Tag: wildlife

Too Many Snakes

I love your website and the information I receive by email is very valuable. I don’t think you have ever addressed the problem of snakes in the garden and around the house. I have more garter snakes than you can imagine! I removed all of the evergreens around my house, but they continue to show up in my flower beds and vegetable garden. They are under the siding on my house and we found snake skins around the windows when we were doing home repairs. I know they eat a lot of bugs and are part of nature’s balance but I really don’t like that I see 2 or 3 every time I walk around the house. Is there anything that I can do to drive them away? They seem to be throughout the neighborhood because everyone is complaining except the retired farmer next door – he loves them!

Typically snakes that are found in our gardens are harmless, but most people react the same way when they stumble across one – yikes! And if you have gone to all the trouble to install a water garden, semi-aquatic garter snakes can certainly reduce or eliminate any chance of enjoying any fish.

Before deciding to kill a snake in your yard or garden, consider their many benefits. Snakes are one of nature’s most efficient mouse traps; they kill and eat a variety of rodents. Some harmless snakes (king snakes, milk snakes, black racers and garter snakes) eat other snakes, including poisonous ones. Although snakes will not eliminate pests, they do help keep their numbers in check.

When people encounter a snake, they often corner it. Then the snake will hiss loudly, open its mouth in a threatening manner, coil up and strike at the individual or bluff by advancing toward the person. These behaviors are designed to scare off an intruder. They lead, however, to a common misconception that snakes charge or attack people. In most cases, a snake reacts only if it feels threatened. Usually, it crawls away if it can reach cover safely.

The habitats that attract snakes are cool, damp, dark areas where rodents and insects abound. Forests, streams, fields of tall grass and wetlands are where they search for their preferred foods also including frogs, worms, small birds and eggs, lizards, grubs and fish. One of the best means of controlling snakes without killing them is to modify the environment by removing the snake’s shelter and its food source to banish these creatures from your garden. Consider the following approaches:

  • Lawns and fields that are kept clean and closely mowed are less attractive to snakes.
  • Stack fireplace or stove wood away from your home on a rack at least 12 inches off the ground.
  • Keep shrubs and bushes trimmed at least 12 inches up from the ground.
  • Keep garbage in sealed trash cans (not bags) away from the house. If you have outside pets, make sure their food is sealed in metal containers and extra food is picked up when the animal has finished eaten.
  • Clean pond and stream banks that are abundant with debris.
  • Seal basements, attics and barn haylofts to keep out rodents, birds or bats. Check foundations for cracks and openings one-fourth inch or larger. Use caulk to seal cracks and openings around windows, doors, electrical pipes and wiring. Use one eighth inch hardware cloth or sheet metal for larger openings.
  • Some hiding places may be eliminated by packing sharp gravel around stoops and slabs since garter snakes only burrow in loose soil.
  • Gardens and flower beds with heavy mulch also attract snakes. Remove piles of leaves and rocks.

Unfortunately, there are no chemicals or other substances that have proven to be effective in repelling snakes. Snakes have many natural enemies such as raccoons, skunks, opossums, owls, hawks, ducks, geese, turkeys, and other snakes.

Several home remedies were evaluated to determine if they would repel black rat snakes. Treatments tested included gourd vines, moth balls, sulfur, cedar oil, a tacky bird repellent, lime, cayenne pepper spray, sisal rope, coal tar and creosote, liquid smoke, artificial skunk scent, and musk from a king snake. Currently, there is not enough conclusive data to recommend these repellents.

Before trying any measure to remove a snake from your garden be clear on whether or not it is poisonous. If you are unsure, proceed with caution and wait for the snake to flee.

How to Rabbit Proof Your Garden

I have lots of rabbits in the area and they are feasting on our plants, especially the rose bushes. How can I keep the rabbits away from the plants without harming either the rabbits or the plants? Springfield, IL

Short of encircling your property with a rabbit proof fence, there is not much you can do to keep Peter Cottontail out of your garden. Instead of launching a losing battle, I advise you to create a garden that will suffer the least amount of damage when they pass through.

Rabbits are timid creatures that will not hang around where they do not feel safe. You can make your garden less attractive by clearing out areas where they can hide such as clumps of under brush or piles of wood. Create flower beds that are out in the open, away from tree lines and shrubbery.

Encircle the base of young trees with 1/4 inch hardware cloth to prevent rabbits from eating the bark. Hardware cloth is a metal mesh similar to chicken wire. This is important in winter when rabbits’ food supplies are scarce. Set the hardware cloth up about 1 foot away from the trunk of the tree and bury it 2 to 3 inches below the ground.

