If you live in an urban or suburban area, you’re probably thinking mainly about foxes, squirrels, hedgehogs, cats and dogs; you may stretch your list to moles, magpies and rats. But many gardeners on the fringes of suburbia, or those who have allotments, so not fully rural, also have to consider rabbits, badgers, deer, stoats, weasels, rats, bats and owls.
It’s a long list, so we’ll first consider the main offenders that I’m asked about by clients. Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) top the charts; but a lot of the tricks work with, or rather against, other predators, so much of what I suggest below is relevant to Grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) badgers (Meles meles) and brown rats (Rattus norvegicus).
Foxes are more often seen in urban and suburban areas than rural these days, for various reasons, including a reliable food supply. This would probably not bother us if it were not for the great fun foxes then have digging up plants and puncturing footballs left out overnight; not to mention the unexpected ‘present’ they might leave on your doorstep! Watching a pack of cubs playing on your lawn is delightful; and let’s remember that residents who encourage foxes into their gardens by feeding them do the rest of us a service: foxes, sensibly enough, prefer the easy life.
If you are troubled by foxes and friends, what steps can you take? Simple solutions first: make sure there is little to attract them in the first place. For example, don’t leave food out and clean up after the BBQ. Keeping a tight lid on the compost bin and on the food waste bin or rubbish bin is essential. More councils are offering a food waste collection, which takes bones and cooked food. This is a good thing as it will be turned into compost not landfill, and the containers have secure lids, often more secure than the rubbish bin, so it should decrease the waste scattered around by foxes.
If you’re using a blood, fish and bone based fertiliser in the garden, use sparingly and be sure to dig it in well, as it’s very tempting to foxes, badgers, rats, dogs and cats.
Clear overgrown areas which could provide resting areas. This doesn’t mean clearing up your ‘stag beetle corner’; foxes are more likely to take cover on a garage roof overgrown with ivy: it’s a good vantage point. Block access to underneath sheds and decking, as these make excellent dens (foxes), setts (badgers) and rat nests.
Check where and how the foxes are entering, are they climbing over the fence or digging a hole underneath? There are sprays that can be used to dissuade pests from entering your garden. These are largely based on citrus fruits – you may have noticed that whilst your dog will eat most raw fruit and vegetables, they’re not keen on lemons. Some of these are solutions you mix-up, others are ready made. You can also make your own with essential oils – grapefruit seems to work particularly well of the citrus oils. Hot pepper spray is particularly effective against most pests – even deer, but may ‘burn’ leaf edges of delicate plants.
Spray along tops of fences if that’s how the foxes entering, around the entry holes and potential nest areas. Spreading citrus peel around the holes and runs may have the added advantage of collecting up slugs for you as well.
Many of these garden pests are territorial. This can be another tool in dissuading them from entering your garden as if they think larger predator is in residence, they’ll look elsewhere first. So, apart from borrowing a lion or tiger from the zoo, what else is a larger predator?
Domestically speaking, dogs are the obvious contender. Encouraging both dogs and bitches to scent mark around the boundaries and generally have a presence in the garden does seem to work. ‘Borrowing’ a friend’s dog on a regular basis can also help; ‘regular’ being the key word. We have noticed that where our dog accompanies us to a client’s garden on a fortnightly basis, and is encouraged to do the ‘territorial’ stuff, plus we take action as above, the foxes will leave. If you don’t have access to a dog, having many cats can sometimes work – not so much the size as the number of other predators. Or find a source of testosterone – we’re back to the “ask your adult males to pee around the boundaries” scenario here, so not the world’s best solution!
In some ways badgers are more of a pest than foxes, as earthworms are one of their favourite foods, and worms are among the top of a gardener’s necessary helpers list. Grey squirrels are tricky to deal with but cats and magpies can be helpful predators here, although magpies are also pests…hmm it’s definitely less of a predator hierarchy than a web of choices…
If you would like some advice, perhaps a consultation visit on how to de-weed and de-pest your garden in an easy, environmental way giving yourself more time just to sit and enjoy the sunshine, get in touch.