You planted and cared for your garden but before you harvest the produce, someone else has been enjoying the fruits of your labor. In addition to insects, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, deer and elk find our gardens a great banquet.
Squirrels clip the tips off and chew the bark on tree branches. They cut heads off sunflowers before they are dried, break corn plants trying to reach the ear and chew holes in squash and pumpkins to get to the seeds.
Rabbit damage to trees and shrubs is easy to recognize. Twigs or branches are cut at a perfect 45 degree angle. They also nibble on your lettuce and other vegetables. Deer and elk browsing on shrubs leave a rough cut on the branch tip. Raccoons eat your sweet corn and grapes.
The surest way to prevent damage is exclusion. Enclosing your vegetable garden in a fence is very effective. Burying the bottom of the fence at least 12 inches below ground or down 12 inches and out 12 inches is the best to deter digging. To keep squirrels out, extend the fence material over the top or put an electrified wire at the top of the fence. To prevent tree damage, you can try a repellent or wrap a 2-foot wide metal sheet around the trunk 6-foot above ground and prune tree limbs that extend over the roof to prevent access. You need to expand the sheet as the tree grows.
If you are trying to keep raccoons out of your sweet corn or grapes, you can use one electrified wire at 8-inches high or two electrified wires at 6-inches and 12-inches height. A simple way to protect pumpkins and squash is to simply put a weighted box or wire cage over them. Use filament packaging tape to secure corn ears to the stalk to reduce damage. A motion activated sprinkler can be used to scare the animals.
Taste and smell repellents work but with limitations. They must be reapplied periodically (read the label) and you must change the active ingredient otherwise animals get accustomed to the smell and ignore the repellent. Look for repellents containing blood solids, putrescent egg solids (good for deer and elk) or capsaicin. New research that indicates Milorganite™, a fertilizer made from processed human waste (it is safe to use) repels rabbits.
While it is legal to trap and relocate rabbits, squirrels and raccoons, this is a very bad idea and should not even be considered. In most cases, you have written a death sentence for the animal. Unlike humans who use their smart devices to locate the local grocery store and move into their own home, the animal doesn’t know where the food and water supplies are, and they have moved into another animals’ home (territory). Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) nuisance wildlife regulations for relocation of these three animals are contact CPW before trapping animals (follow their trapping regulations), new location has similar habitat, squirrels and rabbits are relocated within a 10 mile radius, raccoons within a 2 mile radius (to prevent disease spread) and finally and most importantly, you MUST (I can’t emphasize this enough!) have the landowner’s permission on who’s property you are releasing the animal, including municipal, county and state parks and open space properties. If you don’t have permission, you face a warning or fine. It is better to learn what you can do to prevent the conflict. You are not solving your problem by trapping and relocation. There is no guarantee that you trap the animal you think is the problem and you are creating a void that another animal will fill. Unless you remove all the squirrels in your area, you’ll still have a problem.
By Sharon Bokan, Colorado State University Extension. Sharon is the Small Acreage Coordinator at Colorado State University Extension Boulder County. For more information call 303.678.6167 or visit boulder.extension.colostate.edu.