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Gimme' Shelter- A December Garden Guide

skunk traps

varmint, rats, raccoons, skunks, vermin, vector control, Cynthia Brian’s mother, garden guru, garden muse, nthia brian, goddess gardener, starstyle lamorinda weekly

“Regardless of your lot in life,

build something beautiful on it.”~Zig Ziglar

I was working in my orchard when I heard the screams. Never in my life had I seen four grown men run so quickly. “Are you okay?” I yelled. “What’s the commotion?” The men had been dismantling an old hot tub in a deck when their saws had unsettled a family of skunks who had made the warm, dark environment their cozy home. If you’ve had your dog sprayed by a skunk, you’ll understand.

With winter on the horizon, the wild things are looking for shelter. Rats, skunks, mice, raccoons, possums, and other critters may decide that “su casa es me casa”.

Although we do want to attract birds and pollinators to our gardens by providing food, water, and habitats, but we don’t want to invite the vermin into our territory.

Rodents carry several diseases harmful to humans including salmonellosis, leptospirosis, haniavirus, and arenavirus. They are not known to have rabies, but skunks can be carriers of rabies.

For prevention and control I consulted with vector control inspector, Joe Cleope, at the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District. After a few hours of discussions and inspections, I came away with effective methods of management and control to share with you.

Here’s a short list of advice.

Eliminate the following plants that are considered “rat condos”:

  • ⎫ Ivy

  • ⎫ Bamboo

  • ⎫ Blackberries

  • ⎫ Juniper

  • ⎫ Honeysuckle

  • ⎫ Pampas grass

  • ⎫ Yucca

  • ⎫ Star Jasmine

Trim shrubbery and trees:

  • ⎫ Keep palm tree fronds pruned or rats will nest in them.

  • ⎫ Prune climbing vegetation on your house to discourage roof rats.

  • ⎫ Store wood and lumber a foot away from structures and at least 18 inches above ground.

  • ⎫ Install rodent barriers as a prevention to climbing.

Eliminate food and water sources that attract rodents:

  • ⎫ Harvest your fruit and vegetables as they ripen.

  • ⎫ Pick up any fruit or nuts that have fallen on the ground.

  • ⎫ Fill pet bowls only with enough food that can be quickly consumed.

  • ⎫ Rid your garden of “escargot “ aka snails, a favorite meal for vermin.

  • ⎫ Keep birdseed and pet food in metal containers.

  • ⎫ Repair leaky faucets.

  • ⎫ Empty containers of standing water.

  • ⎫ Secure garbage cans. Unfortunately rats will gnaw through bins and raccoons will open lids.

Rodent Proof your house:

  • ⎫ Check for openings larger than ¼ inch in vents, screens, and foundation cracks. Patch the holes with 1/4inch galvanized hardware cloth.

  • ⎫ Use sheet metal collars around pipe entrances on wooden walls and use cement patch around pipes in brick, stucco, or stone.

  • ⎫ Seal all gaps around electrical conduit.

Where the Wild Things Are!

  • ⎫ Varmint Control: The Merriam Webster Dictionary considers “varmint” to be any animal that is considered problematic-rats, mice, skunks, raccoons, prairie dogs, etc.

  • ⎫ Skunks: Besides doing everything above to keep the varmint out of your home, if skunks are visiting your property you can buy skunk traps, which are specially made so that once a skunk has entered, it cannot spray. Docile skunks are great destroyers of yellow jacket nests and therefore helpful to your garden if not rabid. If rabid, Vector Control will come to euthanize the skunk. Once skunks have been to your property, they may return. Scatter mothballs in the area and add a radio playing music to deter them.

  • ⎫ Rats and mice: Don’t use the old fashioned wooden snap traps. They are too dangerous to humans and small pets. Available at hardware stores, power spring traps or easy/quick set traps work best. A great way to assure that only the rodents get trapped is to set the trap with a dab of peanut butter placed under a larger plastic container. Cut a small hole in the container. I use a recycled flower pot. Place the container over the trap. Add a brick or rock to the top to keep it from toppling. You will catch the vermin.

  • ⎫ Raccoons: Follow all the instructions above. Add netting to ponds where raccoons will fish.

  • For unwanted animals, don’t use poisons as they will kill beneficial critters and harm the environment.

Cleaning the Mess:

The smells associated with skunks, mice, and rats are nauseating. Their feces and nests could be a danger to your health. When we see droppings our first impulse is to grab a broom or vacuum. DON’T!

Sweeping and vacuuming releases virus particles into the air. Inhalation can result in infecting the person with the viruses. Here’s how to clean the feces, nesting areas, and dead animals.

  • ⎫ Wear gloves, a mask, and goggles.

  • ⎫ Spray the area with Lysol or a disinfectant made with a strong solution of bleach.

  • ⎫ After five or minutes, wipe up the area with paper towels or rags you will toss.

  • ⎫ Pick up a dead rodent with a shovel.

  • ⎫ Spray more of the bleach solution to sanitize the area.

  • ⎫ Put all of the waste materials, rags, dead rodents, and paper towels in a plastic bag.

  • ⎫ Seal the bag in another plastic bag and put in the outside garbage can.

  • ⎫ Wash your gloved hands thoroughly.

  • ⎫ Remove the gloves and mask, put in a plastic bag, seal, and put in the outside garbage can.

  • ⎫ Wash your un-gloved hands and your goggles with soap and warm water.

  • ⎫ NEVER vacuum, sweep, or blow out areas that harbor contaminates that could become airborne.

Getting Help:

If you have a problem with rodents or skunks, contact Vector Control at 925-771-6142. The service is free and you’ll be able to troubleshoot your issues. They will also pick up skunks that have been trapped.

Also remember that encouraging owls and cats to scout your property will keep life in harmony.

There is nothing beautiful about pests finding shelter in our homes and gardens but this month does bring beauty to our doorsteps.

Sheltering the Beautiful

  • ⎫ With the rainfall our lawns and hillsides are green and growing.

  • ⎫ Cyclamen abounds at nurseries and garden centers in an abundance of stunning colors-red, pink, white, burgundy. Plant these perennials to add glamour to the winter beds.

  • ⎫ Sunflower seeds can be scattered for next summer’s glory.

  • ⎫ A cover crop blend will choke out weeds, protect soil structure, and increase soil fertility. Sow seeds to over-winter for spring growth.

  • ⎫ Cotoneaster, holly, and pyrancantha showcase red pomes or berries that are perfect for holiday décor.

  • ⎫ Watch for the unexpected growing in your garden. Perhaps a prickly pear has taken root next to a pine tree!

  • ⎫ A variety of mushrooms are sprouting throughout our landscapes. Unless you are an expert in mycotoxicology, enjoy these fairy houses, but don’t eat them!

  • ⎫ The sounds and sights of fountains flowing are stress reducing and healing.

Wishing you a very healthy, happy, and beautiful December where the wild things aren’t!

Happy Gardening and Happy Growing!

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Cynthia Brian

The Goddess Gardener

StarStyle® Productions, llc


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