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368-Tips for Controlling Deer and Other Nuisance Wildlife-Encore Presentation

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Controlling deer is a challenge for many gardeners, whether they have ornamental gardens or are raising vegetables, not to mention rabbits, squirrels, groundhogs, raccoons, moles and voles. To explore the most effective ways to control nuisance wildlife, I spoke with wildlife damage management specialist Marne Titchenell, who shared her advice on which deterrents work and which are just wishful thinking.

Marne, since 2023, is the the wildlife program director at the Ohio State University School of Environment and Natural Resources, where she previously served for 16 years as a wildlife program specialist. She developed her love of wildlife during yearly family vacations hiking and visiting national parks, setting her on her education and career path. She received her Bachelor of Science in wildlife management and forestry from The Ohio State University in 2004 and continued her study of forest wildlife at OSU School of Environment and Natural Resources, where she obtained her Master of Science in 2007. 

 

Marne Titchenell

Marne Titchenell teaches wildlife control techniques to groups all throughout the year. (photo: courtesy Marne Titchenell)

 

We discussed the techniques that work — and the techniques that don’t work, which is just as important to know as we manage our expectations and our pocketbooks.

You can continue reading for a summary of the topics I discussed with Marne or see the show notes from the original airing of our conversation for a comprehensive overview of everything we spoke about. And don’t miss the links and resources at the bottom of this page for additional information on controlling wildlife.

Deer Management

Repellents, scare tactics, barriers, and all kinds of creative methods keep deer at bay, or at least attempt to. What really works depends on many variables.

In more rural areas, hunting and predators can keep deer populations in check, but in urban and suburban environments, deer have few threats to keep their numbers in check. When deer populations increase, they become less selective in the food they will eat. Using various deterrent methods, and switching them up throughout the year, has the greatest success in keeping deer at bay.

Deer eat up to 500 different plant species. They are less attracted to some plants than others, so select deer-resistant plants when possible. But even then, deer resistance is no guarantee — hungry deer may still browse your plants.

Deer’s preferences will change throughout the year. Deer love mowing down the fresh spring shoots of my oakleaf hydrangeas, but as the season wears on and the surviving hydrangea foliage matures and toughens, the deer seek out more desirable options.  

Odor repellents tend not to work on deer, but research shows that taste repellents can be successful. Repellents with egg solids, blood, hot pepper, or capsaicin as an ingredient are the best choices.

Motion-activated sounds, lights or water can keep deer away for a time, but you will need to keep moving the source. It doesn’t take long for deer to get wise to the mechanics and return to browsing on your prized shrubs.

 

Deer eating ornamental plants

Deer eat up to 500 different plant species. They are less attracted to some plants than others, so select deer-resistant plants when possible. But even then, deer resistance is no guarantee — hungry deer may still browse your plants. (photo: Marne Titchenell)

 

Rabbit Management

Rabbits have sharp top and bottom incisors that cut plants at a clean 45-degree angle. When you see clean bites on your plants, you know you have a rabbit problem, while roughly torn foliage is a sure sign of deer damage.

Taste repellents and fencing can both be effective rabbit repellents. In a smaller garden, a fence that 2 or 3 feet high will do the trick. Chicken wire staked into the ground can create an effective barrier. 

 

Rabbit eating a leaf

When you see clean bites on your plants, you know you have a rabbit problem.

 

Mole Management

Moles eat invertebrates — namely, grubs, worms and beetles — rather than your plants, but their tunneling damages lawns. 

Moles make primary runways, which Marne compares these to highways, and feeding runways, which Marne compares to side streets. The primary runways are the paths moles travel most frequently, so they tend to be straight and long. Feeding runways tend to be short and curved.

Primary runways are your best spot for mole management. There are many styles of mole traps, and most mole traps are kill traps. What style you choose is far less important than the placement. There are plenty of videos on YouTube to show you the proper way to do this — look for the videos created by wildlife control professionals.  

To identify a good trap location, Marne suggests pressing your foot down on a spot on one of the primary runways and marking the area with a flag. If the spot is raised back up a few hours later or the next day,  the runway is still being used.

Placing toxic chemicals in and around your property can always create unfortunate outcomes. I strongly discourage using toxic baits for pest management. The unintended consequences just aren’t worth it.

 

Mole tunnel damage

Mole tunnels are easily recognizable from above ground. Tunneling creates raised or depressed areas in lawn turf, and the grass can die if the mole has damaged grass roots during tunneling. (photo: Marne Titchenell)

 

Vole Management

Voles are rodents that create tunnels in mulch or thatched grass, and they eat vegetation, including tubers, seeds and roots. Chew marks at the base of plants, or a plant that feels loose in the soil, is a sign of vole damage — voles may have eaten much of the roots.

