Round Robin: Suburban Garden Pest Control

Notes from regional herb gardeners.

| August/September 2003

CHICAGO, Illinois—The words “garden pest” usually bring to mind insects and diseases, and these can be devastating. But if you add up all the plants I’ve lost to these scourges in the 20-some years I’ve been gardening, I doubt they’d equal the number lost in a single season to mammalian garden predators.

The worst was the woodchuck. Not only did he tunnel under our fence with ease, coming up to devour entire rows of vegetables and beds of flowers and herbs in an evening, he left huge ankle-threatening holes all over the yard.

My quest for a means of getting rid of the critter netted me such unusable advice as acquiring a shotgun or a large, hungry dog. No repellent we tried worked. Traps failed. The vegetable-garden fence, intended as rabbit bane, was already buried half a foot deep, and the prospect of digging it up and settling it twice as deep was unappealing — besides, that would still have left the flower and herb gardens at risk.

One spring, after particularly heavy rains, my husband’s shovel struck something while digging the beds. When unearthed, it gave off an awful stench. The groundhog’s tunnel had evidently collapsed, smothering the beast. When we had disposed of the corpse and finished retching, we celebrated.

Unfortunately, the creature’s brother — or his sister and his cousin and his aunts — moved right in and took over where he left off. Ultimately we finally did rid ourselves of the pest. We moved.

Other animals are less difficult to discourage. We’ve found that a 2-foot-tall fence dug 5 or 6 inches into the ground will keep out rabbits, probably the most common four-legged pest of the suburbs.

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