Animal Pests

1. Q: What do you do about nuisance squirrels?

A: Making trees, attics and buildings squirrel-proof is a permanent solution to the problem. Squirrels usually gain entrance to attics and other structures from the roof, especially if tree limbs overlap the roof line. This can be solved by trimming tree limbs back at least 8 to 10 feet from the roof. If this is not possible, sheet metal bands can be placed around the trunks of the trees to discourage squirrels from climbing them. The bands should be about 2 feet wide and 6 to 8 feet from the ground.

Live traps can be used to reduce local squirrel populations or to remove individual squirrels from an attic. Effective baits include fruit, peanut butter, nuts and seeds.

At the present time, there are no toxicants, fumigants or repellents registered for use against tree squirrels in Texas.

2. Q: How do you control racoon digging up pansies? Tulip bulbs?

A: Chances are, the raccoon is digging up the pansies or tulip bulbs in his search for grubworms or insects as a food source. Spraying the area with an insecticide will help alleviate the problem. You should always carefully read and follow insecticide label instructions.

Trapping is the most satisfactory way to remove raccoons. In urban areas, it is advisable to use live traps because a dog or cat, if accidentally caught, can be released unharmed. A live trap with dimensions of at least 9 inches x 9 inches x 27 inches is adequate. Bait these traps with fruit, chicken parts, sardines or meat. When placing the traps outside, use fruit for bait as the likelihood of catching cats is reduced.

3. Q: What do you do about woodpecker working on sweet gum tree?

A: Visual and auditory repellents may be effective in deterring woodpeckers from pecking on trees, especially if used soon after the damage begins. Hawk or falcon silhouettes can be constructed from plywood, cardboard or construction paper, then painted black and hung from a tree limb near the damage site.

Aluminum foil strips or brightly colored plastic strips 2 to 3 inches wide and 2 to 3 feet long can be attached to a 6 inch long string and nailed above the damage site. Other types of frightening devices include pie pans, toy plastic twirlers and wind chimes.

Loud noises from hand clapping, toy cap pistols, banging on a garbage can lid or a pot, or a radio placed near the damaged area may frighten the bird from the area.

Pulsating water sprinklers sometimes can be effective in repelling a woodpecker from a tree. The stream of water should be directed to hit the area the bird is damaging. The sprinkler can be turned on whenever the bird begins pecking and left on until it flies away, or it can be turned on at frequent intervals throughout the day. the idea is to harass the bird until it decides to seek a more peaceful area.

Ornamental and fruit trees can be protected by covering the damaged areas with 1/4 inch hardware cloth or by draping netting over the entire tree. the damaged areas should be sprayed with insecticides to prevent insects from entering these places.

4. Q: Client wanted to know what was causing holes in a line around the trunk?

A: Sapsuckers bore a series of rows of 1/4 to 3/8 inch closely spaced holes in the bark of limbs or trunks of trees and use their tongues to remove the sap. The birds usually have a few favorite trees which are fed upon extensively. Nearby trees may be untouched.

5. Q: Rabbits are eating pansies. What can you do?

A: Modifying the habitat to make it less attractive to rabbits is often an effective method of control. The removal of brush piles, weedy patches, rock or lumber piles, etc., will sometimes cause rabbits to leave in search of more suitable habitat. This method is especially effective in suburban areas, where less suitable habitat is available.

Rabbits can be excluded from an area by constructing a rabbit- proof fence. A fence of woven wire or 2 inch poultry netting, 2 to 3 feet high, can be placed around gardens, flower beds or other places where protection is needed. The bottom of the fence should be buried in the ground at least 6 inches to prevent rabbits from digging under the fence.

The use of live traps can be an effective way to remove cottontails. The traps should be placed where the rabbits are feeding or resting. Corn cobs, dried leafy alfalfa and clover are good cold-weather baits. Apples, carrots, lettuce and cabbage are good baits to use during the warmer months.

Several repellents are registered for rabbit control, and sometimes cause rabbits to stay away. Most of these are applied to the area where the damage is occurring. Repellents are usually available from garden supply centers, feed stores and hardware stores.

6. Q: What can I spray with to keep snakes out of my flower beds?

A: There are currently no toxicants, repellents or fumigants for the control of snakes. If the presence of snakes is undesirable, removing their shelter is one of the most effective ways of discouraging them. Eliminating rock piles, brush piles, tall grass, etc. will cause snakes to seek a more suitable habitat. Lumber, wood piles and other debris around the home should be stored at least 18 inches off the ground. Controlling insect and rodent populations in the area also will help to discourage snakes by eliminating their food supply.

7. Q: What is the formula for hummingbird food?

A: Recipe is on the box of crystals sold wherever feeders are for sale.

8. Q: What can be done for armadillos tearing up the backyard?

A: Since most of the damage armadillos cause is a result of their digging for insects and other invertebrates in the soil, an insecticide can be used to make the area less attractive to armadillos. Live trapping is also an effective way to capture armadillos. Traps should be placed in trails near fences or beside buildings. Over-ripe or spoiled fruit, earthworms or fishing worms are good baits.

For more about armadillos, see the page at

9. Q: How do you keep squirrels from digging up caladium bulbs?

A: Place chicken wire over area where bulbs are planted until sprouts come up.

10. Q: What can you do to keep crows and krackles out of the yard and trees?

A: There is no practical solution.

11. Q: Is there a repellant that will keep cats out of the garden?

A: None that is proven.

12. Q: How do you keep birds off plum trees?

A: Horticultural netting available through garden supply stores and catalogs.

13. Q: I want to plant some tomatoes, hot peppers, and bell peppers in my backyard. Last year, I had a terrible problem with birds. I put up netting but this didn't help much. Someone told me to try a yellow tomato.

A: The only way to deal with birds is avoidance. Netting should work but it must be "bird-proof". You might want to check out Grow-Web. Birds will peck ANY color of tomato. Some have tried putting tomato-size red Christmas ornaments next to the green tomatoes before they ripen. The idea is the birds will be fooled into thinking you are growing the hardest, worst tasting tomatoes and not even wait around for the green ones to ripen!

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