Garden pests – animals and birds

A muntjac deer browsing on a small shrub
A muntjac deer browsing on a small shrub; photo: Airwolfhound; CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

The bigger the animal, the more it can eat of your precious plants. Deer are the most dangerous and they are rapidly increasing in number in the South of England. I have heard people complain that all their roses have been eaten and this is a tragedy. If you have a fully enclosed town garden, you may not see them, but out in the countryside you need to enclose your growing area with two-metre high deer fencing.

And then there were muntjac

I have an allotment and I am bothered by a smaller type of deer, namely muntjacs. Until two years ago, we had no trouble with muntjacs, but then they started eating courgettes (which you might think is a good thing, since we always have too many). They also eat anything else they can readily get at, including Jerusalem artichokes. Once you have these, they tend to spread, and most people don’t like eating them.

Having fenced most of my allotment growing area up to one metre high, I thought the artichokes would be okay in another corner under some trees. But no: I didn’t get any artichokes to eat last year, because all the foliage was eaten.

Before muntjac there were badgers… and rabbits… and foxes

In the good old days before the muntjac, we did have to enclose some of our plants such as sweetcorn which are a magnet for badgers. They can dig underneath any wire netting – as can rabbits. Although our allotments are not fenced, we are lucky not to have any rabbits. The reason being that we have too many foxes, which like to eat rabbits. The foxes occasionally go for the chickens which are kept caged on the allotments and the eggs supplied to allotment holders. I once found a dead fox on top of the hens’ cage.

My sister-in-law, gardening in the Weald of Kent, has to be on the alert against rabbits. They have put fencing around their plot, but if anyone leaves the gate open, the rabbits will take advantage.

Pigeons vs brassicas

In the winter, you need a complete cage to protect your brassicas from the pigeons. Although once I did find two pheasants in my brassica cage. I said to myself, “next time I find them in there, I will have a pheasant casserole.” However, I don’t know how I would have achieved that. Pigeons can strip everything off a large broccoli plant in short order. I have a feeling that pheasants also like sweetcorn, but there is more other food for them to eat in summer than in winter and sweetcorn has a short summer season.

Thrushes and crows

Getting down to the smaller birds, some of them do good, like thrushes which eat slugs and snails (which also eat your plants). I have been wondering for some time what the crowds of crows and rooks are doing pecking the ground on my allotment. It seems that they have a mixed diet of insects and worms, but they also eat seeds and corn and worse: peas and beans. Even worse, they take the eggs of other smaller birds. I try to scare them off whenever I am there. Some gardeners plant bright whirligigs, available in beach shops, in an attempt to scare off birds.

Apart from the birds that are good for gardeners, such as your trusty robin (who is always there when you are digging) and also thrushes, which having nearly died out are coming back again, you need to know how to protect your new seeds and seedlings and even your onion sets from being eaten by the birds.

You can cover your seeds with wire netting, but you will need to remove it before the seedlings grow through it. Another trick is to put black cotton about six inches (15cm) above the seeds and tie it to sticks so that it is quite taut and it does deter the birds. It also deters the squirrels when you have just planted some tulip bulbs.

Bent plastic pipes with blue netting to keep the birds off the brassicas
Bent plastic pipes with blue netting to keep the birds off the brassicas; photo by Nico Kerr

Some gardeners use flexible plastic piping to cover the entire bed of greens, at a height of about one metre, and then drape the netting over these pipes, forming a bird proof cage, both for the seedlings and for mature greens.