The Q&A Archives: Keeping Other Peoples Pets and Animals Off Your Plants

Question: I have planted the 3rd time now 2 dogwoods in my front lawn, the last two sets have died. I notice digging in the mulch. The neighbor has six cats. We have squirrels around and skunks. Something is killing all my plants Azeleas, dogwoods, Purple gems.. and cranberry easters. Please help me. The other neighbor lady told me the other day that she planted some tulip bulbs and when she got up in the morning that the bulbs were dug back up and laid like they were never planted. Is there some help you could advise me as to what animal could have done all this and what to do....

an irritated planter

Answer: You are faced with a common problem and one to which there is no one best answer. Squirrels will often steal newly planted bulbs, and cats just love to dig in fresh mulch. Skunks tend to leave small holes about but eat insects and in my experience do not usually damage plants.

Based on your description I am not sure what is damaging such a variety of plants, although a deer or woodchuck could certainly accomplish a lot in a hurry if it wanted to. Rabbits will also nibble on bark, although they usually wait until winter when other food is less plentiful.

Some areas may have leash laws which apply to cats and can be enforced should you wish to go that route with the cats. Another option is to use some sort of repellent sray applied to the plants, either a home-made concoction with garlic and hot pepper or a commercial brand. ( The GetAway brand includes several varieties of spray intended to repel different types of animals including cats and squirrels and so on and it is available through the Burpee catalog at 1-800-487-5530. ) Yet another alternative is to protect the plants with wire mesh laid over the soil in the case of newly planted bulbs, or wrapped (and loosened as the tree grows) to protect the trunk of trees. Some animals will dig in bark mulch but will not dig in larger gravel or in straw, so that might be an alternative. Finally in some cases a ring of fence such as chicken wire is enough to deter wild critters from digging right around a tree -- or a more permanent fence can be erected around the overall perimeter to keep more types of animals out.

I'm so sorry about your plants!

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