Cats, woodchucks, skunks and other pests tend to regard your garden as their personal pantry. Here are a few stratagems to gently keep them at bay.


  • Opt for bulbs that don’t appeal to the taste buds of these little rodents—daffodil, fritillary, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, snowdrop and scilla.
  • Plant geraniums, garlic and onions near the bulbs, as well as aromatic herbs (mint, thyme, savory, lavender, rosemary) or plants with fragrant leaves. Their odour will prevent rodents from getting a tempting whiff from the bulbs.
  • Spread dog and cat hair, or cayenne pepper, over the ground. They act as a repellent. (The problem here is that you have to repeat the process regularly.)
  • Dip the bulbs in a paraffin solution (a tablespoon paraffin for 600 mL water). Let the bulbs soak for 30 minutes before planting them. The paraffin prevents rodents from detecting the bulbs’ odours.
  • After planting, cover the seeds and bulbs with chicken wire (the plants can grow through the mesh), or with mulch made with dried pine needles, spruce twigs, or chicken-manure fertilizer (squirrels are particularly repelled by this odour).
  • To protect the bark, wrap each tree with a metal collar 60 cm in diameter, about 1.8 m off the ground. Attach both ends of the collar with a spring so as not to hinder growth.
  • Sprinkle cayenne powder in the bird feeder. Unlike squirrels, birds are not sensitive to hot spices. Another solution: place an inverted cone over a hanging feeder or under one that’s sitting on a post. This cone must be moveable so squirrels can’t get a grip on it. Lastly, the feeder must be placed at least 1.5 m off the ground and 3 m beyond a squirrel’s jumping ability.


  • Place a screen or a chicken wire mesh over the seedlings, or sink sticks into the dirt (at an angle) around them.
  • Spread mulch, twigs or even stones between the plants in the garden beds to discourage the cats from digging.
  • Install a motion-detection sprinkler.
  • Ask the cat owners (if you happen to know them) to attach a bell to their animals’ collars so that birds using your feeders can be warned of their approach. And place the feeders away from thickets where cats could be hiding.
  • As a last resort, use a commercial repellent, making sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.


  • Block access to their favourite places—under the balcony, patio, shed, around the vegetable garden—by erecting a chain link fence. The link must not exceed 5 cm. Sink the fence’s base 25- to 60-cm-deep into the ground, folding it L-shape outward (40 to 50 cm). But make sure that no house pets are inside the burrow before you seal the opening.
  • Sprinkle ground chili or black pepper or a commercial repellent (as per the manufacturer’s instructions) over vulnerable areas, taking care to avoid the vegetables’ edible parts. (This can be costly because you need to repeat the operation frequently.)
  • Protect the bases of fruit or ornamental trees by wrapping barbed wire around them.
  • Install a motion-detection sprinkler.

Skunks and raccoons

  • Use a sturdy garbage can with a hard-to-open lid. If necessary, secure the lid with a metal wire or strong rubber band, and anchor the can so that it can’t tip over. A word of advice: clean the inside of the can regularly to eliminate odours that might otherwise attract the animals. Bring out the can only on trash days.
  • Eliminate anything that might attract them: existing burrows, debris, woodpiles, etc.
  • To flush a skunk out of its nest—say, in a burrow under the balcony, patio, shed, etc.—block all openings except one with a metal screen (the chain link must not exceed 5 cm). Sink the screen’s base 30- to 60-cm-deep into the ground, folding it outward in an L-shape. Next, place 1 kg of mothballs in the burrow. Sprinkle flour over the opening so you know that the skunk and its offspring (if any) have left the nest before sealing it. (Baby skunks are usually born in mid May and emerge in early July.)
  • Erect a 1.2-m-high metal fence around your garden. Secure the fence’s base to posts, leaving the upper part (35 to 40 cm) tilting outward.
  • Skunks and raccoons can damage the lawn when they dig holes in search of white worms, which they relish. If the damage is serious, spread threadworms on the lawn—they feed on white worms—between mid-August and mid-September to reduce the number of larvae in the ground.

Rabbits and hares

  • Sprinkle the plants regularly with cayenne or black pepper or Tabasco sauce. But like commercial repellents, these ingredients lose their effects in the long term. If food is scarce, rabbits and hares will not hesitate to eat the “spicy” vegetables, however unpleasant.
  • Protect seedlings with metal cages (available at garden centres).
  • Protect the bark by wrapping a metal screen around trees and large shrubs (the chain link must not exceed 0.6 cm). Make sure that the screen is high enough to prevent the animals from reaching the tree trunk, even when there’s snow. And leave a space of at least 2 cm between the screen and the trunk so as not to hinder growth. Anchoring the screen’s base to the ground is recommended.
  • Erect a 1-m-high metal fence around the garden and grove (the chain link must not exceed 2 cm). Sink the fence’s base at least 15-cm deep into the ground, folding it outward in an L-shape.


  • Plant hyacinths, spurges and castor oil plants. Moles don’t like their odour, so may not hang around.
  • Stick an empty soda bottle in the ground near the mole nest, right side up. The sound of the whistling wind in the empty bottle will drive the animals away.
  • Erect a metal barrier under and around all vulnerable surfaces.

Thanks to the ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune and to the Montréal Botanical Garden for their cooperation.

By Jacqueline Simoneau