apt., I am going to try (again) to keep it in a container. I do not get a lot of direct sunlight into my windows because of trees that surround the building..and the onky places that I DO get good sun are directly over central air vents. I am not willing to turn off the a/c, lol, but know that the cold air isn’t good for the plant. Last year, I tried a compromise and put the plant outside in the morning before work and usually remembered to bring it in at night. Not sure which of the aforementioned culprits got it but one day when I came home, it was nothing but a few stems. How bad is the cold air from the vents for the plant? I love fresh basil and don’t want to lose another plant to squirrels (that’s my guess, there is a mulberry tree very near my porch and the fallen berries attract all sorts of things) or whatever got it last year. I also bought some banana pepper plants and am going to try them in a large container…am I setting myself up for failure here or is there something cheap (or free!), a home remedy, etc. to deter pests? I read a lot about coffee grounds but don’t know about for these particular plants.


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