NYTimes channels the rage



Ah, yes. Deer, rabbits, voles, moles, gophers, squirrels, and god knows what else. The New York Times ran a fascinating piece about such on Thursday. I read about koi farmers with dozens of one-eyed fish (picked out by birds), people who kill woodchucks and eat them, people who drown squirrels in rain barrels, and people who bash in the heads of porcupines with sledgehammers. I’ve heard these stories before; every summer during Garden Walk suburban gardeners tell me that they go on garden walks because the only way they can enjoy a garden is vicariously.

Just Thursday, I was giving a talk at a local bookstore and the conversation turned to deer. “Liquid Fence?” I faltered. “Have you ever smelled it?” said one.” Doesn’t work,” said another. “Rabbits ate my yucca to the ground, so now I don’t grow that any more and I grow different things in containers,” said my nearest neighbor.

I must admit to being clueless about critters. We have much more pavement than greenery in my neighborhood, and none of the edge habitat that deer love so much in suburban lawn-land. And it’s one thing to lose your daylilies; quite another to lose a food crop upon which you may have been depending, as described here:

The animals do not take one or two tomatoes as if they’re in a greenmarket in the Hamptons; they go down the row sampling, so that everything is ruined. Or they uproot and destroy a crop, without eating a thing, in their search for insects and grubs. There is, in fact, a sameness to the stories the gardeners tell: “If they just had taken one head of lettuce, or a few strawberries — but they decimated the whole thing!” After a season of grueling labor and multiple attempts at benign deterrence, the sight of a trashed garden is often the last straw: the moment when a gentle gardener will suddenly go Rambo.

The truth is that for many WNY gardeners, Bambi is their worst nightmare. Does anyone have a feasible solution? I am sure the gardeners described in the Times article would love to hear it.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. As for the deer, there are recipes for homemade “liquid fence” out there. Here is one of them: http://www.budget101.com/articles/article23.htm

    My own biggest problem lies with the squirrels, who just love to rip my plants out of my containers and leave them in the sun to die. A neighbor of mine pointed out that the only thing that has ever worked for her was to place heavy rocks on top of the soil surrounding her plants — and they have to be at least palm-sized and heavy enough that they would be difficult for a squirrel to lift.

  2. As my moniker states we have a lot of squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits plus deer here in MN.

    I have a one acre perennial gardens, no food crops except berries for the bird use.

    My humble experience is for perennial flower growth only, I use only deer resistent plants. Have had good luck with planting native species in open areas. My hybrids are in a picket fence area with rabbit fencing on the lower area to protect the tender items like roses, lilies, pansies, etc.

    We actually love the squirrels but had to do my bulb planting in window boxes or containers. My neighbors have taken some of the fun from gardening when they stop by to complain about their lost plants. Urine also works very well around the plants that you want to protect.

    I just could never bring myself to drown anything…..gardening should be fun not warfare.

  3. My mother always kept them out by an 11 foot fence. Even that was not always effective. Occasionally they would jump in then since they didn’t have the running room, couldn’t get out again.

    Though I’ve been told there are deer in my area, I’ve never seen them. And I think I’ve only had damage from them once (maybe the dog keeps them away). The real killers are the chipmunks. I so want to grow strawberries, but they eat them when green. And they won’t really eat them. They take one bite, throw it away and take another berry to do the same. So I have a ground cover of partially eaten berries.

  4. A friend of mine lost her beehives to bears last week. I told her I’m planning to keep bees in my (very urban) yard. “Don’t come crying to me when the bears show up!” she replied.

    I doubt that will be a problem.

  5. In general, I try to make peace with whatever the wildlife do, but last week when a fox killed 19 of our 21 chickens in our suburban backyard, I was sympathetic when my 8 year old told me she hated foxes. I really love the idea of them, but I do miss all those lovely banty pets we were raising.

  6. For hand to hand combat with the wild turkeys that were pulling up hundreds of newly planted heather plants we installed motion detection sprinklers.
    It worked.
    For the deer invasions we found that nothing works as good as a 6-8 foot all fence or a an evenly spaced double row fence.
    Gophers are a sly little bunch and several defensive and offensive strategies have to be enacted at the same time to limit their damage and growth.

    I can’t imagine what it would be like to enter into garden warfare with a bear.
    At that point I might send up the white flag and surrender.

  7. I’ll second the motion-detector sprinkler — I’m right in the middle of the block in the middle of town, so I don’t have the bear and deer problems that are endemic here in Montana — but I did have a cat using my raised vegetable beds as a litter box — the sprinkler solved that problem in about 3 days … also, a good dog-training device — I’ve used it to stop my dog and the dog next door from their bark-fests …

  8. Interesting – we are on a 200 acre nature preserve in Connecticut and use Liquid Fence (yeah, it wreaks of rotten eggs until it dries) with much success. Coincidence? Maybe, but the 200 gazillion wood goats (deer to those who don’t actually have a problem) around here have kept their distance – even from hosta candy- since we started spot spraying the garden two years ago.

  9. I see deer, gophers, squirrels and others. What I don’t see are the cutest of evils, my personal garden pests: rabbits.

    They love nice new greens, baby new, and raze them down before they ever really get started. Even my onion tops were mowed down with even little teeth marks.

  10. I found the NYT story appalling. Believe me, I understand the need to control some pests (and I consider white tailed deer in particular an environmental catastrophe, so go right ahead and kill more of ’em), but some of these people were, frankly, whacked.

