Some pests are still undeterred

The editors of the Home section welcome your questions about design, decorating, gardening and home life in general.

You mentioned how to get rid of a lot of critters, but how can you get rid of rats? I have a small dog, so I have to be careful. I liked your ideas of a rubber snake or things that are not poisonous.

— Jill Gish
Oak Park

Loved your article. Would like some additional insight, if possible: I have a number of wild rabbits who have turned my lawn — marathon grass — into their personal salad bowl.

Besides the toy snakes you recommend, do you have any other helpful hints geared to rabbit control?

— Herb Schoenberg
Via e-mail>

We have a Fuyu persimmon tree and an orange tree in our yard. The last couple of years the squirrels have gotten to most of the fruit before we have.

They jump to the trees from the garage or the fence. They are absolutely brazen about it. One even threw a half-eaten persimmon from the garage roof and hit me on the shoulder.

What do you recommend to stop the squirrels? We don't want to poison or kill them.

—  A. Harold and Isabel M. Janken
Los Angeles

I was wondering if you have any sssssolutions to rid a pesky cat from using my yard as a litter box. I have tried various types of pepper without result.

There are products available on the Internet, such as the urine of predator animals, but I wonder if they are just scams.

— Sheila Giammarco
Via e-mail

Kienitz responds:

Beatrix Potter fancied rats. Upon taking up stewardship of her home, Britain's National Trust discovered more than 80 rats in residence. Trappers plied their trade, but after some debate a cat also was employed. That, Jill, is what I recommend: Give the gig to Fluffy.

Small dogs, such as a rat terrier, can help deter pests too. Cleaning up debris piles in which rats nest also helps. But a cat, saved from death row at the animal shelter, may be your most effective rat deterrent.

Rabbits are only slightly easier to keep out of the garden. Dogs can curb rabbit invasions; just release the hounds at random times day and night. Maybe borrow Jill's dog?

Or try a wire fence, 3 feet high with holes no greater than 1 inch wide. Some experts suggest that you bury the fence a foot deep, but that's not always possible. Just know that a rabbit will try to squeeze through any gap it sees.

Some people also use cayenne pepper and noxious scents to deter rabbits, but as your problem is in the oft-watered lawn, I'd suggest you forget those tricks. No sense in having your mindful gardening practices washed away.

And squirrels? They're basically rats with flashy tails, difficult to control only with deterrents. A technique that I learned accidentally involves bird seed. I was studying the effects of black sunflower seed shells as a weed inhibitor, refilling a bird feeder (a.k.a. squirrel feeder) almost daily for weeks, when I noticed that the nectarine tree, usually plagued by squirrels, had fruited quite nicely. The tree had been netted, but the difference was feeding the pesky beasts. Seeds, peanuts, old Doritos or a wild rice pilaf with currants and pine nuts accompanied by a crisp Sauvignon Blanc will keep your squirrels happily fed and out of your fruit trees.

Now that I have gardeners rescuing shelter cats from their imminent demise, up comes Sheila's problem of cat scat. Cats don't like the smell of oranges. You can scent the garden with nontoxic orange-scented oils, or you can buy a bag of oranges and scatter the peels around your plants.

Cats also avoid spiky, prickly barriers. You can spread out rose or raspberry clippings — bougainvillea trimmings too — in flower beds, around areas where the cats are a problem. Do remember that cats need to go somewhere, and only a storied few know how to flush.

Far too often, people seek to sterilize their gardens — an entirely empty practice. For where is the drama in a garden devoid of conflict? Accept small trespassers as integral to the landscape, promote diversity, love the garden with all its pocks and scars, and your experience will be a happier one.

Tony Kienitz is the author of "The Year I Ate My Yard."

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