Dealing with pests in your home garden can sometimes feel like you’re trying to protect your castle from an enemy you can’t even see. Things are finally growing and then WHAM, a rabbit who only comes out at night or a minute insect wipes out a good bit of your hard work in no time at all.

 

The old method was to spray spray spray – no animal wants to eat strong chemicals. But now we know better, and creative gardeners have come up with great ways to deter pests and keep plants happily growing while also keeping them chemical-free and healthy for us, our families, and our friends. This article focuses on a few common garden pests, how to identify their damage, and how to deal with them safely. 

 

Deer

Identification: Deer prefer to feed during dawn and dusk and are especially ravenous in early spring. They will completely eliminate new plantings and when only sampling from older ones, will leave obvious ragged damage on whatever they choose for dinner that night.  

Favorite plants: Tomatoes, beans, carrots, peas, broccoli, lettuce, roses, hostas, and rhododendrons

Methods to try: 

  • Homemade spray: many options for deer spray are available to buy but an easy recipe that is often effective is mixing 3 eggs with 50 mL hot sauce and about 30 g of garlic powder or minced garlic. Make sure the garlic is fresh and pungent! Then mix this into 4.5 liters of water, let it sit at room temperature for at least 24 hours, transfer it into a spray bottle and spray plants when they are dry (avoid parts that you consume). Reapply after it rains. 
  • Visual and sound deterrents can be effective with a bit of patience and trial and error. Hanging up CDs in the sun or place a flashing light at the edge of your garden will frighten the deer, but they get used to things quickly, so move the deterrents around on a regular basis. You can also buy a machine that produces ultrasonic sound specifically for deer. 
  • A fence may sound extreme, but if you have had problems and it is easy enough to manage, it will be worth it. Deer are known for jumping 2 meters a fence about 2.5-3 meters high is best. Electric fences are also available to buy and can be put up more easily than you might expect. They do not have to be as high and are extremely effective.

 

 

Moles

Identification: unlike other pests, moles won’t eat your plants. They are a pest because they tunnel through soil, leaving gardens in disarray and harming root systems. Ridges are the telltale sign you have a mole and not another animal – you could say moles “swim” through the soil, leaving ridges in their wake. 

Methods to try: 

  • Sprinkling tobacco or coffee grounds around your garden will help repel moles who do not enjoy their scent. Just make sure to reapply after rain.
  • Balance out the ecosystem: moles feed mainly on insects and if you have moles it is likely that you have a very large number of insects. Buying beneficial nematodes, otherwise known as roundworms, to decrease the number of bugs might translate to moles looking elsewhere for their food supply. 
  • There are various ways to humanely trap or catch moles. It involves a bit of effort, and I recommend watching a few videos online to see various strategies. Once you have captured the mole, drop it off somewhere in nature at least a few kilometers away (perhaps in the garden of someone you think deserves a friendly visitor?)

 

 

Rabbits

Identification: Rabbits, like deer, prefer to eat at dawn and dusk. Unlike many other pests which leave holes and ragged edges, rabbits act as a lawnmower, clear cutting the plants they choose to eat. There will be no ragged bite marks, instead, the top of your plant or the entire plant will look like it was taken with a pair of scissors. 

Favorite plants: Unfortunately, they are not picky feeders and will chomp on a wide range of plants. They prefer new shoots and especially love flowers, lettuce, beans, and peas. 

Methods to try:

  • Rabbits have a strong sense of smell and dislike the smell of onions, so try planting these as a border to your garden. Alternatively, sprinkling red pepper around the border will also leave rabbits searching for a less spicy feeding area. 
  • Use the above ingredients to make a spray: blend together three onions, three hot peppers, and a whole bulb of garlic. Add enough water to cover this mixture, and let it sit in a covered container overnight. Then strain and add enough water to fill 4.5 liters. Pour into a spray bottle and spray onto plants, reapplying after it rains. Again, don’t spray this on parts you will be eating. 
  • Since rabbits target new growth, placing a netting or a tin can as a collar around new plantings will protect them until they get older. Once they are hardier, you can then remove the tin and enjoy your undamaged plants metal-free. 

 

 

Slugs

Identification: Slugs are soft bodied animals that flourish in moist conditions and come out to eat at night. They leave slime trails, so the presence of these are a giveaway. They leave large irregular holes in leaves or wipe out whole seedlings. They will also target the fruits of plants like strawberries and courgettes.

Favorite plants: lettuce, cabbage, strawberries, pepper, courgettes, cucumbers, beans

Methods to try:

  • Going on a nightime slug hunt is often the most effective solution. Go after it rains with a flashlight and be as thorough as possible – you may not get all of them but it is a good start. 

 

  • Copper barrier: many slugs will not cross copper because of the minor electrical current it produces. Try surrounding your plants with copper coins or lay down copper tape which is made specifically for this problem
  • Traps: Funnily enough, slugs are attracted to beer, so placing a bowl or other short container at the base of your plants with some stale beer will entice them in. Alternatively, placing half orange or other melon peels, which they are also drawn to, will capture them without killing them. 
  • If you are concerned about this pest, be aware of growing plants from seed as slugs can demolish small seedlings. Only transplant once plants are hardy, as they will have a better chance of survival.

 

Insects

Identification: A variety of insects love to nibble on your most precious plants. To understand how to identify some of the most common ones, see my article Pests in the city and how to deal with them.

 

Other points:

  • Write it all down. Documenting when pests arrive, how long they stay, the extent of damage they cause, and what works for improving the situation is the best way to prepare for the next season. Each garden will be present a unique set of conditions and pests, and therefore only you can be in charge of the necessary problem-solving.
  • Bigger pests like deer and rabbits can be tricky, because you sometimes don’t have time to take action before a large amount of garden is gone. This is when the patience comes into play, and sometimes the acceptance that your sacrifice just made a hungry animal very happy. Once you notice the presence of a pest, try a method and see if it works to save the rest of your plants. If it doesn’t, record, re-plan, and see what comes of the next try. 
  • Ask your neighbors. If you have any gardening neighbors, they are most likely dealing with similar pests and might have found the trick that works for the animals in your area. This is a great source of knowledge in general – you never know how long someone down the street has been doing trial error gardening and how happy they will be to share what they have learned. 

 

Happy and (hopefully) pest free gardening!

 

Sources

https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice
https://www.gardeners.com/how-to
https://www.groworganic.com/organic-gardening/articles/how-to-build-a-live-mole-trap
Mole catching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6whYC0rVN5g

Carlin Roland

Carlin Roland

Growing up in New Hampshire in the US, nature was intertwined in Carlin’s life from the start. While studying Biology, she worked at an organic vegetable farm in the summers. In 2017, she completed a permaculture course and internship in Costa Rica. She is currently in London working on an Msc in Plant and Fungal Taxonomy, Diversity, and Conservation.