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SoCal Gardening : In the Garden : Ways to Oust Garden Pests

September 02, 1999|ROBERT SMAUS | TIMES GARDEN EDITOR

Readers often have their own solutions to problems posed in the Garden Q&A column. Here are a couple of recent ones that are well worth passing along.

Squirrel Solution

When one reader asked how to keep squirrels away from fruit trees, we suggested the (admittedly imperfect) solutions of repellents and bird netting.

But a reader, Ron Thomson of West Los Angeles, wrote to say he had the perfect solution and sent along some snapshots to prove it.

Several photos are close-ups of a squirrel trying to bite through some metal chicken wire. Another shot showed the exhausted squirrel lying flat on his belly, legs splayed, on top of an elaborate cage.

The final shot showed what that little squirrel was up against: a wood and metal creation that completely surrounds Thomson's apricot tree. Thomson, a retired president of Anawalt Lumber, built the cage himself from 2-inch-by-2-inch lumber and 1-inch poultry netting.

It also keeps the birds out so he gets every precious apricot. And, as anyone who has tried to harvest even a few apricots in a squirrelly neighborhood knows, it may be the only sure-fire way to keep them from sampling the fruit.

Deer and Gophers Too

Landscape contractor Tom Hollow takes care of the Soka University campus, which is completely surrounded by the wild Santa Monica Mountains.

He wrote that he has found a way to keep deer from eating the campus roses and "the most effective gopher product we've ever used." Now we figure that if these ideas succeed on Soka's 40-acre campus, they must really work. After all, deer and gophers aren't occasional problems there, they're constant ones.

To save the roses, Hollow came up with a variation of the old pepper-spray solution. He mixed a commercial pepper spray repellent called Hot Sauce with an antitranspirant named Vapor Guard (using the amounts recommended on the labels). Antitranspirants routinely are used to keep foliage from giving off moisture too quickly. But they also coat foliage so the pepper solution sticks and isn't washed off quickly by rain or watering.

He got these two commercial-grade products from Agrx in Ventura County but suspects other pepper sprays, or even Tabasco, mixed with other antitranspirants also will work.

He does caution users that, even though the substances aren't poisonous, they should be downwind of the spray when they're applying it and they should avoid getting the pepper solution on themselves as it can really burn. However, he reports it doesn't harm even the most delicate rose petals.

Hollow's nifty solution for gophers? Punch a hole in their tunnel and drop in a stick of chewing gum. (Wear gloves while unwrapping the gum to keep your scent off it.)

When the gopher comes to investigate the light coming into his tunnel, he will try to eat the gum and choke to death.

"It works better than any poison," Hollow said.

Scat, Cat, From Garden

To keep cats from using garden beds as litter boxes, try covering newly planted areas with tree prunings to physically interfere with cat (and squirrel) digging.

Nora Kuttner of Fullerton suggested using empty nursery flats "to discourage pet damage, etc., until the plants can hold their own." A plastic grid forms the bottom of the flats so, once they are inverted over the planted area, they make perfect little cages and let in lots of sun and water.

Anita Work of Sylmar has another method that keeps her dog, two cats and a rabbit out of the garden beds.

She pushes bamboo stakes, cut into 12- to 14-inch lengths, into the beds about 6 inches apart to form a grid that resembles a bed of bamboo nails. At first, they can be pushed in deeply, so they are barely visible, but as plants grow they can be pulled higher until the plants become large enough so they are no longer needed.

The stake grid may sound like some fearsome medieval defense, but it just makes it impossible to dig up the area--it does not harm the animals, she says.

In the Garden is published Thursdays. Write to Robert Smaus, SoCal Living, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053; fax to (213) 237-4712; or e-mail robert.smaus@latimes.com.

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