A rabbit will try anything once, especially when it comes to tender new growth. If you have an area were new plants are emerging, cover it with bird netting. Make sure the corners are securely fastened. This is especially useful in the vegetable garden.

A final consideration is to choose plants that are unappealing to rabbits. These include plants that are highly aromatic, prickly, leathery or poisonous. There is no guarantee that these plants will not get eaten, but just maybe your neighbor will have planted something more appetizing. Here is a short list of plants rabbits avoid.






Bear’s Britches
Black-eyed Susan
Bleeding Heart
Foxlgove (bi-annual)
Hollyhock (bi-annual)
Lady’s Mantle
Lamb’s Ear
Lily of the Valley
Monk’s Hood (Aconitum)
Sea Holly
Toad Lily
Bottle Brush
Butterfly Bush
Mock Orange
Rose of Sharon

Home to Remove Garden Moles

I have ground moles in my yard. How can I get rid of them?

There are several tactics you can employ in your battle against moles. First, check to see if you have any white grubs in your lawn. White grubs are a favorite food of moles. By eliminating their food source it is most likely the moles will move on.

You can also try flushing moles out with water. Simply poke a garden hose into a tunnel and turn on the water. Leave running for about 15 minutes. The adults will escape, but if done in the spring, you will eliminate the young.

You can also use buried walls as an effective preventative for moles. Create a stone or compacted clay wall around the area you want to protect. The walls should be at least 6 inches thick and extend into the ground 2 feet. Note that this will not prevent a mole from entering the area by climbing over the barrier.

There are several non-lethal traps and repellents on the market that also help in mole control.

Ladybug Swarms

I’ve got ladybugs swarming in my house. I know that they are beneficial to my garden but what can I do about them invading my house?

It is common for ladybugs to swarm under wood house siding or sometimes even gather in large clusters indoors. This usually happens in the fall as the weather cools and ladybugs are preparing to go dormant. There are several names that this beneficial predatory insect is known by including ladybug, ladybird and lady beetle. Here in the United States, there are over 450 different species of these colorful beetles.

When I was growing up, having a ladybug light on my arm was a sign of good luck, but when they converge by the hundreds on your home, that’s a little too much luck! However, they are helpful in the garden because they eat harmful insects, most notably aphids. One lady beetle can consume over 5,000 aphids in its lifetime, so I recommend a way of providing temporary housing for the beetles until they are needed in the spring.

If you find that your home has been invaded by ladybugs, simply vacuum the bugs up using a clean vacuum bag – don’t use a broom as this causes them to ‘reflex bleed’ and their blood has an offensive odor. You can store the vacuum bag in a cool place until spring when you can release them into your garden.

How to Make a Hummingbird Feeder

One critter I love hanging around my garden is the hummingbird. A hummingbird feeder is a great way to attract them to the garden.

Welcome hummingbirds to your backyard by selecting a variety of plants that have brightly colored flowers, such as red, orange, and pink. Often, these flowers are tubular-like, and they’re nectar-producing. It’s these type of flowers that draw the hummingbird in during their migration, during the spring, and again late summer and early fall. Now, hummingbirds have almost no sense of smell, so the flowers they are attracted to are often not very fragrant. You see, these birds look for bright colors and high-nectar-producing plants. Of course, it’s always nice to have beautiful flowers in the garden, but there are other ways to attract these birds to the garden, and that’s with a hummingbird feeder.

You can use a recycled glass bottle, some floral wire, hot glue, and a feeder tube. And with these simple materials, you can create a colorful place for a hummingbird buffet.

Materials for Making a Hummingbird Feeder:

  • Glass drink bottle
  • Floral wire, 12 or 16 gauge
  • Hot glue
  • Feeder tube
  • Glass beads
  • Wire cutters

Directions for Making a Hummingbird Feeder:

Start with a clean, glass drink bottle. Any size will do. I think the larger, the better.

Beginning at the neck, wrap the floral wire around the bottle. Make your way toward the bottom, securing the wire in places with hot glue.

When you reach the bottom of the bottle, form a large loop with the wire and glue the ends on the bottle. This will serve has the hanger for the feeder.

If you want get creative by attaching some extra wire spirals and flat glass beads. The hummingbirds will love the colorful beads.

The last thing you want to do is add a feeder tube to the opening of the bottle. Choose one that you can easily remove so you can keep it cleaned and filled with fresh sugar water. You can find these feeder tubes at any pet store.

How to Make Hummingbird Nectar

Hummingbird nectar is just a simple syrup made with a ratio of ¼ cup sugar to 1 cup boiling water.

  • 1/4 cup white, granulate sugar
  • 1 cup boiling water

Bring your water to a boil, add sugar and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Boiling helps dissolve the sugar, but it also kills off things that might make the sugar water spoil faster.

Allow the syrup to cool and pour into your hummingbird feeder.

This will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, but it spoils quickly outside, especially in summer when it’s hot. Clean your feeder every 2 days and replace the syrup.

How to Attract Hummingbirds to the Garden

There is something extra special about seeing a hummingbird. I don’t know if it’s their beauty, speed or dexterity that makes them so fascinating, but I just love spotting one in my garden. It makes me feel like I’m doing something right.

Encouraging hummingbirds to stopover isn’t tough. All you have to do is set out the buffet and they will find you. They are always up for a snack; typically eating seven times per hour and visiting around 1,000 flowers in a day. Some of their favorite plants and a few well-placed feeders is enough to invite them into your garden.

Hummingbird feeding on flowers.

Start by providing natural sources of nectar. They don’t have a very good sense of smell, but they are still able to track down their favorite foods such as hosta flowers, hyssop and penstemon. If you really want to draw a hummer in, choose plants with tubular red flowers like scarlet honeysuckle, red petunias and red salvia. Their long slender beaks are designed to access nectar in these blooms and they really do love the color red.

Scarlet Honeysuckle

Hummingbirds also feed on soft-bodied insects for protein. In fact, the nectar is really just fuel for the insect hunt. If you want to provide a balanced diet, skip the pesticides. Given that a single hummingbird will eat several dozen bugs and spiders a day, you won’t need pesticide anyway.

To bring a crowd to your garden bolster the flowers with a few feeders. There are many types of feeders available, but I suggest getting one that is simple to take apart and clean. You will need to take it down every few days to rinse out and fill with fresh nectar so make it easy on yourself. Also look for a feeder with a perch. Hummingbirds spend most of their life at rest so choose a feeder that will allow your visitors to take a well-deserved break.

Hummingbird Feeder

When it comes to hanging the feeders look for a location that is out of direct sunlight and close to their favorite plants. A shady spot will keep the nectar from quickly going bad and the plants will help the birds find the feeder.

As mentioned above feeders need cleaning and refilling every two or three days. If a hummingbird detects spoiled nectar, it won’t come back. Rinse the feeder in hot water every time you refresh the nectar. Soap isn’t necessary and don’t put it in the dishwasher. Once a month soak it in a solution of ¼ cup bleach and one gallon of water.

Hummingbirds have the memory of an elephant. Once they discover your garden they will come back every year as long as there is food.

Goldfish Care Tips from Frisby Fish Farm

I have 75 goldfish in the fountain at the Garden Home Retreat. I got them from friends who actually raise goldfish, the Frisbys.  Howdy and Debbie have taught me a lot about the care of fish, and how they’re able to survive during the winter.

At the Frisby Fish Farm, Howdy and Debbie Frisby, along with their boys, raise goldfish on a large scale.  Now, their main market is pet stores, but they also sell for private ponds, like we have at the Garden Home Retreat.

During a recent visit they were busy harvesting the fish and bringing them up to the holding tank to get them ready for market.

I asked Howdy and Debbie if I should do anything special to help the fish survive over winter.  Here is what they told me.

Howdy and Debbie Frisby:  Of course, a goldfish may not necessarily be gold.  They can range from any color to brown to bronze to orange to white.

You know, they’re cold-blooded just like all fish are, and so they’re not near as active in the wintertime.

When the water temperature gets below 45 degrees F or so, they quit growing.  They’ll still eat a little bit, but they not nearly as much as they do during the rest of the year.

They’ll become sluggish and stay at the bottom of the pond most of the time.

They can survive in frozen ponds, too.  The only problem that you run into is if a pond freezes over completely and then you get a snow cover.  That will decrease if not eliminate the oxygen because you have to have sunshine to make oxygen for the water.

If you want to build a pond for goldfish, create it in a place where it can get plenty of sunshine, and that would certainly help in the summertime and the wintertime.

To keep your fish healthy, keep the water clean.  Don’t allow the water to get stagnant or full of debris and dirt.

I think most people that have a fish pond probably would have a filter of some kind depending on the size of the pond, and it’s also prettier to see the fish in the clean water as opposed to dirty, murky water, and they’ll be happier and prettier and live a lot longer.

Deer Proofing Your Garden

I’ve not had any deer problems in my flower or vegetable beds at the Garden Home Retreat. That’s bold statement for any gardener to make, but it’s especially risky considering the fact that the Retreat is surrounding by woods. There have plenty of deer sightings, but they don’t seem to be interested in the gardens.

