We love the butterflies, but hate the skunks: Dealing with wildlife in garden

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Updated 4/8/11 with warning on deskunking solution!

URBANA, Ill. — Unless they are decorative and made of plastic or cement, wildlife in the garden can present a challenge.

Rabbits nip off tender shoots or girdle the bark of young trees; squirrels eat food intended for birds and nip off buds and branches; skunks dig in the yard, raid garbage and leave a memorable musk when frightened.

“Often we plant gardens to attract birds and butterflies. However, other wildlife may be annoying,” said University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Nancy Pollard.

Welcome mat

Uninvited wildlife is attracted by food, water and shelter. Bird feeders, trash cans with lids easy to remove and pet food left outside overnight offer a smorgasbord that unintentionally invites wildlife.

Pollard offers some tips for living with wildlife.

“Animals, like humans, are creatures of habit,” she said. Upon observing landscape harm, take steps immediately before their habits become firmly ingrained.

“Discouraging damaging habits usually requires multiple strategies,” she added.

It ain’t pretty, but it works

In a small garden, you can exclude rabbits with a fence with wire mesh holes 1 inch or smaller; or 1/4-inch by 1/4-inch square openings for wire mesh cylinders for protecting young tree trunks. The smaller size openings also protect against mice.

Purchase a 4-foot-wide mesh roll. Bend the bottom 6 inches outward. Trench the soil, and bury the wire mesh 6 inches deep to prevent rabbits from burrowing under the fence. This allows for 3 feet of fence above ground.

Gates provide entry points for rabbits as well as people.

Squirrel collars. “For squirrels, wildlife experts recommend a 2-foot-wide metal collar 6 feet off the ground for isolated trees and poles,” Pollard said. “Attach the metal collar with wires fastened together with springs to allow for tree trunk growth.

Squirrels can jump 8 feet so this only works on isolated trees.

Trim back trees to prevent access to roofs and attics.

“If you have room, provide corn for the squirrels away from the bird feeders to distract them from the feeders. Enjoy their antics.”

Discourage skunks

Skunks range over 80 to 1,800 acres so their path may wander through your backyard. Their smelly spray can reach 10 to 20 feet.

Before spraying its musk, a skunk signals its intent by stamping its front feet and raising its tail. Be alert.

De-skunk solution

Better than tomato juice, mix this homemade solution to banish skunk smells:

Mix in plastic container: 1 quart 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution
1/4 cup baking soda
1 teaspoon liquid soap.
Do not add water. Use immediately after mixing. Follow the “bath” of solution with tap water rinse.

It can be used for washing skin, clothes, dogs and other sprayed items. The peroxide in the solution may lighten the fur of pets.
WARNING: Do not save the solution; either use it all or throw it out. Once mixed, the peroxide slowly breaks down into water and oxygen gas. If stored in a closed container, the oxygen gas could explode, depending on how full the container is (a bottle three-fourths full would develop 420 psi, which could do a lot of damage!).

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