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Dealing With Garden Pests

Whether it’s a cute bunny, a hungry deer, ornery squirrels or bad bugs, dealing with pests in the garden is just part of gardening. And, often a very frustrating part of gardening! Over my many years of gardening I have dealt with many types of pests and while there are many, many remedies out there in cyberspace, I will share what has worked for me without using a bunch of chemicals.

Deer in Garden - Dealing With Garden Pests

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How to Keep Deer and Rabbits Out of the Garden

 At our last home, we were a few blocks over from a wildlife preserve, and when the deer ran out of things to eat there, or got bored with the menu, they paid a visit to my gardens. All it took was a visit from one deer, and then every night there would be two or more coming to dine. They weren’t really scared of humans either. Even the headlights from our car pulling into the driveway would not deter them. They would look up as if to greet us and then continue their feast. We had motion sensor lights in our backyard, but they became accustomed to those. I knew then if I wanted to protect my gardens, I was going to have to learn how to deal with garden pests.

The first thing we did was fence in our raised vegetable beds. We didn’t do anything fancy and it wasn’t at all attractive, but once the vegetables grew and filled in, the fence wasn’t all that noticeable. If you do fencing, be sure the bottom of the fencing is small enough so that baby bunnies can’t sneak through… speaking from experience.

I knew I wasn’t going to fence in my entire yard, or my individual flower gardens, so I had to come up with an arsenal against the deer and rabbits that were feasting on my veritable smorgasbord.

This is very important, deterrents must be used starting very early in the spring just as soon as you see little buds popping out of the ground. After a long winter, wildlife are starving and looking for just about anything green. Be especially vigilant with tulips, lilies, liatris, bachelor’s buttons, black-eyed Susan and many other delicious perennials.

Here’s a Dealing with Garden Pests Pin to save to
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so you can refer back to it later.

Deer & Rabbit in Garden - Natural Ways to Keep Deer, Rabbits & Other Pests out of Your Garden

Products That Work To Keep Garden Pests (Wildlife) From Eating Your Plants

Here’s the thing with rabbits and deer, they become accustomed to smells and tastes, and their taste buds will adapt to yucky tasting plants. That means you’ve got to change things up, or use multiple deterrents. I had the best luck using Milorganite, and alternating Liquid Fence and Deer Off.  

  • Milorganite is actually an organic fertilizer made from dried sewage. I know it sounds pretty gross, but it works. If you get it on grass, it will turn it a rich, deep green. It is also the cheapest deterrent out there. I’m sharing my Amazon Affiliate link, but I think you can probably get this product cheaper at your local big box store. It’s usually with the lawn fertilizers. I would simply use a funnel and create a line on top of the mulch around all my flower beds.
  • Liquid Fence is a nasty concoction made with rotten eggs, garlic and other crud that critters don’t care for. I need to warn you that it STINKS, and that is putting it mildly.  The smell does dissipate, but the taste does not. It does have a wax product in it that makes it stick to the plant through rain. If you don’t shake the bottle really well, once it has dried on the plant, the wax will leave cloudy white spots on the foliage. Also, the product label states that it’s effective for 3 months, but I don’t find that to be the case and I usually reapply it after a heavy rain. That being said, the white spots on the leaves and the need to reapply still make the cost of this product and the hassle of using it totally worth it, because it works!
  • Deer Off is also made with rotten eggs and garlic, but it’s seasoned with hot pepper, which is apparently off putting to deer, rabbits and squirrels.

So by using Milorganite and alternating Liquid Fence and Deer Off, I am able to keep deer and rabbit damage to a minimum.

Rabbit in Garden - Dealing With Garden Pests

Other Ways to Protect Plants From Deer & Rabbits

I also used these stake things filled with some sort of nastiness in my hosta beds and they seemed to work really well for our summer growing season. A few seasons I also shredded bars of Irish Spring soap and sprinkled it around my hostas. Although I loved the smell, I decided I liked it better on my man. I’m also not sure what effect Irish Spring soap has on the soil. I’ve also seen gardeners put the soap in mesh bags and hang them in the garden.

Add cloches or cylinder-type fences around plants that you know rabbits will eat, like tulips or lilies. I made up a bunch of cylinder fences out of this type of fencing and they work really well.

This is the one thing that I have found to protect plants from baby bunnies. They are so cute, but baby bunnies will eat anything no matter what you put on it. 

Baby Bunny

Plants that are Deer & Rabbit Resistant

If you’re in an area where you have lots of wildlife in your yard, there are many perennials that deer and rabbits don’t particularly care for. I put together a list of 30+ Rabbit & Deer Resistant Perennials that is available in the Gardening Resources Library. The list is divided by Shade/Part Shade Plants and Sun/Part Sun Plants. I would also recommend doing a little research on perennials that are deer and rabbit resistant in your gardening zone. By taking just a few minutes, you’ll be able to come up with a good list of plants to try.