I’m not sure what to attribute this to, but I know it won’t last forever. Eventually the deer are going to drop in for a visit and as we all know they are the type of guests who never leave.

Although I want to take precautions I also realize that deer and other wildlife were here long before I arrived. So I’m choosing measures that will keep me in good stead with my wild neighbors. Some of my solutions will also work for you in your garden home.

Deer Fence – I was given this tip from gardener and author Betsy Clebsch. She showed me how to build a deer proof fence. Deer can jump pretty high, but they don’t like to jump across a double barrier. So a fence inside a fence is much more effective than one tall fence. At the Garden Home Retreat I’m building two 4′ tall fences that are 5′ apart. The space between the fences will be wide enough for a wheelbarrow or lawn mower and too far apart for a deer to jump across. This is a good solution for small gardens or specially designated areas of a garden.

Deer Netting – I won’t be able to encircle the entire property with deer fencing so I’ll have to use some other defenses as well. I really like DuPont™ Garden Products Deer Netting. It can be draped over plants or attached to existing fencing. Deer don’t like the way it feels on their muzzle so they avoid it and whatever it is protecting. It’s a fine mesh material that is hardly noticeable against plant materials. It’s also UV-resistant so it will last a long time and can be reused year after year.

Plant Choices – Food preferences have not been a deciding factor when I chose plants for the Garden Home Retreat, but I am careful to avoid some of their favorites such as rhododendron, azaleas and hostas. Why risk ringing the dinner bell? I also planted 50,000 daffodils instead of tulips because deer won’t eat daffodils. Deer also dislike plants with a pungent fragrance like marigolds, lavender, boxwood and herbs. Fuzzy foliage plants like lamb’s ear are also not on a deer’s menu. Very few plants are actually deer proof. When food is scarce, they will eat just about anything.

Deer Resistant Plants? Fact or Fiction?

Raise your hand if deer like to graze in your garden. How many different tactics have you tried to protect your plants? Have you tried hanging bars of soap from tree limbs, sprayed predator urine or scattered human hair around flower beds?

While these inventive measures may work temporarily, a long term solution requires a holistic approach. First, you have to give up the idea that you are ever going to deer proof your garden. Unless you build a 7-foot tall fence around your place, there’s not much you can do to keep them out. Next, make your garden less appealing to deer. Stop planting their favorites like tulips, roses and hostas and choose plants that deer are less inclined to eat. A few plant characteristics to look out for are fuzzy foliage, an antiseptic aroma and a bad taste.

Are there plants that are 100 percent deer resistant? No. The truth is that deer will eat anything when food is scarce, but if your garden is filled with plants that deer find unpleasant, there is a good chance they will move on to the delicacies in your neighbor’s yard.


Deer Damaged Tree Trunk

My 6 year old red maple tree was the victim of a whitetail buck. He rubbed his horns on the trunk scraping away the bark on 3 sides of the tree. Is there anything I can do to help my tree?

If it isn’t bad enough that deer eat up everything in the garden, they can also be quite destructive with their antlers. A male deer will rub his antlers on a tree to mark it with his scent. This lets the area does know he is available if they are interested and tells passing bucks to keep away.

The problem arises when the bark is peeled away from the trunk. This exposes the delicate vascular layer beneath that transports nutrients and water throughout the tree.

With minimal damage, say just one or two sides of the tree are affected, the tree won’t suffer much but it may lose some leaves and branches.

Girdling is more serious. This is when the bark has been scraped away all the way around the trunk. In many cases the tree won’t survive and it’s important to call in an arborist to help gauge the situation.

It sounds like the deer in your garden did quite a bit of damage, but he didn’t manage to girdle the trunk, which is good news.

Without seeing the size of the wounds it’s impossible to determine if you need to contact an arborist. If they are close enough together to be almost continuous then get professional help. If the wounds are small there are some things you can do to help them heal properly.

Get to work as soon as you can. Fast action goes a long way towards a quick recovery.

If it’s still around, you can reattach the displaced bark to the tree. Simply cover the wound with the bark, securing it in place with duct tape or a sturdy strap. It will take about 3 months for the bark to reattach. Be sure to remove the binding once the wound has healed to prevent it from cutting into the trunk as the tree grows.

If there isn’t any bark, clean the edges of the wound. Cut away the torn and jagged edges of the bark with a sharp knife. You want to create a pointed oval with the top and bottom being narrower than the middle. Try to do this without greatly increasing the amount of lost bark or cutting into the tree.

As a final measure it would be a good idea to prevent further deer damage by protecting the trunk with a tree guard. You can purchase these online or at your favorite lawn and garden retailer.