May 25

Pest Management

Pest Prevention and Control (June 2012) - If you were to make a list of the garden pests starting with the worst offenders it would look like this: 1. You, 2. Children, 3 Pets, 4. Wild animals, 5. Insects, and 6.Diseases

You – A little surprised to be on the top of the list, well don’t be. Every time you bang a tree trunk or scrape a shrub with the lawnmower you create an opening for insects and diseases to enter the plant. The pile of debris from last year’s garden; the one left to break down in the planting bed instead of the compost pile. It has warmed up nicely to become a great bug hotel and they can’t wait to attack this year’s plants. Your social calendar is so full; you probably have to schedule mowing the lawn. You’ve cut it so often it’s timed to the minute; the directional turns, how and where to push it under the shrub, when to raise the front to avoid damaging the blade on the exposed rock or tree root.

Children – A tiny you. Hey you want them playing in your yard not the street; and tree climbing is a right of passage; but strengthening their baseball swing by taking a bat to a tree trunk and improving eye foot coordination by dribbling a soccer ball through the iris bed is a little over the top. Have you ever looked at your spouse and said, “Tell me again why we decided to have children?” No, I’m not going there. You either want a child friendly yard that has pretty plants and flowers or you want a botanical paradise interspersed with statues and water features. You can’t have both. Ask yourself this question. When my children bring the grandkids here how do I want them to describe their childhood memories?

Pets – Consider this, if a sign “Vegetable bed just seeded” means nothing to a teenager what do you think it means to your dog? You may think your pet understands verbal commands, but that just means they trained you well. Cats are natural hunters, and they thank you for letting them run around outdoors by bringing you offerings. They are also kind enough to do their business in the litter box. Dogs, on the other hand, insist on killing the entire lawn one brown spot at a time.

Wild Animals – Deer, chipmunks, woodchucks, rabbits, squirrels, moles; all have to eat. You can mark your territory with wild animal scent, or you can use your own; but you have to do that continuously all season. You can spend a lot on mirrored glass hanging from tree limbs, topless drink bottles sunk in the ground, and low frequency noise emitters. Or, you can take the easy alternative and put up a fence. Another alternative is to share the food. I once received a call from a gardener wanting to know how to get rid of snakes in her garden. I told her that the snakes were there because they had an ample food source of moles and chipmunks. If she wanted to get rid of the snakes she needed to get rid of the food source. She said she liked the chipmunks but not the snakes. We talked in circles for a half-hour with no resolution, and you will do the same year in and year out if you try to avoid the obvious.

 Insects and Diseases – Two points: it is important to remember that some bugs and insects are your friends; the ratio of good micro-organisms to bad is 30,000:1. Sanitation and proper plant spacing will almost eliminate this problem.

Does that mean you should just give up gardening? No, it just means you need to spend a little more time on prevention to have a lot more time for enjoyment. If you could eliminate the majority of your pest problems, reduce maintenance and save the mower in the process would you do it? I think you would. Here is what you do;

  • Clean all planting areas of debris. Debris harbors diseases, weeds and insects as it decomposes. It is a five-star hotel for pests.
  • Create a mulch ring around the trees and shrubs; providing a barrier between the mower and the plant, preventing damage to both. It looks nice, eliminates competition for nutrients between the grass and plants, and normalizes soil temperature and moisture providing a better growing environment.
  • Move plantings to the yard perimeter. Give the kids more unrestricted play area and run that mower in nice straight lines.
  • Put up some border fencing. It will not prevent balls from going into the plant beds, but it will make your child stop long enough to remember not to step on a plant.
  • Maintain proper spacing; crowding plants weakens them, reducing air circulation and creating a moist humid environment favorable for disease development.
  • Water during the day allowing enough time for plants and leaves to dry; eliminating a moist humid disease development environment

Animal Repellent – I put this together after researching an awful lot of  ingredient lists. These ingredients seem to be the most commonly used.

Ingredients; 10 Garlic Cloves, 1 Cup Habanero Hot Sauce, 1 Cup Fresh Mint leaves, 2 TBL Ground Cinnamon, 3 TBL Ground Rosemary (or 1 cup of fresh), 3 TBL Ground Sage, 2 TBL Ground Cayenne Pepper, 2 Cups Water


  • Add all ingredients in a blender and puree for several minutes
  • Pour into a large container and add enough water to equal one gallon
  • Cover and let sit for a few days to allow solids to settle
  • Strain through a coffee filter
  • Clearly label the container Animal Repellent
  • Use in a sprayer bottle, adding 1 Tablespoon of liquid dish detergent


  • Place teaspoons of the remaining solids from the coffee filter around the perimeter of your beds
  • Do not spray on a sunny day or in the afternoon; spray early morning or evening when it is cooler
  • Try the spray in an area where if it causes damage it won’t be noticed

The Rabbit Freeze – (April 2011) Have you ever had one of those days when you planned some time in the garden and as you walked out the door the plans disappeared into a black hole? That happened to me last Saturday. I was organized and focused, my plan was to transplant some Kale and lettuce seedlings into the garden, sow more lettuce seed, and prune winter damage off the shrubs.

