Nature

Repellent Against Deer, Cats, Dogs, Rabbits And Raccoons

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Most of us like to see birds and other wildlife in our gardens, but this time of year animal guests can seem more like pests. Birds we normally enjoy peck holes in plums and grapes; deer ravage rosebushes and lilies in peak bloom.

The great art of dealing with critters is simply directing them elsewhere. Barrier methods, such as copper stripping for snails (see below) and draped netting to keep birds off fruit trees, may be unattractive but they are humane. Larger animals, such as deer and raccoons, are harder to repel because most of them in urban and suburban areas have become quite used to human beings. But these smarter animals can be “trained” to avoid your garden by methods other than a 12-foot fence.

A gentleman in Orinda once described for me his method of keeping birds from raiding his small fruit tree orchard. He mounted a plastic owl (the kind sold to repel pigeons from office buildings) on a tall pole, then rigged up a system that rotated the owl. It was plugged into house current, and triggered random movement to give the effect of a live owl.

Then there were the folks who programmed their vegetable garden’s water sprinklers to turn on randomly in the middle of the night — an attempt to surprise and discourage night-raiding raccoons.

These homemade efforts perhaps presaged a recent invention from a Canadian company, a kind of a moving scarecrow that squirts water when it detects an intruder.

Contech calls it “The Scarecrow With a Brain.” It’s a pole-mounted device that uses a motion sensor to pick up the movements of an animal within a range of about 45 feet. Anything that gets within that range gets a nasty, albeit humane, squirt of water — about two cups worth in a hard, directed stream.

Like a high-tech, heat-seeking missile, the Scarecrow swings around to spray its target. The combination of sudden movement and the spray makes a highly effective repellent against deer, cats, dogs, rabbits and raccoons. If the animal doesn’t clear out, it gets sprayed again; the constant, repetitive and automatic response (while you’re sleeping or away on vacation) eventually “trains” the animal to stay away.

Retailing for about $129, the Scarecrow hooks up to garden hose and is powered by two 9-volt batteries (not included). The only downside is that it’s a tacky, bright-yellow object, and probably you would want to paint it over before mounting it on a fence or pole in your garden.

I think it looks a bit like a plasticky beaked bird, but San Francisco gardener Peg Farley says it reminds her more of a rabbit — and she got one with rabbits in mind.

Farley installed the Scarecrow more than a year ago at her country cottage near Mendocino. Her garden there is a wild woodland, planted romantically with purple-flowered princess trees, cascading nasturtiums, and billowy beds of geranium.

“It’s a little enchanted garden, mostly a shade garden,” she says. “I have lots of flowers there, but the rabbits were chewing everything up.” She had a gopher problem as well, which she says seems to be a bit abated since getting the Scarecrow.

As for its homely looks, in her garden it’s just one more piece of folk art.

“”My husband always used to make what are called whimsies, things with found objects, such as animals with a rake for teeth,” she explains. “So this is just one more critter. I think it’s cute.”

It’s also, she says, trouble free and quite effective.

“Anything that crosses it gets sprayed, including people,” she says. “I’ve gotten sprayed a few times myself.”

The device does have an on/off switch, so it can be turned off for garden parties and garden chores. In a city garden, it can detect animals as small as squirrels, but its best use may be to deter deer and raccoons that do damage to your flowers, fruits and vegetables.