My friend Darby called the other day to tell me she was really feeling down. She’d read my article about the joys of growing spring flowering bulbs and she hated to miss the big show. But rabbits ravaged her bulbs last spring and she says she can’t handle another no-show.
When I asked what measures she took to keep the critters at bay Darby was kind of vague. Had she ever tried using commercial animal repellants I queried? Oh yeah she replied, I sprayed the bulbs when they started leafing out. Now be honest with me Darb, how many times did you use it after that. I asked. None she answered.
Aha, there in lies part of the problem I explained. Most animal repellants work when used properly but they must be reapplied often. When plants are actively growing new growth may need to be sprayed every few days.
Because these repellants tend to be pricey many gardeners use them sparingly so they fail.
Animal repellants, including Deer Off, Ropel, Liquid Fence, Repellex and Plantskyyd are among those recommended by professionals. They are available at independent garden centers as well as super stores and big boxes.
Most repellants rely on a combination of materials including rotten egg solids, Capsaicin (hot pepper), and garlic, which provide both an odor and taste barrier. Plantskyyd is animal blood based.
For those who like to try home made potions here’s a recipe passed on by Sally Ferguson of the Netherlands Bulb Information Center (www.bulb.com.) She says it has been used successfully in the famous Rosendal Garden in Sweden.
Cut a block of green Oasis (the kind soaked in water for use in fresh floral arrangements) into 2-inch cubes.
Mix 2.5 lbs of blood meal into a standard size pail filled with water.
Mix in 1 cup of household ammonia.
Stick the Oasis cubes on the end of green bamboo plant sticks and stick the cubes in the smelly soup. Use a dab of hot glue to secure the cubes to the stick. I suggest soaking the cubes in this solution for several minutes to give the Oasis time to absorb the chemicals. Place the stinky green lollypops strategically in the garden. They should be level with top of the plants you are trying to protect. Higher for deer and lower for rabbits. Re-soak the Oasis lollypops once a week. If you’re only doing a small area consider cutting the recipe by half or more as the ammonia will dissipate over time.
By the way, storing animal repellants in areas where the products will freeze may render them useless so don’t leave them in the potting shed or unattached garage over the winter.
To keep voles from munching spring bulbs over the winter, David Salmon of High Country Gardens (www.highcountrygardens.com) recommends soaking them in Bulb Guard for 5 minutes and allowing them to air dry for five minutes before planting.
Becky Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs (www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com) recommends spraying the bulbs with Ropel before planting. Becky says to be sure and wear gloves when working with these repellants because they are sticky and taste horrible.
Squirrels are attracted to the smell of the papery skins that cover the bulbs so to keep the sluffed off material from filtering out of net bags on to the ground and pick up any peelings that happen to drop off while planting. When planting I carry my bulbs around in a cardboard box to keep things tidy.
Another secret to success with many of these products is timing. Once animals begin feeding they often ignore repellants. So the first application should be done long before the plants flower
When it comes to repelling animals, partner Jeff Ball and I have become real believers in electric fences. In June I wrote about the Fi-Shock electric fence (www.fishock.com) we installed around my decorative vegetable garden to keep out 4-legged critters. It worked like a charm.
Jeff installed the plastic insulators on the edges of the raised beds encircling the entire garden with wire. The insulators come in an attention getting electric yellow color so we spray-painted them black. A little solar powered electric unit that is totally self-contained and requires no special wiring to electrical hook-up powers the fence. The Fi-Shock System utilizes the New Zealand design, which only gives off an electrical charge when the animal, be it two legged or four legged, touches the wire. I got hit a couple of times and can attest to the fact it gets your attention. Kind of like the poke you get from a plug outlet. The solar unit costs $200 but costs nothing to run. Battery-operated models that run on D-cell batteries start at $60.
Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit free-lance writer. Her column appears Saturdays in Homestyle. E-mail her at email@example.com. You can also read her previous columns on Detroit News Online at http://detnews.com/ homestyle/.