Expert Advice: Pests & Problems

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Animal Damage to Bulbs

Critters Eating Leaves

Q. My new tulips and daffodils are just coming up and something (an animal, I guess) is eating the new leaves. HELP! Is there anything I can do to stop this? I planted over 100 bulbs last fall and I don't want to lose all those flowers.

A. Well if the tulips are going it could be most anything (deer, rabbits, chipmunks, etc). I'm surprised to hear about your daffodils though, because they are poisonous and I don't know of any creature that will eat them.

The only solution is to figure out the culprit, but sadly, in most cases the only option is a chicken wire fence around the garden until other plants come up in the spring and lure these early-bird diners away. There are also repellents you can buy at garden stores and pet stores, but I don't know how well they will work. They might be worth a shot.

Cats in Flower Pots

Q. I have pet cats. They are always in my flower pots and lying on my flowers/plants. Although they look cute in the pots, I don't want them in my pots. What can I do to deter them from getting into my pots?

A. I have 12 cats on our farm and we use stones in the pots to keep the cats from using them as furniture. You may have to find stones that have sharp edges. Round river rocks don't do much good. A friend of mine uses short pieces of bamboo set upright in the soil to keep her cats away. Remember, cats are creature of comfort, so if you can make the pots uncomfortable to lie on, they'll move on.

There are also repellents you can buy. But I don't want to chase away my own pets, so I think mechanical deterrents work just as well.

Cat Litter for the Garden?

Q. I have an unusual question. I have two kittens and change their litter box regularly. Would there be any nutritional value to my yard or garden by using the contents, or would this be harmful to flowers and grass?

A. Do not use cat litter in the garden. It will not improve the soil (since most of it is clay-based) and cats can transmit diseases to humans (especially pregnant women) through their feces. Toss it in the garbage.

Scaring Birds

Q. I have a beautiful cherry tree, and one year I even got to taste a few of the cherries. The cherry tree is in full bloom right now, but I know that just before the cherries ripen, the birds will dine on them and not even share a few with me. I have tried netting, but the birds became so entangled in it that I had to take it off. I tried perching an artificial owl in the tree, also tried putting up a scarecrow next to it -- still no luck. Any suggestions?

A. I'm afraid netting is the only thing I know of that really works. Some people try hanging plastic hawks, owls, or snakes in trees, or hanging old CDs or strips of Mylar in trees, but it doesn't always work.


Q. My lawn looks like Swiss cheese, with holes all over the place! I see chipmunks popping their heads in and out of the holes -- kind of like the movie Caddyshack. I have a feeling that they're wreaking havoc with what is going on under the ground. How do I get rid of these little devils?

A. The best way is to live trap them. You can buy small box traps at your local garden center.

Deer vs. Landscape

Q. My husband and I built a new home in a country setting outside of Granbury, Texas, on the Brazos River. We have an abundance of deer that freely roam the lawns in this subdivision. When we did our landscaping last spring, we did not realize that we were providing a salad bar to these beautiful creatures. Do you have any suggestions for trees, shrubs, flowers, etc., that deer do not particularly like to eat?

A. Well one thing is for sure: If a deer is hungry enough, it will eat just about anything. There are, however, some plants that deer will avoid, including those that have a bad taste, like narcissus, or those with hairy or fuzzy foliage, such as lamb's ears.

Mole Traps

Q. I would appreciate any information you have on getting rid of moles! I've got mole traps set out, and the little rascals seem to know they are there. My yard has tunnels all over. I've not noticed them in my flower beds, just in the yard. I live in southern Indiana, near Evansville.

A. There's no secret here. I've had mixed results with mole traps and usually discover that the animals move on after a while. I try to look at them as a benefit since they are around to feast on underground beetle larvae which will play havoc with your garden. When the food source goes, so will they.

Of course, some folks will go to extremes such as spreading grub insecticide over their lawn to help reduce the grub population. This may or may not work in the short term, but probably helps over time.

Dogs and Grass

Q. I have a large female dog. I'm having problems with grass dying over the winter. I've heard that the dog's urine has contaminated the soil. How can I clean up the soil before I try to plant grass seed, or should I sod? Also what kind of seed should I use for an area with full sun and heavy traffic? Where I live in Iowa, the ground is very dry.

A. Well to clean up the area, you'll need to "flush" the burned spots with lots of water, rake it out, and reseed. I'd reseed instead of sodding since the first seeding might not take. No use wasting money on sod that might die right away.

There are many turf grasses that should take high traffic and drought. Check with your local garden center for a mix that matches your needs -- most grass seed companies list what each mix is designed for.

Of course, if the dog has free access to the area, it's likely you'll have this problem constantly. I suggest that if you want a nice lawn, keep the dog controlled in one area of the yard that you don't care about.

Grass Under a Bird Feeder

Q. I love grass and birds. So I had had my bird feeder hung on a tree limb. Now grass will not grow where the sunflower seed hulls fell. I have moved the feeder over a mulched area. Now how can I restore the grass where the feeder once was?

A. That's an easy one. Rake the area thoroughly to rid the area of the hulls and loosen the ground underneath. I use a good garden (not leaf) rake on the spot. Then, simply add more grass seed the area and water. That should do it. FYI, sunflowers are also available without hulls so you can feed the birds without the hulls covering the ground. Check your local bird feeding supply store.

Gopher Problems

Q. I live in Southern California in the desert and have a rock landscape yard. Gophers are digging into the yard from the parkway and coming up through the rocks. How do I get rid of them? I have a pet and cannot use poison. Once we used traps -- an awful job and mess.

A. Except for using traps there's not much you can do to dissuade them.

Frogs Everywhere

Q. My husband and I moved into a house in Elk Grove, California, with a built in pond in the backyard. Over the past month or so, we have been inundated with frogs. I wouldn't mind except they croak all night and are becoming a nuisance. Do you have any suggestions for deterring them or preventing them in the first place?

A. Unfortunately, there's not much you can do to deter the frogs, short of putting netting over the pond to keep them out. Having a pond means attracting various types of wildlife to your yard.

Critter Woes

Q. I would love to have a beautiful garden. We have a new home, so I have to start from scratch. Last year I planted bulbs. They came up early this spring. However, something nibbled them down to small stubs. I must have a rabbit around. How do I keep him away without poison?

A. Rabbits will nibble many different plants to the ground in the early spring, especially crocus and tulips. There's not much you can do here except put up a low chicken wire fence to keep the creature at bay. Eventually, when other plants and grass begin to green up, the rabbit may move on. With bulbs, I'd also suggest planting narcissus next year, since they are not eaten by anything. That way you can have a great spring garden whether you have rabbits or not.

Continued on page 2:  Insect Problems