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Keeping Larger Animals From Your Garden's Bounty

A baby rabbit feeds on berry bushes at the height of summer. You can keep your vegetables growing and curb garden-munching critters with barriers and repellents.
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A wild baby rabbit feeding on herbs in a garden.

It all begins with planning what to plant and choosing things that rabbits, woodchucks and deer would rather pass over.

Rabbits and woodchucks love lettuce, beans and peas and especially new tender growth on plants. On the other hand, they tend to turn up their noses at hairy-leafed things and prickly-leafed plants, like tomatoes.

If hungry enough, Deer, however, will eat pretty much anything. They will avoid certain textured and strongly-scented plants, so choose to add some of those to your gardens and raised beds.

Deer tend to stay away from succulents like sedums or euphorbias, butterfly weed and plants that have milky sap in them. And because of the pungent smell, deer will steer clear of herbs like mint, oregano and thyme.

If you've included these sorts of plants and herbs in your gardens and raised beds and rabbits, woodchucks and deer are still getting into things, you might need to consider a fence.

Rabbits and woodchucks get deterred if you install metal fencing in the right way. Remember to choose fencing that has small enough holes so rabbits can't squeeze through.

The trick to installing anti-rabbit fencing is all in the angle. Use metal fencing that stands about three feet tall, and then curve the bottom of the fence away from the garden at a 90-degree angle. This forms an apron of sorts. Atop that, place some mulch to bury it and keep it in place.

By installing the fence in this manner, when a woodchuck or rabbit comes along, their natural inclination is to dig down and when they do, they’ll hit the metal apron you’ve laid down, and they'll get frustrated and move on.

Fencing to keep deer away needs to be much larger, of course! Consider one that is six or seven feet tall. And you might even put some streamers or something on top of the fence because deer can jump very high.

There is one more technique to deter bigger animals and that is to use repellent sprays. These sprays often contain strongly-smelling odors to keep animals at bay.

The key with repellent sprays, though, is to purchase two or three different types made from different materials and then rotate them. Otherwise, animals will get accustomed to the pungent odors and eat your garden, just the same. You can find a number of repellent sprays at your local nursey or garden center, like Plant Skydd and Liquid Fence.

Q: How do we deal with tomato hornworms? We had a terrible time with them last year and want to try to head them off early this year. - Patsy, in Essex Junction

You do need to be on the lookout for tomato hornworms because they are coming soon.

To spot them, look on the top of your tomato plants. It may actually look like a deer was browsing through your garden and chewing on the foliage. On a closer inspection, you might see dark brown and dark green frass, or droppings. Those droppings will be on and among the tomato plant leaves. If you spot them, look straight up. You'll probably see those large tomato hornworms.

To remove them, you can handpick them, drop them in soap, or if you keep chickens, feed the hornworms to them.

If you're diligent about it, you'll be able to keep on top of it so they won't cause too much damage to your tomato plants.

And if your tomato plants are really inundated with hornworms, you can try baccillus thuringiensis or BT. A word of caution if you do use BT: use it with great care, as this treatment will kill all caterpillars, including monarch and swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.

Q: My rhododendrons have finished flowering and they were so beautiful this year! Now, I'm wondering how to prune them and when. - Judy, in Clifton Park, New York

We're getting to your question a little on the late side, because the time to prune rhododendrons or any of those spring flowering shrubs would be right after they're done flowering, at which time, you have about a four- to six-week window to prune.

At this point in the summer, we’re a bit beyond that window. However, if you're pruning your rhododendrons to rejuvenate it, you certainly can do that now. You can prune rhododendrons back to the old wood and they will re-leaf and turn into a nice small, bushy shrub again.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes. You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling VPR at (802) 655-9451.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with VPR host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

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Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on VPR. Be part of the fun and send your gardening questions here, for Charlie to answer on the air. Plus, find lots of great gardening tips and information for all seasons here. For more gardening information, check out Charlie's website, Gardening with Charlie Nardozzi. Charlie is a guest on VPR's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
Mary Engisch is the host and reporter for Weekend Edition Saturday and Weekend Edition Sunday on VPR.