Tips for Keeping Squirrels from Digging In Your Garden

Squirrels are my garden nemesis now. I don’t mind if they dig in the lawn, but not my gardens or my planters. Squirrels also love to eat some flowers. They’ve eaten my gazanias for the past 3 summers. No matter where I put them, the squirrels will find a way to get to them and eat them. I’ve read that the product Plantskydd works well to keep squirrels away, as well as other garden critters.

I’ve also heard that cinnamon will deter squirrels. I tried it in my planters and yes it keeps the little brats out, but you have to keep up reapplying it. However, but I can’t visualize sprinkling it all around my entire gardens. Have you had success keeping squirrels from digging in your gardens? If so, would you please leave a comment and let us know your secrets. 

Dealing With Garden Pests – Controlling Bad Bugs in the Garden

I’m not really all that keen on using pesticides, especially on vegetables. I also like bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators in my gardens and pesticides are indiscriminate about what bug they are killing. If you feel you must use pesticides, at least try organic first.

Diatomaceous Earth is a product that is made from fossilized aquatic organisms and the food grade is supposed to be safe for humans to consume. It has many uses, but we are only interested in what it does to bugs. Basically it binds to bugs, dries them out and kills them. Again, as with any pesticide, it will kill all bugs, the good and the bad. I haven’t used Diatomaceous Earth on flowers or vegetable plants, but I did purchase some to use on Japanese beetles that eat Virginia creeper. Virginia creeper is an invasive plant and deserves to be eaten, but if those Japanese beetles are left alone, they will just keep multiplying. I recommend this duster thingy for applying Diatomaceous Earth otherwise it blows all over and it will kill other insects that it comes in contact with.

Japanese Beetles on Roses

This year I’m going to try some netting and row covers in my vegetable gardens to control cabbage moth and other things that chomp on my broccoli and cabbage. I don’t recommend using row covers on plants that need pollination. Flowering vegetables like squash, tomatoes, melons and many others need to be pollinated before they can form the vegetable.

The Truth About Natural Pest Remedies

Beware of all the so-called organic or natural bug remedies out there. Just because someone calls something organic doesn’t mean it’s organic. Case in point- Dawn dish soap recipes to kill bugs and weeds is NOT organic or natural. Read the label on a bottle of Dawn and you’ll find there’s nothing organic about it. However, if I can kill bugs with Dawn soap, I will choose that over chemical sprays that harm good bugs that are in the vicinity of where I’m spraying.  

We have a terrible time with box elder bugs and Dawn soap and water kills them, so that’s what we use. Is it organic, probably not. Also a good point to make when using Dawn soap and most insecticidal soap sprays, the liquid must come in contact with the bug, because the sprays have little or no residual effect.

Insecticidal soap sprays or dish soap mixed with water do work to control and get rid of soft shelled bugs and larvae like aphids and sawfly larvae.

Here is an alternative to the Dawn soap recipe that is organic and has worked really well for me. I used it on Japanese Beetles and it definitely kills on contact. It can be used on vegetables and flowers alike and used to deter bugs, rabbits and deer. I found this recipe on Rocky Hedge Farm blog and you can read Sarah’s post to see exactly how she uses it. 

Natural Garden Pest Control Spray

1 tablespoon Organic Liquid Castile Soap (Double Mint)
12 drops Peppermint Essential Oil
16 oz. spray bottle
Water to fill bottle

Aphids on Plant Leaf

How to Get Rid of Slugs in Your Gardens

I hate slugs! I can have the prettiest bed of hostas and by the end of summer the plants can be riddled with slug damage. I’ve tried beer traps, but apparently the slugs in my garden didn’t like my son-in-law’s cheap beer. I’ve tried crunched up egg shells and the slugs laughed at me. The only thing I’ve tried that truly works is a product called Sluggo. I sprinkle it around the base of my hosta plants in the spring when they are first emerging and again around the beginning of July. If I’m diligent and do both treatments, I will see very little slug damage, if any at all, in my hosta beds. If you have problems with slugs, I highly recommend Sluggo. Best part Sluggo is an organic product.

A Few More Practical Tips For Being Pesticide Free In Your Gardens

Be willing to hand pick pests like Japanese beetles and other beetles. I take a bucket of hot, soapy water and a long handled spoon out to the garden and use the spoon to knock the nasty bugs into the bucket of soapy water. Do this in the morning and not in the afternoon. Trust me, you’ll only try it in the afternoon once and after you get dive bombed by Japanese beetles you’ll remember morning is best. If you don’t have to contend with Japanese beetles, just count your blessings.

Be okay with other bugs that have a short life span. For instance, four-lined plant bug is such a nuisance in my gardens in the spring. They don’t damage flowers, but they suck the sap out of leaves and the leaves end up with tiny brown spots covering them. I choose to ignore the little jerks because they don’t really harm the plant. Once they’ve moved on for the season, I just give the plant a little haircut.

After a reader left a comment on one of my posts about the importance of bats to control insects, I did a little reading up on them. They aren’t as creepy as I first thought. I’m going to look into it a little more, but I’m seriously considering adding one of these bat houses to my back fence.

Other Articles You Might Enjoy:

How to Grow a Cutting Garden
Essential Gardening Tools
Creating and Caring For A Low Maintenance Flower Garden
14 Plants You Don’t Want In Your Garden
How to Attract Pollinators to Your Garden

Thanks for stopping by Gingham Gardens today! I hope my tips for Dealing With Garden Pests will help you conquer the pests in your gardens. If you have questions, or additional tips, please leave a comment below. I love hearing from other gardeners and I like to help when I can. Stop by again soon!

Happy gardening,


p.s. Go ahead and feel free to “pin” these pictures. If you hover in the upper left-hand corner of the picture, you’ll see the little Pinterest icon. Just click it and pin away. There are also pins to share at the bottom of the page. Thanks a bunch!

p.p.s I’d love to have you follow me on Pinterest. Lots of great gardening ideas and tons of gardener’s eye candy.

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  1. Thanks for your reply and advice. My friend’s garden mulch, all over her property smells like rotting meat etc, so she really wants to get rid of it. Could this have been with delivered much? She has lived on her property for 20 years without seeing the fungus til this year. She’s removing all the mulch, as we speak (write!). Thanks again.

  2. My friend has devils horn, a fungus, which smells to high heaven. We are told that there is no cure for them. She is told they grow in the mulch and will return next year and they have been in her beds all summer. She pulls them out and is removing the mulch to try to get rid of them. Is there something that might kill the fungus like epsom salts, baking powder, vinegar that won’t destroy the soil?

    1. I had to look that one up – yikes, it’s really ugly. I had dead man’s fingers fungus in one of my gardens and it looks gross, but it doesn’t stink. I wouldn’t use epsom salts, baking powder or vinegar in my gardens, it will mess with the soil ph. I would recommend your friend contact her local extension service, which are usually found through a state university. Or, contact the master garden’s group from her county. They can give her the best advice for her area. Thanks for reaching out and good luck!

  3. I have problems with squirrels. They harass my dogs, dig in the yard and in the flower beds, even in the pots. They eat the food I have for the birds. They were even chewing on my house.I found a way to keep them at bay….. they still try to come in the yard but it has greatly cut down on the digging in the beds and pots, eating the bird food, and chewing the house.

    I rough chop 2 white onions and 1 jalapeno. Put into a pan with 6 cups of water. Add 2 tablespoons of cayenne pepper. Boil mixture for 30 minutes on low boil. Let cool. Strain out the solids. Put into a spray bottle. Use liberally! I spray the tops of my bird feeders, around the flower beds and pots and even the tree trucks. I spray the places they chewed the house. So far, it has greatly helped. I repeat about every two weeks and have noticed the squirrels are keeping away from the areas I’ve sprayed.

  4. Hi Joanna: I do not have deer but I do have rabbits. Things I have done to deter them. 1. Planted White Dutch Clover so they have something to eat other than my plants. I buy a 5# jug of cayenne pepper from Costco and sprinkle it around the base sometimes on the plant. Around my lilies I planted wild onion and garlic….I made a circular fence of onion and garlic….they would not come in. I have done the same with marigolds and they tend to leave the plants alone. I have prickly pear and planted that around my more fragile plant and they do not touch these plants. For Japanese beetles I have planted Russian Sage below my birch tree. Once the sage flowered the beetles left. I have put wild oregano and scented geranium leaves on top of my plants and they have stopped coming around. I also take a bucket in the am and at night and knock them in the water……you are correct….do not do this during the day!!!!!!

    1. Hi Cass – I always appreciate your informative comments and great tips. We don’t use chemicals on our lawn and I’ve noticed that the rabbits do seem to favor the clover over the garden plants. That is until they discovered the green beans. I’m going to try some of your tips.

      Thanks again and happy gardening,

  5. Any ideas on what to use to control grasshoppers? On the farm I had chickens and ducks. They love grasshoppers, but we live in town now.

  6. Liquid Fence Deer and Rabbit Repellent now comes in granular form! I used it last year with great success in combination with Irish Spring pieces around my tomato plants and entire bed. There is no blow-back or drift when applying the product either!

