Dealing with Furry Critters with the Munchies

I was recently asked by a visitor via our email address how we manage to keep our furry mammalian Elkhart residents from eating everything in sight. Here was my reply:

We have our share of larger animal grazing pressure. We deal mostly with rabbits, woodchucks and geese in our gardens, but we do have some issues with muskrats and even beavers as well. The short answer is there is no foolproof way to keep all animals from eating the plants in the garden. There are a number of different strategies we utilize to minimize the amount of plants eaten. The key is an integrated approach using multiple methods:

  • Repellents – there are a number of commercial products available from local garden centers to either spray directly on plants or place in the soil for the plant to take up into its roots and leaves making them taste nasty. No one product works all the time for all species so it is good to use a couple of different ones if possible.
  • Physical Barriers-
    Fencing we use in our Annual Garden – simple, yet effective.

    The entire perimeter of the Gardens is fenced with a fairly high chain link fence. These keeps larger animals like deer out. We utilize smaller temporary fencing around both individual plants and flower beds to discourage smaller animals. Some plants are only vulnerable during certain stages of growth such as young, small plants or during fruiting.

  • Trap Crops – Try planting some plants in a part of the property that you do not mind if the plant is eaten, preferable away from the plants you want saved. We use violets here as such a crop. Violets look great and do not seem to mind the constant eating. Rabbits and woodchucks eat the violets and are less interested in other material.
  • Manage the population size – Wellfield actively traps or physically removes certain pest animals, thus keeping the populations under control.
  • Tolerance Threshold – I try to realize that I am part of a larger ecosystem, and my critter friends are a part of the same system. A little plant loss is okay in some situations. I try to pick my battles. There are some places where there is little tolerance for plant loss and in other cases a much higher tolerance of loss is acceptable.

We hope some of these tips will work for you!

Josh Steffen
Horticulture Manager

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