I had been moving the seedlings in and out of the sunroom the previous week, hardening them off by gradually extending their time outside to avoid shocking their system when they finally got transplanted. The planting beds were also prepared in advance with two inches of compost spread and turned into the soil. Yes, I did use a string line to make sure the beds were strait and level. I know some people would argue that with all this prep work I must have a Type-A personality, but I disagree; I like to think that over the years I’ve mellowed into a Type-B+.

So anyway, I grabbed my tools and headed out to the garden. As I approached I noticed that the fencing was falling from the poles and had to be re-attached; the hinge on one of the gates was broken; the 12-inch strip of black plastic that runs along the fence making the garden stealthy needed to be installed; the garden hoses were still in the shed. Heck, the water was still turned off in the basement. I’m telling you, I just stood there frozen; like a rabbit when you catch then off guard in your yard, “If I don’t move I am invisible; that guy can’t see me.”

I probably stood staring across the garden for about three hours, and vaguely remember hearing Janet calling me to lunch. I knew what I planned to do, I knew what I wanted to do; and unfortunately, I knew what I had to do. Maybe, if I just stand here the fence will fix itself. Maybe the animals will stay out of my yard this year. Maybe a neighbor will spot me, recognize the telltale signs of Rabbit Freeze and help me to a recliner. Or maybe, just maybe I have to separate the Wants and Needs and take care of the Needs first.

The freeze really only lasted a couple of minutes, I knew what I had to do. It is called throwing the hat over the fence. If you throw the hat over the fence and want it back, you have to climb the fence to get it. If you have maintenance work to do around the yard and you know the work has to be done before you do anything else; you have set the other tasks aside, go get the maintenance tools, and do the repairs; and that is what I did.

All of the available gardening information about the protection and prevention of pest damage focuses on wild animals, insects and bugs. Yet the biggest pest in our garden is us. If a woodchuck gets into your garden through a hole in the fence, or because there is no fence, whose fault is it? Exactly. The little bit of extra time that we invest now preparing the gardens and planting beds will save us hours of work during the summer when we want to enjoy the yard, grill some food and eat the vegetables; and I am all for that. Then the only freeze I will need to worry about will come from the ice cream.

Pepper Sprayed – (July 2011) Is it just me, or did Chipmunks come out of hibernation a little early this year thinking they were rabbits? I’ve never seen so many, especially in my backyard. A typical litter is 4-6 pups, but this must be the bonus year. The pups are grown, mommy has kicked them out of her borrow and they are eating everything. The lilies and beans used to have blossoms.

Normally I don’t mind sharing, but normally there are only a couple of the chipmunks; and they book it when they see me coming. This year they are not showing any fear. One climbed a lily stem next to me while I weeded. “Chip, chip, chip; I’m so cute, take my picture.” That was it I ran in the house, grabbed the jar of cayenne pepper and emptied it on what was left of my lilies.

As I was shaking the jar over a group of plants my thoughts were on a permanent solution to this pest problem, when suddenly a red beetle came out from under a leaf. My mind immediately changed gears, “Red beetle, friend or foe?” I was not wearing my glasses and bent over for a closer look, right into the cayenne pepper cloud. That’s right, I pepper sprayed myself. Adding insult to injury, it appears that my chipmunks like their food spicy because that night they ate everything I seasoned.

 I’ve had a few days now to reflect on what has happened and the steps that need to be taken to avoid another eating frenzy on my plants. I can shoot, trap and release, or repel them. Considering the damage they’ve done, I prefer the former but I am going with the latter.

Given the size of our yards, trap and release is not an option. It is illegal to live-trap an animal on your property and let it loose someplace else other than your property. If you trap it you have to release it in another part of your yard. According to 321 Code ofMassachusettsRegulations; Problem animals which are captured alive shall be disposed of by destruction in a humane manner, or by immediate liberation at the site of capture.

I am not going to kill the chipmunks humanely or otherwise, and their foraging area is larger than my yard; so neither of these is an option. My only option is a repellent. Repellents sell in two formats; the first is a scent that simulates a predator a like coyote or bobcat. The other is a foul tasting blend of hot peppers, cayenne pepper, vinegar, and other things. I am inclined to make a foul tasting home brew but remember, my chipmunks like their food spicy and I am not there personal chef.

I did my usual web research and made telephone calls to manufacturers, and decided to use a predator scent. My decision came down to something one of the manufacturers said. Given the choice between starving and eating something foul tasting any animal will eat the foul tasting food. Given the choice between eating and being killed by a predator animals will forage someplace else.

I hope they go someplace else.

Do you have a gardening question? Send it to Peter Coppola is a principle master gardener and gardening advocate; he teaches and lectures on the subject in the Burlington area.