  7. Deer Off works 100%. Spray sparingly every 3 months. Yes it stinks, but it is natural and really, really works I saw that they have a separate one, Rabbit Off but we have had no rabbit problems. Just don’t be late spraying, I decided that I could wait 2 days past the 3 month time line and they showed up and ate my potted plants!!!!

    1. Hi Jeannie – I agree with Deer Off. I used to alternate it with Liquid Fence. Yes, you definitely have to use it before you think you’ll need it. We don’t have deer so much at our place now, but we do have a bumper crop of rabbits. Happy gardening and thanks for stopping by!

  8. Do you make cylinder fences around individual plants or around an entire bed of flowers? What do you use to secure it in the ground??

    1. Hi Leslie, I just do individual plants like lilies and liatris, along with liquid fence. You can either use the long staples that are made to hold down landscape fabric, or I just fashioned my own out of hangers. That has worked really well for me. Thanks for stopping by and happy gardening! Joanna

  9. As a new gardener, I’ve just discovered what is eating some of my plants – it’s Mr. Groundhog! Other than trapping it, are there any remedies to deter it from feeding on my new plants?

    1. Groundhogs are very destructive. They can damage the foundation of your home by digging. I really would consider trapping it, or calling around to find a service that does it. In the meantime, try Liquid Fence or something with hot peppers in it. Good luck and happy gardening!

    2. I have put had soap grated on my plants . It keeps the deer away. It is cheap and safe to use it also smells nice. I use Dove, Irish spring, olay or what ever I have on hand. f

      1. Shirley – I don’t have problems with deer, but my neighbors do and I’m going to tell them your advice. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. For bugs and insects have you ever tried Neem Oil? I heard it works on things like leaf curl, so it may work on small insects, mold, fungus and the like. It’s oily, and I think in the eucalyptus family with a strong smell, so it may also be unpalatable for deer, and rodents and maybe aphids and small bugs..

  11. Joanna, the dried sewage product – is it human or animal waste? I got to wondering if it’s from large municipal sewer treatment plants where everything literally ends up down the toilet. That includes the drugs and medicines people take and perhaps flush down – like unused antibiotics and what about diseases that are spread thru human feces? The treated water contains chlorine, fluoride and whatever other chemical waste that industries produce. I’d be worried that I’m putting contaminants onto my soil that won’t be removed. Have you ever tried making your own smelly repellent liquid with eggs and garlic or onions and leaving it to sit in a warm place until it goes really smelly then pouring it through a strainer into a sprayer, diluting it and using that? Or just apply it with a hose sprayer which dilutes it as it’s sprayed? If a person has extensive yard/garden it would get very expensive buying the products every year.

    1. Denise – I see your concern about Milorganite. I would recommend that you simply google Milorganite and I believe that would answer some of your questions and concerns. This is a very interesting article on how it is made: https://onmilwaukee.com/history/articles/makingmilorganite.html. I have not make my own Liquid Fence product, although there are many recipes for doing so on the internet. Yes, I agree that gardening and garden maintenance can be expensive, especially when one has large gardens like mine. Some day when I have more time, I would love to experiment more in making homemade remedies. Also, I have not used Neem oil, but I have heard of it and read a bit about it. I appreciate your comments and suggestions. Thanks for taking the time! Happy gardening!

  12. Do you have any advice for chipmunks? They are digging tunnels on a severe slope right next to my house. The pachysandra has diminished by half. The soil on the hill is eroding because the pachysandra kept the soil covered. A very large oak is anchored on the hill. There has been so much rain the past two years that I worry that this huge tree could be uprooted and would take part of the house with it. If you or any of your followers has advise I would be very grateful.

    1. Oh Iris, I’m so sorry. I have never had to deal with chipmunks. This sounds awful. Maybe look up the extension service for your area and start there. Good luck.

  13. Hi! Thank you for all of your awesome articles. Helps me a lot as a new gardener.
    Do you have any ideas what to do about snails? We have 3 dogs and 1 cat that roam our backyard daily so it has to be pet friendly and preferably natural. Thank you

    1. The product I mentioned in the post for slugs also works on snails. I’m fairly certain it’s safe for pets but double check on that.

  14. I love the wildlife in our property till they eat my vistas or nip off the lily buds just before they bloom. I have always been an organic gardener and this sometimes makes pest control difficult. I plant bird friendly plants and have a good system of bird control of bugs going on.Baby birds are very hungry and I have many nesting species. Our dogs deter squirrels ,rabbits and deer and our cats love to hunt rodents
    After many years of gardening I have just learned I have to share and make sure to plant enough for everyone. If I lose a plant I just either replant or go without.

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