Mark Cullen is Canada’s best-known gardening broadcaster and writer. He is the spokesperson for Home Hardware Lawn and Garden. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at www.markcullen.com and watch him Wednesday mornings on Canada AM. His column, which focuses on our growing zone, appears in the Hants Journal every two weeks.
We are all bugged by something or other, and this time of year the bugging seems to reach a crescendo. Here is my short list of the most effective bug controls which are, for the most part, no further away than your kitchen.
Interesting pests, mosquitoes. They love to suck our blood and there are many birds and other ‘insectivores’ like frogs and toads that like to gobble them up. Fact is, we can’t afford to live without them as they are a primary food source for so many desirable wildlife. However, keeping them under control around the cottage and home is something that I understand.
• Empty bird baths once a week. Mosquitoes gestate over a 10-day period when temperatures hover around 26 C so dumping standing water once a week becomes an important habit. Replace the old water with fresh, clean water.
• Give it a shake. Mosquitoes emerge from standing water through the water surface as adults. The tension on the top of the water is required for a successful escape. If you stir up the water once a day that is enough for most mosquitoes to bite the dust before they mature into adults.
• A drop of dishwashing liquid will break the surface tension of the water. This prevents the larvae from emerging into blood-sucking adults.
• Fabric softener sheets clipped onto the back of your hat are said to deter mosquitoes and deer flies too. I’ve tried it and it works.
• Add goldfish. I put them in each rain barrel as they have a voracious appetite for mosquito larvae. One or two per 40 gallon barrel works. In the fall I put the goldfish in my pond.
• Incorporate waterfalls or fountains. Mosquitoes do not breed in moving water.
The common housefly has 160 ‘eyes’ on each ‘eye ball’ — 320 for a pair of fly eyes. Each of these optical plates produces an image that, when combined with the other 159 images, shows a fly where to go.
Hang a clear bag that is half filled with water and four or five pennies. As light refracts through the water, the eye of the fly produces a confusing image that makes the fly, well, fly away. No harm to your flies, just adios amigo. Go bug someone else’s donkey.
By the way, this works. I hung a few in my chicken coop and voila, no more flies.
The people who sell many garden retailers their ant controls tell me that the demand for them has exploded over the last few years. Perhaps this is due to a burgeoning population of ants or our growing paranoia of them. Or both.
In any case, here are some at-the-ready controls.
• Cucumber peels. Place the green-side-down. When ants crawl over the cucumber peel they high-tail it elsewhere as they hate its bitterness.
• Cinnamon. Sprinkle over the path that ants take to your back door, or wherever. Note that ants generally march like soldiers in single file formation. This makes your attempts at control that much easier.
• Spray them with a liquid that contains one cup of sugar, three tablespoons Boric Acid or Borax laundry soap and three cups of warm water (as warm water will dissolve the Borax more readily than cold). Keep away from children and pets.
Slugs and snails
Indeed, a legitimate garden pest. Everyone knows that slugs and snails, which are slugs with a shell, love to eat hostas and many other garden plants. Here are some solutions.
• Beer in a pan. Fill a pie plate about half full with cheap beer and sink it into your garden under the protection of the hosta leaves, the edge of the plate being level with the soil around it. Slugs slip in for a sip (they like the yeast) and drown. Happy no doubt. (Note: you can buy a ‘slug saloon’ at a retailer that works well also. You provide the beer.)
• Egg shells. Dry them. Crunch them up as finely as you can and place them in the path of slugs and snails. The scratchy nature of the shells makes it impossible for the molluscs to enjoy the trip. They turn around and go elsewhere or dry up.
• Upside-down grapefruit halves. Eat the grapefruit and sink the skin into the ground level with the ground. Fill with beer for a sure-fire trap.
We move on to bigger critters. Have you noticed the profusion of rabbits around your neighbourhood this year? I certainly have. They make me laugh out loud many days as they chase each other around the vegetable garden. But they appear much less cute as they chow down on my Swiss chard and carrot tops. They can bring out the Mr. Macgregor in anyone. Here is how to ‘control’ them.
• Apply a cocktail of blood meal, sprinkled with cayenne pepper or Tabasco sauce and some human hair. Mmmm... Yummy. Rabbits hate it.
• Combine two raw eggs, one litre of water, and one teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Mix in a spray bottle and apply to the ground where the problem persists. The eggs should be rotten for best results.
• Use a chicken wire fence. Place one metre high and buried at least six inches deep. Someone had to state the obvious.
As I cross our great country, the question of how to deter deer from our Canadian gardens is the most persistent and widespread of them all. Like deer themselves. Not so much a problem in urban centres but get a few minutes outside of the city and bingo: deer.
There are reported to be 10 times as many deer today than when the Europeans arrived here about 500 years ago. And they live on about 10 per cent of the land mass of that historic time. You do the math. And we wonder why they are ‘persistent and widespread.’ Here’s how to deter them from your property.
• Use rotten eggs. Of all of the homemade recipes that people have recommended to me over the years, it is always the ones that feature rotten eggs prominently that get the best results as a deer repellent, based on anecdotal evidence. Mix three rotten eggs in a litre of water and add hot pepper sauce and garlic for good measure (to taste — the deer's, not yours).
• Irish Spring soap is said to work, hung in net bags on tempting plants. I have also heard that it does not work. Maybe it depends on the deer in your neighbourhood.
• Fabric softener sheets, hung on susceptible plants, can also deter deer. I would be inclined to wrap Irish Spring soap in fabric softener sheets for best effect. Could work, no?
Wait for it: keep your garbage covered and your garage door shut tight at night. Put a lid on your compost pile and secure it down with wire cables. Sorry, no panacea here. In my books raccoons and squirrels are higher life forms. They outsmart us every time.
It is wasp season after all, and nobody is very fond of the garden variety wasp. A store purchased wasp trap can be baited using one third non-carbonated fruit juice and two-thirds water. Change weekly.
Do not allow the crab apples or other fruiting trees in your yard to drop fruit and rot there. Wasps love that.
The fake wasp nests that you find at retailers are effective also, I have found. Wasps are territorial, which is to say that they do not invade each other’s turf. To avoid wasp wars, they politely go elsewhere when a wasp nest is already in the vicinity. Exactly how large that vicinity is may depend on the aggressiveness of the wasps in your neighbourhood. I say about one every five to seven metres.