What’s eating your plants?

Have you ever stared at your garden and wondered, “What’s eating my plants??” Unfortunately, the downside of Georgia’s wonderful ecosystem is the number of critters that view your landscape as a buffet.  Here are some handy tips on identifying what might be chewing on your landscape, and how to prevent further damage.

First, look for evidence

When you’re inspecting the damage, see if the leaves are bitten off in clean, sharp bites – if so, the pest is probably a rabbit, squirrel or woodrat. Damage caused by deer tends to be more ragged in shape.  If branches are cut, it’s more likely to be squirrels or rabbits. 

After you have inspected the damage on the plant, look for evidence around the plant. Keep your eye out for a dirt mound, which can be a sign of a groundhog, turtle, armadillo or coyote.   If there is not dirt mount in site, the culprit is more likely to be a chipmunk, skunk, mole or vole. 

Next, you can narrow down your list of suspects by determining the time of day the animal is in your landscape. Check on your plant in the morning and evening, taking note of when the damage appears.  Damage that materializes overnight is most likely caused by nocturnal animals, such as raccoons, skunks, opossums and woodrats.  Damage that is incurred during daylight hours is more likely to be wrought by a squirrels, chipmunk and woodchucks. 

How to prevent animals from eating your plants

Local garden centers offer a variety of products that discourage animals from destroying your landscape. However, many of us are hesitant to use these products around our pets and children.  It’s also important to note that most of these products should not be used around vegetable gardens or other edible plants. 

An alternative to using products is to modify the animals’ habitat. Trim or remove plants and structures that may be providing a habitat for the unwanted animal.  This includes mowing tall grass and removing piles of debris, including branches and rocks. 

A physical barrier, such as a fence, can also deter animals from your property, although it takes a tall fence – 8 feet or higher – to exclude deer from your property. Netting is a faster, cheaper alternative that can easily be draped around individual plants or garden beds.  Traps can be set for smaller animals, baited with something as simple as peanut butter. 

Source: The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension