Do Animal Repellents Really Work?

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Animals and birds are cute as buttons, but what damage they can cause to gardens!

Probably every gardener will have to deal with an undesirable animal or bird at some point: a groundhog grazing on their broccoli, birds eating their seedlings, a cat using the vegetable bed as a litter box, and so on. If so, no worry: there is a whole range of animal deterrents you can try, products that are supposed to drive them away. But are they effective?

There are dozens of these products on the market and just as many homemade deterrents: plastic owls or snakes, silver ribbons or aluminum pie plates that move in the wind, systems that produce loud noises or ultrasounds, stinky products like rotten eggs, predator urine and animal fur, good old-fashioned scarecrows, and the list goes on.

Deterrents function by scaring mammals (and also birds in some cases): they make the animal feel that there is something strange or abnormal going on and it feels threatened, staying away for a while. And that’s where the problem lies: there really is no threat and, once the animal realizes that there is no real danger, it comes back to its former haunts.

The secret, therefore, is not to have a single repellent or deterrent, but several, and to use them in rotation. Normally, a deterrent will be effective for about two weeks. That means you’ll need a whole arsenal of repellents if you want to spend a summer in peace.

Here are a few:

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A scarecrow will work for a while … but not the whole summer! Photo: En: User: Fg2, Wikipedia

  • Aluminum plates or metal cans attached to strings so they bang together in the wind;
  • Animal decoys (owls, snakes, hawks, coyotes, etc.);
  • Bits of cloth soaked in creosote;
  • Blood meal or chicken manure (and they’re fertilizers too!);
  • Bright light set off by a motion detector;
  • Cat or dog fur (get some from a pet groomer);
  • Commercial animal repellents (Plantskydd, Bobbex, etc.);
  • Garlic spray;
  • Highly perfumed fabric softener sheets;
  • Human hair (ask your hairdresser to save some for you);
  • Irish Spring, Dial or any other strongly scented soap;
  • Loud music;
  • Moth balls (be careful not to leave them where kids or pets can get to them!);
  • Motion-activated sprinkler;
  • Predator urine (coyote, fox and even lion urine can be purchased);
  • Recordings of explosions or rifle shots;
  • Repellent plants (dill, chives, garlic, lavender, onion, oregano, Russian sage, tansy, tarragon, thyme, wormwood and yarrow are examples: they’ll avoid these plants … for a while!);
  • Scarecrows;
  • Scare-eye balloons;
  • Shiny ribbons that dangle from branches or wires;
  • Sprays made from rotten eggs;
  • Treated sewage sludge (Milorganite, for example);
  • Ultrasonic devices (actually, though widely available, they have not been found very effective);
  • White rags that move in the wind;
  • And so on.

Note that many of these repellents smell so badly or make so much noise that you won’t want to visit your garden either!

The Only Deterrent That Works Long Term

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A motion-activated sprinkler will scare pests away every time.

Other than properly installed animal fencing (very expensive and difficult to properly install, but permanent and effective), the only simple deterrent that keeps most animals away in the long run is the motion-activated sprinkler. The animal approaches your garden and gets sprayed. True enough, it’s only with water, but … something has touched it and that is something no animal seems to be able to get used to. Deer, raccoons, cats, dogs, squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs, even crows and pigeons: they’ll all stay away from a motion-activated sprinkler.

Obviously, the device is not effective against animals that live underground, such as moles, and doesn’t react to very small animals: chipmunks, mice, most birds, etc. And at about $70 per device, it’s quite expensive … but at least it works and thus you rarely hear a user complain about the price. Apparently peace between humans and animals is worth any expense!20170605A

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