Gardeners struggle with a lot of problems, from uncooperative weather to faulty irrigation, but perhaps the biggest trouble gardeners say they have is keeping rodents out of the garden and away from the harvest.Contra Costa Master Gardener Steven Griffin says there are ways to minimize the damage and the frustration. Here are some of his tips:
- First, identify what the pest is. Looks for signs, such as feces, mounds of soil, tunnels and indications something has gnawed an opening into your home or garden shed.
- Next, look at your yard and garden with a critical eye. Identify what about the space rodents find so attractive. Do you have a water source for them, or have pet food sitting out? Do you have a wood pile or ground cover where rodents might take up residency? Sometimes just having a garden is plenty to attract rodents.
- After you’ve figured out what rodent is causing the problems and why it’s coming into your house and garden, you need to come up with a plan for controlling the creatures that is based on the rodent’s natural biology and habits, and that will ensure you don’t damage the environment or unintentionally kill other animals.
- Exclusion is usually a key in controlling rodents. Patch holes where they are getting in, install fences, consider an electric fence, install hardware cloth to stop animals from burrowing under fences and getting into your garden beds.
- Take steps to make your yard less attractive to them.
- Use deadly tactics as a last resort. Set traps for rats, mice, gophers and ground squirrels, but do not use poisons that too often kill other animals.
- Choose the right trap for the animal and follow directions on how to use them.
Rats are among the biggest intruders in the garden. They are called commensal animals, meaning they are not only comfortable living with humans, they are somewhat dependent upon us.
- The Bay Area is home to two common rats, roof and Norway rats.
- Roof rats are particularly adept at climbing and if you find rats inside your home, they usually are roof rats. You can identify them by their tail, which is longer than their body, and their smaller size. They are agile and often nest above ground in trees, walls, cabinets, false ceilings and attics.
- Norway rats can climb but they tend to stay closer to the ground. Their tails are shorter than their body length and the rats have a stockier build. They have a preference for trash piles, wood piles and basements.
- We also have house mice. They nest in walls, drawers and cabinets, and are more likely to be sneaking around the kitchen in search of food.
- Good housekeeping, Griffin says, can keep most rat and mouse populations down. Fix door seeps, plug entry holes, screen attic vents and vents around the building foundation. Pick up pet food after every meal, and seal food in sturdy plastic of metal containers.
- Trapping with snap or electronic traps is the best method for controlling rats and mice. Do not use poison baits, Griffin says, because of the danger that the dying rodent will be eaten by a predator and pass on the poison. The rodent also might die inside a wall or under the house, which will create a smelly problem.
- Bait rat traps with nuts or sticky candy tied to the trigger with twist ties, wire or zip ties. Bait mouse traps with peanut butter or a soft, sticky candy such as caramel.
Gophers can do a lot of damage in a garden and landscape, and judging by the damage and the number of tunnels, you might think you’ve got dozens of the creatures. Gophers, however, are solitary, territorial creatures so chances are, you’ve only got one in your yard.
- Gophers live mostly underground, feeding on roots and tubers. They do, however, come up above ground, usually at night, to feed on plants, fruits and vegetables.
- Gophers are not known for their climbing skills, so low hanging vegetables are their biggest targets.
- The first indication you have a gopher is the presence of mounds. They are crescent shaped with a plugged hole in the middle. The tunnel will radiate out from the crescent and angle down about a foot.
- Having an owl in the neighborhood can help naturally control gophers, although you can’t always count on that, and even the most talented owl can’t get all of the gophers.
- Use a heavy wire mesh, such as hardware cloth, under raised beds, and bury the wire 2 feet deep around the garden, connecting it to a perimeter fence.
- If you use gopher traps, practice setting the trap before you place it. Cinch traps, Maccabee traps and box traps are the most popular styles.
- Choosing the right spot to place the trap is the key to success. Knock down all of the mounds and keep an eye out for a new one. Once you see one, dig out the mound and locate the main tunnel. Place two traps in the tunnel, facing other, with a string or wire attached and secured above ground with a stake. Cover the hole with cardboard or plywood, and seal the edges with soil. Wait a couple of days before lifting the cover and checking the traps.
- If the gopher detects an opening in the mound, it will plug it up, which is why you want to recover the mound so the gopher won’t trip the trap by pushing dirt ahead of it. By using cardboard or plywood, you cover the hole and save yourself having to redig the hole to check the traps.
Moles are insectivores so they rarely cause any damage to the plants, fruit and vegetables. Their tunnels are unsightly, however, and their burrowing in search of worms and grubs, can create air pockets around roots and kill some plants.
Use the same exclusion methods for moles as you do for gophers. Trapping is difficult.
Meadow voles, also known as meadow mice, can be a problem in the landscape, Griffin says, but the small, mouse-sized creatures rarely enter your home.
- Protect trees with tree guards and trim ground cover and shrubs away from the base of trees, allowing predators — hawks and owls — to capture them.
- If you need to trap, use unbaited mouse traps and place them in the above ground runways the voles create.
- Tree squirrels can be nuisances if they are feeding on your fruit or nesting in your attic. Exclusion is best for controlling them.
- You can trap and kill squirrels if they are damaging your property, but one species of squirrels — the gray squirrel — is a protected animal and special permission from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is required before trapping.
- Tree squirrels cannot be poisoned, and you cannot trap and relocate them. If captured in live traps, they must either be killed or released where they were trapped.
- Ground squirrels are much more destructive than their tree-dwelling relatives. They burrow under fences, roads, foundations and utilities, and will destroy a garden very quickly.
- While tree squirrels nest in trees, ground squirrels dig burrows that are open at the entrances and exits.
- Electric wire fences are effective against ground squirrels if paired with an underground barrier that goes at least 2 feet down.
Next time in the garden, attracting butterflies to your garden. Our Garden offers free gardening classes at 10 a.m. Wednesdays through October. The garden is at Shadelands Drive and Wiget Avenue in Walnut Creek.
Published at Thu, 03 Aug 2017 21:00:27 +0000