Consistency is overrated.

We gardeners are encouraged to grow native plants and maintain wild patches in our yards so the wildlife indigenous to our region can thrive. But if that selfsame native wildlife – in the form of chipmunks, woodchucks or blue jays – comes into our yard to eat our tomatoes or tulips, we haul out the traps or .22s to try to get rid of them.

Yes, we want wildlife, but not so much of it that we can’t enjoy the fruits and flowers of our labors.

What to do? The range of options is wide, but for this column in Source – which promotes sustainable living – I will ignore those that involve killing the pests. Yes, firearms, lethal traps and poisons do work, are legal in many areas and can be used in ways that are safe for humans, but I think most Source readers aren’t interested in those methods. If you are, search elsewhere.

I also advise against Havahart traps. Despite the warm and fuzzy name, the popular contraption is heartless.

“Trapping and relocating is rarely a long-term solution and can actually cause the spread of wildlife diseases and certainly cause a lot of animal suffering,” according to an article at, an organization based in Ithaca, New York, that works to protect wild animals.

“More than 70 percent of relocated animals die soon after relocation due to stress, starvation, dehydration and aggression of resident animals.”

The relocated animals aren’t familiar with the new area and won’t know how to survive there. The animals that already live in the new spot consider the relocated animals predators and attack them. Any babies moved won’t yet have learned survival skills and if any parent animals are moved, that spells death for their babies.

Even if a Havahart lets you move a healthy pest from your neighborhood to someone else’s, that isn’t a neighborly act. You wouldn’t want people to drop woodchucks off on your street, would you?

The best answer to fighting pests is barriers. Mostly, that means fences, which can work on four-legged pests as small as chipmunks and as large as deer.

Although you could put up fences now, the gardening season is nearing its end so they wouldn’t do much good. In addition, woodchucks are especially damaging in early spring when they have been hibernating all winter and wake up really hungry. So whether you install the fence this fall or next spring, you are doing this work for next year’s garden season.

Chicken wire is a solid bet. It should be small mesh, so small pests can’t squeeze through the holes. Most mammalian marauders are capable climbers and deft diggers, so the fence should be at least 3 to 4 feet high and be buried at least 10 inches deep.

If you don’t want to dig, you can bend the fencing at a 90 degree angle and run it at least a foot along the ground in addition. For an additional deterrent, leave 12 inches at the top of the fence unattached to posts, so the fencing will flop if an animal tries to climb it.

If your problem is as simple as critters eating tulip bulbs, place the chicken wire on top of the bulbs, removing it when the tulips begin to sprout.

Either instead of or in addition to a chicken-wire fence in the vegetable garden, you can install an electric fence. Sometimes a single wire 4 inches above the ground will work, but some websites recommend two or more strands at different heights – depending on the size of the animals you hope to keep out. Keep in mind that an electric fence requires that you pull or trim weeds so they don’t grow up to the fence.

To stop hungry birds, you’ll need netting. You can buy netting of many different materials that will protect your high-bush blueberries and fruit trees. The netting makes picking harder, and you have to attach the netting to the ground to keep pests from crawling under the barrier.

But if you are losing most of your fruit, it’s worth the trouble.

You also can harass pests with smells and flavors they don’t like. When we had woodchucks living under our garden shed, I covered the exits with stones and clumping kitty litter doused with ammonia. Used kitty litter works better, but we no longer had cats – and the ammonia worked almost as well. The Humane Society recommends that method for chipmunks and other burrowing animals, as well.

Many websites recommend spreading hot pepper flakes throughout the garden, spraying plants with a mixture of water and garlic puree or putting Irish Spring soap in the garden. Several companies make commercial products to repel pests, which some gardeners have had success with. But the animals grow accustomed to the smells after a while, so you have to switch products regularly.

The same holds true for scare tactics. While bright silver balloons and make-believe owls will spook both ground pests and birds for a while, sooner or later the once-scary fixtures become just another part of the landscape.

One product I hadn’t seen before I researched this column is an electronic rodent repeller, which emits rodent distress calls. I haven’t tried these, and only about half of the online reviews are positive, but if you are willing to gamble $20 on one, it might be worth a shot.

The biggest problem in our garden this year has been chipmunks. They munched on our strawberries, green tomatoes in pots on our patio and even raspberries I picked that were in pint boxes I set down before taking them inside. It’s hard enough to keep ahead of raspberry production without thieving chipmunks.

So far my solution has been to put the tomato pots up on the patio tables and carry the filled raspberry boxes inside before I continue picking. It’s too late for the strawberries, which are done for the season.

But mostly, I’ve (somewhat begrudgingly) shared the bounty with them. They look like Chip and Dale, after all.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: [email protected]

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