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Wildlife in Your Garden

by Mark S. Olson of GardenCrafters Landscape & Design

Nothing is more frustrating than going to all the trouble and expense of putting in a new landscape, only to find that it has become a salad bar for the wildlife in your area. New homes are being built in the habitats of deer, gophers. moles, rabbits, possums, skunks and other animals and you can expect encounters with most of them.

Deer seem to be the most damaging to the garden so it would be a good idea to choose plants with deer resistance in mind. There are many published lists of deer resistant plants and these lists are a good starting point. Just keep in mind that “tastes” vary from deer to deer and from herd to herd.

There are insurance measures you can take to help protect your garden from deer. For example, you could fence in your property. Usually a six foot fence is adequate although deer have been observed jumping eight foot fences. There are commercial repellents on the market that are effective although they can be costly and require repeated applications. Or you can erect individual wire cages
around new plantings until they are established.

Gophers and moles pose a different problem. While deer tend to eat foliage, gophers and moles can kill plants by damage from underground. Gophers eat roots and stems from beneath the plant; moles are looking for worms and insects. Both animals tunnel through root systems causing extensive damage. To control them you can try bait traps in the tunnels. Traps work best but you have to be persistent. Moles have been known to remove traps from their tunnels. You can line the holes of new plantings with chicken wire to give the plants a head start.

Rabbits and other small animals can cause damage by chewing foliage or by stripping bark. Again, try wire cages around individual plants.

In addition to wild animals, be aware that poison oak is very abundant in the foothills and you should familiarize yourself with what it looks like year round. It is most difficult to recognize without foliage so try to locate it before winter. So you don’t wander into it during winter pruning projects.

Burning poison oak poses its own problem. Inhaling the fumes while burning can cause severe reactions and serious damage to your lungs. Even touching the roots can cause painful allergic reactions. There are several commercial sprays on the market that will kill poison oak but usually only after repeated applications.

We have had luck with the following plants with regard to deer:

  • Rosemary
  • Lavender Cotton
  • Ribes
  • Pines
  • Strawberry Tree
  • Carpenteria
  • Rock rose (most )
  • Yarrow (most)
  • Manzanita (most)
  • Butterfly Bush
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