    The woman who shoots perfectly harmless snakes in her garden because she’s terrified of them simply shouldn’t be allowed to garden. Get over it honey. Go to Michael’s and cultivate some nice plastic flowers. Just have the grace to leave the great outdoors alone. Sheesh. Reptiles and amphibians are under significant ecological pressure without morons like you killing ones that not only do no harm, but are actively beneficial in the garden.

    And squirrels? Well, you can’t beat ’em, so join ’em. I find they are easily distracted from the vegetable garden by the copious quantities of black oil sunflower seed in the feeders around my yard. Do I care? No. Sunflower seed is cheap. Do the birds get some of my fruit? Yeah. Do I bother to net? No. There’s enough for everyone.

  11. I understand that impulse to kill pests. It’s hard work to put in a big vegetable garden, and you can lose everything in a few hours. That tends to make one ANGRY.

    I was having terrible troubles with rabbits and groundhogs in my garden. But I found that I was incapable of taking the two pieces of advice I was given: shoot them or havaheart trap them and move them. Apparently, groundhogs are quite capable of biting off your finger if they are mad.

    So I’ve spent the past three years fencing and fencing again–constantly refining a combination of rabbit wire, cage wire and cedar pickets. It’s a complete pain in the ass, but nicer than shooting.

  12. Mary Contrary,

    Won’t you be my neighbor. Refreshing post, finally someone has put a balance on the bloodshed.

    Agreed if some gardeners would but a little seed out or leave a little patch for bunnies they may not be so frustrated.

    Not judge, but I have those wacked out neighbors who poison, kill, and drowen everything in site so they can have vanity gardens. Lighten up people and when you start working with nature the results are WOW!!!!

  13. Missed the article but had to throw in my 2 cents. We put in raspberries/blackberries on the edge of our property that borders a valley filled with deer, not so smart. Our solution? My husband pees in a bottle while working in his shop and pours it over the soil around the plants. The one week he was gone, they nibbled. Other than that we have been deer free for the last 3 months!!!

  14. Becca–my fruit trees get browsed by deer. A friend suggested coyote urine. Glad to know Big Guy urine works, too.

  15. The only true solution would be to develop a literacy program for wildlife. If they could read, they would know that certain plants are on the Deer Proof Lists and that they are not supposed to be eating them. If they understood us they would understand why we put foul smelling solutions around the edge of the garden. But until they speak our language they will always do whatever they want to do and ignore our attempts at keeping them under control.

    It is always better to over do it on the construction end rather than spend all your time later patching and repatching a fence. Build it strong enough to keep out a herd of rapid grizzly bears and you should be able to garden peacefully for at least one season.

  16. Besides the encroachment on areas that were formerly wild, we’ve been in drought conditions for the past few years. A gardener’s yard is an oasis when the rest of the landscape is blighted.

  17. Michelle-What I found to work w/ my apple trees is a not so attractive solution but one that works:
    Once the apples start to take form, use a brown paper lunch bag to cover them by making a small slit through the bottom big enough for the apple and putting the apple through it into the open bag. Then close the open end with a twist tie or rubber band. The apple will grow inside as normal. I was surprised that these paper bags survived the wind and rain of the Pacific NW and we had gorgeous apples in the end! My mom saw this trick in China and thought they were lanterns of some sort!!!

  18. I agree with the distraction method. Alternate sources of food work great for the birds in my yard and garden – plus I get to enjoy the birds. I have one friend that actually cultivated a relationship with one squirrel, and it was territorial enough that it kept the others away.

    We have tons of voles this year…but so far, the dog chasing them around the yard doesn’t seem to leave them enought time to crawl up the side of the garden beds.

    I have only had hit-or-miss luck with the distraction technique when it comes to moose though. I plant cabbage or sweet peas or other sacrificial plants elsewhere in the yard. Last year it didn’t work so well though. One afternoon I looked at the legumes and decided that my mother-in-law and I would pick the next morning. By the next morning, it was like someone hit the bed with a weed whacker…they just buffet’ed right through my peas and beans. Fences have to be pretty tall and re-enforced to keep out the moose if they really want to get in. And I just really don’t want the prison look around my garden.

  19. There seems to be no one-size-fits-all solution for deer. The smelly sprays that many people have no luck with (liquid fence, bob-ex, coyote or husband! urine etc) work best if they are rotated, as it seems the deer can get used to one if it is used exclusively. Big fat borders or even strategically placed clumps of nepeta and monarda (strong aromatic perennials) will be avoided by them, especially if they are not under a lot of pressure in the neighborhood to pass through or by them. That’s also a big key – I live in rural CT, with 1000’s of deer filled acres around. I cannot have tulips, the hostas do get nibbled, but never decimated, (and usually on the sides of trees that are hidden from the house, never on the sides facing the house), and sunflowers in my veggie garden some years make it, some years don’t, but because they have many other options in the surrounding woods I manage to keep most things safe. They also used to walk right through my property between two wooded areas, I made them alter their traffic pattern (with some fencing, not enough to stop them, but enough to make them think about it – it was easier to walk around). In more developed suburban areas where they are under stronger pressure, they are much more aggressive and my tactics likely would not work as well. I have never lost a daylily, even though they grow just 15 feet from those same hostas that get nibbled – the daylilies are surrounded by monarda & nepeta. Gotta think in flexible terms – kind of like a deer…..

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