Lily Leaf Beetle – (May 2012) A reader e-mailed me last week with a heads up about the Red Lily Leaf Beetle. He already found some on his Asiatic lilies and tried picking them off with little success. What should he do?

First off, good observation; I usually don’t see the beetles until May, but they have been seen throughout the area as early as the first week of April. For my part, I am color blind and my wife usually has to point them out to me, so maybe they are vacationing on my lilies in April and I just haven’t seen them.

Anyway, here is the deal. If you have the lily leaf beetle AND you have lilies (Asiatic, Oriental, Tiger, Trumpet), AND you don’t do anything; THEN you wont have lilies much longer. We have had the problem since 2002/2003 and a lot of gardeners have chosen to dig up the plants rather than fight the little buggers; I am not giving up and you shouldn’t either.

Know your enemy, always the first rule. The adult three-eights inch long scarlet red lily beetle over winters in the soil and plant debris. They come out of the ground pumping pheromones and a week later larvae are chomping on leaves. This cycle repeats itself about every three weeks through the month of June and by the end of their mating season the plants have been turned into giant poop sticks.

At this time unfortunately there are no natural remedies. I would have thought, and have been hoping, that after ten years birds would have developed a taste for them but they haven’t. My robins do a great job patrolling the yard and feeding on anything that moves, but they refuse to go near the beetles. I don’t know why, maybe it is a brotherhood of red bodied animalia or maybe the beetles don’t taste good. Either way, the beetles are here flaunting their redness (to those who can see it), daring us to do something.

The non-chemical solution is a pair of tweezers, a water filled can, and white paper. The beetles quickly move to the “V” of the leaf and stem and are difficult to pick with your fingers without breaking the leaf; hence the tweezers. They also drop to the ground and flip over on their backs, hoping that their black stomachs make them invisible against the soil. If the ground is white, as in paper, you defeat their attempt at stealth.

The chemical solution is tactical smart bombing not “Shock and Awe.” The beetle earned its’ name from the host plant, so there is no reason to spray the hydrangea, peonies or any other plants. If you mix up and use more than a half-gallon of pesticide, then you are making too much. I admit to using this approach. The lilies get protected and the robins stay fat and happy eating other bugs.

Regardless of your method of choice, understand that you have to go on the offensive in order to protect the lilies. The beetles will not negotiate, neither should you.

Peter Coppola is a principle master gardener and gardening advocate teaching and lecturing on request. His e-mail address is

The Four D’s – (May 2012) Last year we had an over population of rodent pests; especially those cute little chipmunks that everyone thinks are harmless. The invasion was predicted based on the large amount of acorns the preceding year, but someone forgot to tell us about it in advance to allow us time to prepare.

As a result, our defense arsenal was limited to reacting to the attacks on our plants. I am not saying that prevention products weren’t available; we just did not anticipate the need. This year will be different.

Over the winter, I reviewed my facility security files, studied the rodent repellent manufacturer’s Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS); and prepared an Integrated Yard Defense Plan (IYDP).

The rules for perimeter security are called the Four D’s; Deter, Detect, Delay, Detain. The simple and obvious deterrent is a fence; but here you have to ask yourself, “What am I trying to protect?” The trend lately has been to ring the property with a six-foot stockade fence; and that will certainly keep the deer out and maybe some people too. Rodent dens however are under our lawns, a stockade fence deters them from leaving; the opposite of what we want.

So, my deterrents will be a combination of a new vegetable garden fence and repellents strategically placed around the flower beds. Repellents come in two forms; foul smelling and tasting stuff containing things like cayenne pepper, capsaicin (the ribs and seeds from hot peppers), and putrescent eggs which I’m pretty sure is another word for rotten. The other form is predator urine, which is just that.

One repellent says, “Doesn’t this taste awful, go eat someplace else,” the other says, “Stay here and I will eat you.” Now, I’m just tossing this out, humans are predators.

Detection means becoming aware that an intruder is on the property. For us that means keeping the beds raked and clean so we can see if attempts were made to break in. Rodents will try to dig under a fence and around flowering plants to get to the bulbs. A small pile of soil next to a hole tends to stand out in a raked bed.

Delay means slowing the intruder down long enough for you to react. Burying some of the fence, or some other physical barrier, around the garden; or putting a piece of chicken wire over the bulbs before you back fill the hole, will delay the pest providing you with enough time to take the last step.

Detain, sometimes succeeded by, or substituted with Destroy; is my conundrum.Massachusettslaw dictates that if we catch (detain) an animal on our property have to release it somewhere else on the property. We cannot release it in some other animal’s foraging area.

The alternative is to kill (destroy) it humanly. The Commonwealth does not identify humane methods of killing rodents, but the use of a firearm is not recommended. However, we can take a page from the military and hang the sign, “Use of deadly force is authorized beyond this point.” Don’t you wish rodents could read?

Peter Coppola is a principle master gardener and gardening advocate teaching and lecturing on request. His e-mail address is

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