What could be more idyllic than gazing out your window and spotting a cute little bunny or deer in your yard? Well lots of things, actually. Truth be told, lots of these seemingly adorable creatures can turn your lawn into a putt-putt golf course full of craters, or your garden into an all-you-can-eat buffet. All in all, just like that dancing gopher in "Caddyshack," they will taunt you and haunt your dreams.
Just to give you an idea of Mother Nature's mean side, check out our primer on the damage that certain wild animals can do. Here's a rundown of six furry evildoers you won't want lurking on your lawn -- and how to get (and keep) them off your property, pronto.
Havoc they cause: Some say deer are rats with long legs and pretty eyes. Well, that might be harsh, but it's also apt. These ravenous critters eat 7 pounds of leaves, plants, and shrubs daily, denuding plants of foliage. Males also rub their antlers on tree trunks, stripping bark, says David Mizejewski, a National Wildlife Federation naturalist.
How to keep/chase them away: Deer can jump up to 8 feet, so a fence needs to be at least that height to keep them out. Repellents applied to plants will also deter deer from nibbling. However, Mizejewski says the best way to get rid of deer is to replace your delicious plants, like geraniums and hostas, with deer-resistant species, like daffodils, foxglove, and plants with thorns and strong odors (e.g., roses, salvia, lavender, and iris). Protect trees from "buck rubs" by wrapping their trunks in plastic mesh or strips of old inner tubes.
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Havoc they cause: These furry burrowers can riddle your lawn with holes, mounds, and other lawn mower hazards.
How to keep/chase them away: To prevent moles from tunneling into small areas like your garden, dig a trench a foot deep and wide, and bury sheet metal or hardware cloth fencing in an L-shape jutting away from the area you're fencing off. To protect larger areas, try cutting off their grub supply with insecticides and milky spore powder, or scattering eggshell shards throughout the garden, which cut their soft bellies. Also, above- and below-ground traps -- pick from "harpoon-style," "scissor-jaw," and "choker loop" styles -- provide a quick and humane death.
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Havoc they cause: Often mistaken for moles, shrews, and mice, voles have rounded snouts and chisel-shaped front teeth. They gnaw on seedlings and mature trees, and build extensive tunnel systems under your lawn, consuming small grass roots and large tree roots.
How to keep/chase them away: To protect your trees, construct a wire cylinder around the trunk 18 to 24 inches high, and bury the bottom of the wire 4 to 6 inches deep. Also remove vegetative cover around trees, so the rodents are more likely to be picked off by predators.
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Havoc they cause: Pocket gophers feed on garden crops, ornamental plants, vines, shrubs, trees -- basically anything that grows in soil. The little tunnelers can dig holes up to 6 feet deep, gnawing through plastic waterlines and sprinkler systems. Their tunnel mounds can also divert runoff toward your house (bad gophers!) and cause soil erosion.
How to keep/chase them away: The sooner you get after gophers with traps and poison bait, the better. Place traps, baited with carrots, apples, or peanut butter, in the gopher's main burrow, which you'll find with a commercial gopher probe. Two-pronged pincher traps and choker-style box traps are the most popular gopher traps. If you're using toxic bait, place the bait in the main, not lateral, tunnel, taking care not to spill the poison on the ground. Want a no-kill option? A natural landscape, instead of a water-sucking manicured lawn, will hide mole hills and attract predators, like hawks and foxes, which will hunt down voles (and gophers, too).
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Havoc they cause: Sure, squirrels are cuter than most other rodents, but they can eat all the seed from bird feeders, leaving your feathered friends with nothing to eat. They also damage garden plants, dig up lawns, chew siding and under eaves, and decide your attic is a great winter resort to raise their young, damaging walls, wires, and insulation.
How to keep/chase them away: Prevent squirrels from climbing trees and jumping onto your roof by encircling tree trunks with 2-foot-wide, metal collars about 6 feet from the ground. Cover all holes in roofs and eaves, and place wire-cage traps inside your attic if you hear the patter of little footsteps overhead. If you catch a squirrel, you can release it outside after you've trimmed tree branches overhanging your roof and boarded up entry holes.
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Havoc they cause: Gardens are irresistible for rabbits, who love vegetables, berries, herbs, and ornamental plants. If the tops of your 3-foot mums show up missing, you can bet a wabbit chomped them.
How to keep/chase them away: A 3-foot, plastic mesh fence should keep most rabbits out of your garden; bury or stake the bottom to prevent rabbits from crawling underneath. Some smelly repellents work well to keep rabbits away. You also can deter the pests from eating your salad garden by placing kabob skewers -- pointy tips facing out -- around lettuce and other edibles. A few pokes with the skewers will teach all but the dumbest rabbits to stay away.
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