Garden pest spotting: How to identify that annoying animal eating your plants

Identify Plant Eaters

Get rid of pests and other animals that are ruining your garden and plants
Insects, diseases, and weeds are not the only pests that can invade or cause damage to your garden. Wildlife animals can be attracted by the countless varieties of plants or by gardens that are open to wildlife access. Many animals are drawn to gardens by nearby weeds or high grasses. Keeping this growth cleared may help ease the problem but having a basic knowledge and understanding of the various kinds of animals in your area and what attracts them will certainly improve your chances even more. Some of the most common of these culprits are described below.

Deer can cause some of the worst damage to your garden, especially in late winter and early spring. This normally occurs when their food supply is low. As a result, deer have adapted to feeding on your landscaped plantings.

Identify Plant Eaters

They will feed on the buds of both shrubs and trees or may simply browse through flowers and other vegetation. What the deer do not eat, they trample and most will return each year once they have established a good source of food from your garden. Though most deer tend to eat only certain plants, when hungry enough, they will consume almost anything. These animals can typically be seen feeding during the early morning and evening hours. They eat the shoots, leaves, and bark of woody plants, young buds, succulent plants, berries, and fruit. Damage made by deer can be recognized by a rough, jagged cut left in trees and other plants. In general, deer avoid plants that are fuzzy and aromatic. You can discourage these animals by avoiding or removing some of their favorite plants such as lilies, tulips, azaleas, hosta, or periwinkle. Other favorites include cherry and maple trees, holly, and mountain laurel. You could also try planting deer-resistant plants such as wax begonias, iris, daffodils, forsythia, boxwoods, lamb’s ears, and various pine and fir trees. There are also different types of deer fencing that can be used to deter these animals.

Distinctive traits make rabbits easy to identify. They have large hind legs, long ears, and a short, stumpy tail. As cute and innocent as they may appear, rabbits can wreak havoc in a garden by eating the leaves and flowers of many low-growing plants. These animals prefer beans, peas, cabbage, lettuce, alfalfa, and clover. They may also uproot young seedlings and strip the bark from young trees and shrubs. Rabbit damage can be identified by a clean, angled cut (unlike that of a deer) and usually does not exceed more than two and a half foot above the ground. Erecting small fencing will usually keep them out of a garden. You may also try cutting down areas that are overgrown.

Easily recognized by their unique black face mask and distinct ringed tail, raccoons are usually not a major problem in a garden unless you grow their particular favorites, such as corn and grapes. They are good climbers and will, however; scramble up trees to help themselves to fruit. Though raccoons may not devour your plants, they can and will dig them up in order to retrieve other sources of food like worms, insects, and grubs. There are several methods you can try to deter raccoons from the area. These might include the use of loud noises, hanging socks filled with mothballs, or electrified fencing. These animals will also avoid plants like cucumber and squash because of the prickly leaves.

Opossums are among the most primitive animals. These creatures have adapted well to human habitats and will eat just about anything. Known to be the only marsupial native to North America, these animals are usually recognized by their white head; pointed snout; and long, naked tails. Nonetheless, they are sometimes mistaken for large rats. Since opossums are nocturnal animals, they forage for food at night and have learned that gardens provide ready food sources and will help themselves to fruit, vegetables, persimmons, berries, and grain. As with raccoons, fencing or mothballs can be effective methods for removing these pests.

Woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, have heavy bodies, short legs, and short, furry tails. They are primarily vegetarians and will feed on leaves, grasses, flowers, and young shoots of herbaceous plants. In addition, they may on occasion claw or gnaw the bark from ornamental or fruit trees. Groundhogs also enjoy soybeans, alfalfa, peas, and clover. Feeding mostly during the early morning and late afternoon, these animals rarely venture far from their burrows. Scarecrows or moving objects placed sparingly in or around your garden will help keep these animals at bay as they are quite timid and easily frightened.

Of the many different species of rodents, the ones that are most typically suspect in damaging gardens include gophers, mice, voles, and squirrels. Gophers eat grasses, especially alfalfa, and woody plant materials. These animals will bite plants from underneath making it appear as though they wither and die for no apparent reason. Sometimes confused with moles, gophers deposit cone-shaped mounds at tunnel outlets that appear fan-shaped and have holes to one side, while moles leave continuous trails of raised soil with a more circular appearance and a centered hole. Crop rotation can help to ease the control of gophers. Often plant damage is attributed to moles, when, in reality, mice and voles are to blame. These rodents will use mole tunnels in addition to their own. Voles can be identified as possible culprits by wide pathways through grasslands. They will leave clippings and droppings that lead to open burrows. Their diet is made up mainly of plant cuttings and grasses whereas mice feed on seeds, grains, nuts, green plants, and tender bark. Keeping tall grasses and weeds adjacent to gardens cleared will help to alleviate mice and vole problems. Squirrels rarely cause significant damage to plants, but will strip bark from trees to find the sweet sap inside. Some of the most vulnerable of these trees are young sycamore, beech, and oak. Wrapping the bottom of these trees with sheet metal can help.

Often a welcome addition to any garden, birds may become pests as well. Many of these creatures will visit garden areas in search of food and can actually harm plants by eating the newly planted seeds, young buds and flowers, or by feeding on maturing fruits and vegetables. The most common garden feeding birds include blackbirds, scrub jays, magpies, finches, larks, and sparrows. Blackbirds feed on vegetables such as lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, and corn as well as almonds and sunflower seeds. Scrub jays and magpies like to invade orchard fruits and nuts. Finches debud and deflower nut and fruit trees and attack all kinds of seed crops. Larks feed on plants during seedling stage and on vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, and lettuce. Sparrows damage newly seeded lawns and flowers by eating young seedlings, buds, and fruit and vegetable crops. Netting can provide relief from these threats.

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