Camouflage Gardening: Deterring Garden Crashers & Pests

deer
Image by Cornelia Kopp

By Nikki Phipps
(Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden)

Is something nibbling at your flowers and other plants? Insects, diseases and weeds are not the only pests that can invade or cause damage to the garden. Wildlife animals can also be to blame and figuring out which one is the culprit may be one of the first steps necessary to taking defensive measures. For instance, deer usually leave a rough, shredded bite while rabbits leave a neat, clean cut. Many people like the sight of deer and other animals within their yards; however, what may seem exciting and fun at first can quickly become a nightmare for your garden or landscaping plants.

What is Camouflage Gardening?

Camouflage gardening is an effective way to deter pesky animals from overtaking and consuming your garden plants. Camouflage gardening is simply the process of using plants that contain natural chemicals and characteristics that deter these garden crashers from wanting to eat them.

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Some animals, such as deer, are curious and will try any new plant once, especially in drought conditions when other food sources are scarce. Placing highly susceptible plants closer to the house or inside a fenced-in area is a good idea.

Some camouflage gardeners choose to maintain container gardens on a deck or patio where animals are less likely to venture. Alternatively, camouflage gardeners could choose keeping their gardens in raised beds. Also, consider planting things that grow and reproduce easily. This way, whenever they do fall victim to animal pests, the plants will quickly spring back.

Common Garden Crashers & Pests

Deer

Deer can cause some of the worst damage to your garden, especially in late winter and early spring. They will feed on the buds of both shrubs and trees or may simply browse through flowers and other vegetation. What the deer do not eat, they trample on. Though most deer tend to eat only certain plants, when hungry enough, they will consume nearly anything.

You can, however, discourage these animals by avoiding or removing some of their favorite plants such as lilies, tulips, azaleas, hosta, or periwinkle. Other favorites include mountain laurel, cherry and maple trees. Instead, choose plants that deer tend to avoid such as:

Rabbits

Rabbits and other rodents feed on and damage the bark and twigs of landscape plants. As cute and innocent as they may appear, rabbits can wreak havoc in a garden by eating the leaves and flowers of many low-growing plants. Their chewing can permanently disfigure or even kill a tree. Some favorites of rabbits include fruit trees, leafy vegetables, and grasses.

Gophers

Gophers eat grasses, especially alfalfa, and woody plant materials. These animals will bite plants from underneath, making it appear as though they wither and die for no apparent reason. Crop rotation can help ease the control of gophers.

Voles

Voles can be identified as possible culprits by wide pathways through the grass. They also leave clippings and droppings that lead to open burrows. Keeping grasses and weeds trimmed near garden beds will deter voles by reducing their cover.

Raccoons

Raccoons are usually not a major problem in a garden unless you grow their favorites, such as corn and grapes. They are good climbers, however, and will scramble up trees to help themselves to fruit. Though raccoons may not devour your plants, they can and will dig them up in order to retrieve other sources of food like worms, insects, and grubs. These animals will avoid plants like cucumber and squash because of the prickly leaves.

Camouflage Garden Plants

Combining resistant plants with wildlife favorites is an effective way to help deter many of these animal pests from browsing through your garden. When camouflage gardening, try planting two unappetizing plants for every one desirable plant. Some good resistant plants include:

Placing the most desirable plants in the back of the garden can help as well. Adding resistant plants at the edges of your garden or property can also create an uninviting barrier for deterring wildlife pests. Some camouflage gardeners will even provide sacrificial beds, or decoy plants, along these edges, well away from their prized gardens.

A scent barrier can be easily created by using a variety of strongly aromatic plants throughout the garden. Lavender, verbena, thyme, balsam, lilac, and pine are all good choices. Implementing fragrant plants can deter garden crashers by overwhelming their sense of smell. Animals rely on their sense of smell to determine what is safe or desirable enough to eat. A variety of strong odors confuse animals, keeping them away from your garden and encouraging them to leave the area for another, more suitable location.

In addition to planting strongly scented plants, camouflaging gardens to keep out pests can also consist of plants having tough, bitter, or bristly leaves as well as those with milky sap or thorns. Tough, woody plants are difficult for many animals to chew and digest; therefore, these types of plants are good deterrents in camouflage gardens. Tough foliage is also less attractive to animals.

Many animal pests do not appreciate fuzzy plants, such as lamb’s ear. These types of plants will irritate the animal’s mouth, making pests less likely to approach gardens that have them. Most animals do not desire anything bitter tasting or sappy either. Nobody enjoys a painful thorn sticking in them, not even animals. Therefore, irritant plants that have thorns or bristles will naturally keep animal pests away.

Camouflage gardeners may also try deterrents such as egg and water solutions, hot sauce, or commercially prepared mixtures. Most animals are creatures of habit, and patterns for foraging can be somewhat predictable. Repellent solutions and products can help by changing the usual path they take throughout your yard and garden.

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