You Don’t Have to Kill Them, But You’re not Required to Share

You get up early; work ‘til late
Watch moles and mice get overweight
They eat their dinners on a plate
From the hard work you have done.

From The Anti-Garden Song by Eric Kilburn

Sooner or later it happens to all of us. We exert a great deal of muscle to prepare, plant, and cultivate our gardens. All the while, visions of ripe juicy tomatoes are dancing in our heads. Then one day, we walk into our garden and discover, to our horror, that something has helped itself to the produce we labored so hard to grow. Sometimes we see the culprit in action – a rabbit munching on our lettuce; a squirrel running away with an ear of corn in its mouth; a groundhog emerging from the soil to steal a carrot or two; the parade of horrors goes on. At this point we become consumed with a fiery desire to wring their tiny necks or to blast them into confetti.

Squirrel Stealing Tomato

Believe me, I understand. Three out of the last four years, squirrels have stolen my corn and left me with nothing. I’m as human as the next gardener, and I, too, have been guilty of harboring the urge to commit rodenticide. However, I’m asking everyone to unclench their fists, put down the shotgun, and extend a little mercy.

These animals are not out to steal your veggies for the sole purpose of getting your dander up. They did not wake up in the morning with the specific intent to make a raid on your garden just to spite you. No. These animals want what we all want – good healthy food so that they can survive and thrive. And when they are hungry and see food, they’re going to take it, whether its acorns in the forest or tomatoes in your garden. But if they happen to encounter an angry gardener while foraging for a meal, they may very well pay for it with their lives.

I don’t like losing my harvest to invading critters any more than you do. But these invading critters are all God’s creatures and they’re as deserving of life as you or I. They don’t deserve to be cut down simply for eating. Worse – that rabbit that you’ve shot may have been a mama rabbit out foraging for her young. Killing her will leave a whole nest of babies to slowly starve to death. No creature deserves such a fate.

Let me repeat: Animals that steal from our gardens do not deserve the death penalty. On the other hand, we do not have to aid and abet their thievery. Instead of executing them for their crime, we can stop them from committing that crime in the first place. How? Well, there are a variety of ways to accomplish this.

Barriers – A good old fashioned fence built high (eight feet) and sunk low (six inches) should be sufficient to keep out rabbits and deer.


Odors – Animals have a sense of smell that’s hundreds of times stronger than ours. So if something smells bad to us, you can just imagine how bad it must be to the animal. We can use this to our advantage and spray our gardens and the plants with odiferous substances such as garlic and rotten eggs (the two main substances in products such as Bonide Liquid Fence or Repels All). Capsicum, the substance that gives hot peppers their fire can be sprayed or sprinkled on your plants. The odor alone should drive them away, and if the animal should foolishly eat a fruit or vegetable so treated – well, just imagine how you would feel biting into a habanero pepper.

h404_hot_pepper_wax liquid_fence Repels All

Scare tactics – Loud noises, predator urine, plastic figurines of owls and snakes, scare lines, and devices that automatically detect intruders and respond with a jet of water are all ways to give a rabbit or deer the feeling that your garden is not a safe place and that they should move on.

Predator Urine h404_hot_pepper_wax Water Jet Repeller

Bribery – In the words of Porfirio Díaz, “A dog with a bone in its mouth neither kills nor steals.” So put out some corn for the squirrels. Grow a patch of clover and alfalfa for the rabbits. Though not a guaranteed solution, theoretically, if an animal is full from eating something else, it has less of a reason to treat your garden as its food store.

squirrel corn

The animals of this earth have successfully foraged for food long before we came around, and they’ll continue to do so with or without us. So blocking them or repelling them from your garden won’t starve them. But if they can’t get into your garden, then you won’t be harboring murderous thoughts – or acting on them. And we can all peacefully co-exist. Sounds like a winning situation to me!

So block them, repel them, scare them, or bribe them. If you successfully accomplish one of the former, you won’t need to off them.