Pests in the Garden

by Alec McCarter - January, 2001


Slugs - those small, cold, silent, slimy, soft-bodied creatures who emerge at night when the air is cool and the ground and plants are wet with dew – feed voraciously on almost anything, including other slugs, dog feces, fruit, and leaves of almost any plant.  All gardeners are familiar with the damage caused by these creatures.


One of the best methods of combating them – if you can stand it, and if you have a good back – is to pick them by hand after dark and with the aid of a flashlight.  My wife, in one evening, picked several hundreds, and her score for a series of such outings was well over 1000.  She disposed of them by putting them in a brew of fermented sugar-water – presumably they died in good spirits.  At any rate, this foray reduced the numbers of slugs in the garden to a truly astonishing degree.  Several years later, they are still not a serious pest.  If you cannot bear to pick them up bare-handed, you can entice them to suicide by putting the brew in a yogurt or cottage cheese container in which little notches have been cut in the sides.


These can be partially buried in the ground to the depth of the notches, with the lid placed on top.  Slugs are attracted, enter through the notches to drink and overdose.  The container is emptied, cleaned and refilled from time to time.  Someone gave my wife some fancy ceramic slug traps, too pretty to use, but the yogurt containers work just as well and they are unbreakable.


Rats are numerous and ubiquitous throughout the district – they are omnivorous and have plenty of food available all year around in their natural environment.  They and those furry-tailed rats, the squirrels, can get into your house through the smallest openings, enlarging them if necessary, and produce costly damage by nibbling on wood or electrical insulation.  They also build nests by tearing up insulation or other loose material.  But even if they cannot gain access to your home, rats love a compost bin, with or without food.  The rotting vegetation supplies heat, and it is easy to make tunnels and nests where the animals can have their pups.  As long as you do not disturb them by turning over the heap at frequent intervals, they can raise several broods each year.  Though rats can be poisoned with bait, other rats will simply enter the space that has been evacuated.  It is better not to attract them in the first place.


I am not sure that the wild Norway rats do any significant damage in the garden.  They are widely regarded as bearers of disease.  This is not necessarily so, but it is possible and for that reason it is better not to have them around.


Squirrels are another kettle of, of?  They dig up bulbs, bury seeds and acorns around the garden and, being arboreal, they seek out and destroy nests of birds.  They, too, like to get inside a house to have their young.  Fortunately, they do not seem to be the nuisance here that they are in parts of Eastern Canada.  I suspect the reason for this is that they have more predators here.  A few nights ago, Peggy and I heard the call of a Great Horned Owl from the giant oaks behind our house – that sound should strike terror into the heart of any rat or squirrel.


Rabbits are a real concern to many gardeners in this region.  They can be seen at any time of day on the campus of University of Victoria, mostly nibbling on grass and dandelions.  But they also kill or injure shrubs and trees by eating the bark all around the stem.  They dig tunnels in lawns and flower borders; they produce mountains of fecal pellets; and they are enormously prolific.  Rabbits are best dealt with by live trapping and removal, but it is almost impossible to get rid of them altogether, especially when well-meaning people take care of them, or dump their pets when tired of them.

Raccoons are a different matter.  They have adapted to man’s environment, succeeding very well whether in the city or in the country.  Signs of their occupancy of the garden can include the loss of fruit, holes dug in the lawn, uprooting of plants, destruction of the plants in a garden pool with loss of fish, or turned-over moss in moist, shady places.


Our granddaughter – who lives in London, Ontario – complained recently that raccoons had dug up and eaten her gladiolus corms.  “So what’s new about that?” you say.  Well, she lives on the fifteenth floor off a high-rise apartment in the center of down-town.  Three young animals climbed the rough exterior of the building and attacked the potted plants on her balcony!  She scared them away with a broom and watched as they climbed down the vertical face of the building – but the next morning, one came back.  Live-trapping and removal the countryside would seem to be the immediate solution, but I wonder if it would be a permanent one?



This article was first published in the University Finnerty Gardens Newsletter, October 2000