Garden critters: ‘Frenemies’ in grow places

Your Show-Me Garden: MU Extension brings you gardening tips from experts around the state.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Cute critters by day. Thieves by night.

Every gardener knows the frustration of having a beautiful flower or vegetable garden decimated by four-legged critters, said University of Missouri Extension horticulturist David Trinklein. Wildlife can be more formidable garden foes than insects, diseases and weeds.

A garden is the wildlife equivalent of a fast food drive-thru. Animals like food that is tasty and convenient, Trinklein said. Hunger whets their appetite for garden goodies, especially when they cannot find food in their native habitat, such as during drought.

Early intervention is important; Trinklein recommends integrated pest management strategies for keeping wildlife damage to a minimum. Avoid animal pests by putting barriers in their way.

Pungent smells and unpleasant tastes may dissuade wildlife such as deer. Some gardeners choose chemical repellents with repugnant odors. Spray these around the edge of the garden. Keep in mind human and pet safety, plant toxicity, and expense when considering these options, said Trinklein.

There are numerous homespun remedies for repelling wildlife. One of the easiest is a mixture of 20 percent whole eggs and 80 percent water. Reapply monthly. Several commercial repellents contain capsaicin, the chemical that gives the “fire” to hot peppers. Other homespun remedies include sachets containing dog hair and highly perfumed soap.

Deer, raccoon, rabbits and other pests also dislike threatening figures and noise. Objects such as scarecrows, aluminum foil, foil pie plates, predatory bird figures and mirrors can be helpful. These are most effective when moved frequently, said Trinklein. Left in the same place, animals get used to them.

Other, more drastic methods of garden protection include fences, netting, and small cages over individual plants such as tomatoes. These can be effective but expensive. Trinklein said 36-inch chicken wire buried 6 inches in the ground is a good choice to exclude smaller wildlife such as rabbits and squirrels. For deer, fences must be 8 or more feet high to be effective.

Electric fences also are an option. Deter small species with two strands of electric fencing 2 and 4 inches above the ground. Deterring larger animals such as deer requires taller fences. Trinklein recommends clearly labeling all electric fencing to avoid accidental contact by humans.

Plant selection is another way to deter wildlife. Common garden flowers that are deer-resistant include ageratum, geranium, marigold, morning glory, nasturtium, salvia, snapdragon, Shasta daisy, canna, liatris, petunia, phlox, verbena, vinca and yarrow. For a more complete list, go to