Remove mulch that is in direct contact with the base of plants. This cover makes it easy for voles to get to plant trunks while hiding from predators. Voles don’t like to take risks, so bare ground around the base of plants will make them less likely to feed on those plants.

Snap traps, aka mouse traps, are effective for controlling voles. Leave traps near vole tunnels or near the shallow holes voles leave by plants. Cover the traps with a large pot or a folded piece of cardboard to prevent other animals from becoming caught in the traps. Bait is not necessary when the traps are in the direct line of a vole food source, but apple slices or oatmeal mixed with peanut butter are good bait options.

Personally, I don’t do anything about voles and moles on my property.  I would rather co-exist with their damage than kill them with a trap or poison. Every gardener needs to choose his or her own threshold of tolerance.

 

Vole

Voles are part of the rodent family. They eat only vegetation and can wipe out entire root systems of the plants and shrubs in your garden.

 

Managing Wildlife that Can Climb Fences

Raccoons, groundhogs, squirrels, and other agile pests will climb right over any fence you install to keep critters out. Instead of installing a fence, take a look around your landscape. Consider what might be attracting these pests and make adjustments. Pick up fruit that falls on the ground from fruit trees, don’t put out your garbage overnight, and refrain from putting pet food outside.

Skunks, raccoons and other carnivores prey on rodents, so by controlling rodents, you may also see fewer larger animals come around. Exclude raccoons and skunks from attractive shelters, like under a deck, by installing lattice or other barriers. 

I would ask that you reconsider the term “pest problem.” Do you actually have a pest problem, or are you experiencing a little damage that you can live with? We must each look at the bigger picture in our landscape and decide if this a situation requiring management efforts or a little more patience and willingness to share.

If you haven’t listened to my conversation with Marne Titchenell on controlling deer and other nuisance wildlife, you can do so now by clicking the Play button on the green bar near the top of this post.

How have you learned to co-exist with nuisance wildlife? Let us know in the comments below. 

Links & Resources

Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.

Episode 119: Deer-Resistant Design: Fence-Free Solutions to Protect the Plants You Love

Episode 227: The Humane Gardener-How to Nurture a Backyard Habitat for Wildlife

joegardenerTV YouTube: How to Protect Trees from Deer Rut Damage

joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; seed starting and more.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Organic Vegetable Gardening: My new premium online course. The course is designed to be a comprehensive guide to starting, growing, nurturing and harvesting your favorite vegetables, no matter what you love to eat, no matter where you live, no matter your level of gardening experience.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out. 

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Beginning Gardener Fundamentals: Essential principles to know to create a thriving garden.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Growing Epic Tomatoes: Learn how to grow epic tomatoes with Joe Lamp’l and Craig LeHoullier. 

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Pests, Diseases & Weeds: Learn the proactive steps to take to manage pests, diseases and weeds for a more successful garden with a lot less frustration. Just $47 for lifetime access!

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Perfect Soil Recipe Master Class: Learn how to create the perfect soil environment for thriving plants.

Earthbound Expeditions: Discover South Africa with Joe Lamp’l

joegardener Newsletter

joegardener Facebook

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joegardener Twitter

joegardenerTV YouTube

Growing a Greener World®  

GGWTV YouTube

Growing a Greener World Episode 406: Setting Up A Garden

Marne A. Titchenell, Wildlife Program Specialist

Ohio State University Extension School of Environment and Natural Resources

Ohio Woodlands Stewards Program, Ohio State University Extension: Wildlife Habitat Management Resources

New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey: Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance

Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management

Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management: Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage

Proven Winners ColorChoice – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com 

Earth’s Ally – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com 

Territorial Seed Company – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com – Enter code JOE2024 for 10% off your order

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Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us, and compensation is not an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast was based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Greenhouse Megastore, Territorial Seed Company, Earth’s Ally, Proven Winners ColorChoice and Dramm. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.

About Joe Lamp'l

Joe Lamp’l is the creator and “joe” behind joe gardener®. His lifetime passion and devotion to all things horticulture has led him to a long-time career as one of the country’s most recognized and trusted personalities in organic gardening and sustainability. That is most evident in his role as host and creator of Emmy Award-winning Growing a Greener World®, a national green-living lifestyle series on PBS currently broadcasting in its tenth season. When he’s not working in his large, raised bed vegetable garden, he’s likely planting or digging something up, or spending time with his family on their organic farm just north of Atlanta, GA.

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