A pest problem outside your home can be almost as troubling as one inside. You might not have to worry about bugs in your bed, but you do still have to deal with critters eating your plants and ants crawling all over you while you're trying to enjoy an evening outside. Even though you're technically in their territory when you enter the great outdoors, it's understandable that you would want to avoid being sprayed by the skunk that lives under your porch, and that you'd like to see your vegetables become snacks for you, not snacks for the squirrels.
Well, we've got a few tricks up our gardening gloves to help you control those pesky outdoor vermin. Borrow from our 10 easy tips, and you'll be back to having a luscious garden and critter-free evenings on the porch. First up, we'll tackle those birds that keep pecking at your vegetable garden.
Screen Out Birds
Make a wooden frame that's just slightly larger than your lettuce patch and staple window screening to it. Next, pound stakes into the soil at the corners of the lettuce patch to prop your screened frame just a few inches above the soil, and lay the frame on top of them. Of course, if you have or can find some old, ready-made window screens of the appropriate size, all the better.
Your homemade shield will let sun and water in but help keep most of the thieving birds -- as well as some other hungry pests -- away from the seeds and the tasty lettuce leaves.
Prevent Ants from Intruding
If you're worried about the ants that have built mounds near your home's foundation making their way into your abode, try sprinkling their ant hill with cornmeal or dry grits. This is only a tip for those who, when they see a roach inside, don't think twice before grabbing a shoe to smack the creepy crawly and never think to get a jar and release it outside. That's because these grains absorb a lot of moisture and rapidly expand, so once the tiny ants consume them, well, they most likely won't need another meal -- ever.
Oil Up Bugs
Lavender oil is a powerful bug repellent. It keeps away mosquitoes, flies, gnats and other biting insects. It is also annoying to moths; when combined with cedar chips or slivers, lavender oil makes a powerful moth repellent.
Sprays or lotions made with lavender oil can be used directly on the skin as chemical-free insect repellent. However, be sure to reapply often; the repellent may evaporate faster than typical commercial bug repellents, depending on whether they're made from alcohol or lotion.
Lavender oil in soy candles placed around the home or garden has a bug-repelling effect that is more powerful than citronella -- and it smells nicer. For maximum effect, combine lavender oil with eucalyptus, which is also an effective insect repellent, and clove oils.
To help prevent skunks from taking up residence beneath your porch, under or around your house, or anywhere else on your property that puts these little stinkers a little too close for your olfactory comfort, fight fire with fire (or, in this case, odor with odor).
Take several rags, rip them into strips, generously sprinkle the strips with cheap perfume --- eau de cologne, toilet water, or even potent aftershave will do just fine -- and tuck them around the areas you want to defend. Apparently, our odoriferous, black-and-white friends don't like our pretty perfume any more than we appreciate theirs!
Sharpen a Slug's Playground
Slugs are stubborn, slimy garden-munchers that especially favor greens and the tender leaves of young plants, and few remedies control them completely. But to help give your garden a fighting chance against them, try rinsing, drying and crushing up eggshells and then spreading them thickly around vulnerable plants. Mound them up against the stalks, too.
The sharp edges of the shells can apparently make life difficult for the slippery little slugs. The eggshells also act as fantastic natural fertilizer for your garden soil, so when you put your garden to bed at the end of the growing season, just turn the all-natural eggshell mulch directly into the dirt.
Grind Out Slugs
Another reportedly helpful technique for discouraging slugs from feeding in your garden is to spread coffee grounds on the soil surface. Place a thick layer of grounds around the base of plants, especially lettuce and young plants with tender leaves, which are slug favorites.
Like eggshells, the coffee grounds help to enrich the soil and can be mixed into the dirt when you turn over your garden beds at the end of the season. While the smell of coffee may wake you right up in the morning and prepare you for the day, slugs are not big fans.
Block Out Ants
Erect a tiny roadblock if you spot a line of ants parading toward your home. Just pour a thin line of all-purpose flour across their path, which should cause them to scatter and, hopefully, regroup elsewhere, away from your home.
To lay the line, take a piece of paper, wrap one end tightly around a thin knitting needle or barbecue skewer, tape the edge of the paper to itself to hold it in this funnel shape, and slowly fill the makeshift funnel with the flour. Of course, if you happen to have a tiny funnel or cake-decorating tool with a narrow nozzle, you can use it instead to pour your miniature wall of flour. Holding the filled funnel above the ant parade, slowly slide the needle or skewer out. As the flour pours from the narrow end, trace a solid line in the shape of an arrow's head, with the tip crossing the ants' path and the sides extending outward diagonally, away from your house.
Rattle Away Critters
Squirrels, birds, rabbits and deer tend to scatter at sharp, sudden sounds. If these critters have been helping themselves to the produce in your vegetable garden (or the bulbs and seeds in your flower beds), try sticking a few 3-foot-high wooden poles or dowels into the dirt throughout your garden and using string to attach an aluminum pie plate to each one. Use a thumbtack to pin one end of the string near the top of the pole, punch a hole in the pie plate, run the loose end of the string through the hole, and tie off the plate so that it hangs about midway down the pole. With even a slight breeze, the pans will rattle against the poles and help scare away garden invaders.
Make Your Garden Too Fresh for Vermin
Mice, rats, squirrels and other little vermin seem to find the smell of peppermint offensive. Fortunately, to most people, the peppermint aroma is quite pleasant and refreshing. So to help make your yard less tempting to these destructive critters, try growing some peppermint.
Mint plants do have a tendency to spread on their own, however, so if you don't want them crowding out your other flowers and plants, consider planting them in large containers. Then simply intersperse these planters among the other plants growing around your yard. You'll stave off critters, have a fresh smelling garden, and have a fresh herb to spice up your dinners -- who knew vermin repellents could be so useful?
Deter Ants and Curious Hands
To help keep ants from invading your home, thoroughly combine 2 cups borax and 1 cup white flour and pour the mixture into a clean, dry, quart-sized jar that has a screw-on lid. Punch multiple holes in the lid and then screw it onto the jar. Sprinkle this powdery deterrent in a narrow swath against the outside of your house's foundation.
Borax can be a skin or respiratory irritant and can be toxic if ingested in large enough amounts, however, so you may need to prevent curious little fingers or paws from coming into contact with it. Here's one way to do this: Cut narrow strips of chicken wire; curl each strip lengthwise into a half-moon shape with a diameter wide enough to cover the borax swath; then lay them, end-to-end, over the powder, with one long side propped against the house and the other long side pushed about an inch into the soil along the outer edge of the borax swath. Refresh your borax border as needed, especially after a heavy rain.
Adapted from "101 Old-Time Country Household Hints," © 2008 Publications International, Ltd.