Sunday, August 8, 2010

Least-toxic garden pest control for deer and weeds

After preparing the soil and planting seedlings, the most labor-intensive portion of gardening was behind me, and I could, I thought, look forward to the more leisurely pursuit of upkeep: weeding, watering, pruning and watching the garden grow. I was delighted that after only four days after planting, the white onions had already sent up small green pips emerging from the soil, the cilantro seemed taller and the basil seemed fuller.

I live in the Northeast, where, thanks to summer rain showers, I do not need to water the garden every day. Every other day or once every three days suffices and helps conserve water, too. At one point I noticed some uninvited mushrooms sprouting alongside the garlic sprouts - a confirmation that my garden was getting enough moisture.

Speaking of the uninvited: Next came woodchucks and rabbits and deer, oh my! A downside of living in the Northeast is that there is no shortage of woodland creatures poised to infiltrate the garden and make a meal of my lovingly tended greens. If only they ate the equally opportunistic weeds, instead!

To stay faithful to the non-polluting and hopefully non-violent ethics of organic gardening, here’s what I did to keep my two main adversaries—deer and weeds—
at bay the least-toxic way. Note on "nontoxic": Even organic essential oils can be toxic if directly or over ingested, so we don't loosely use the term!

Furry Pests

* I surrounded each seedling with a plant cage, making sure it was tightly woven enough to keep rabbits from squeezing through and deep enough, at least 6 ". to at least make burrowers think twice. While cages do nothing to enhance the visual appeal of my garden, they make a difference in keeping woodchucks, rabbits and deer at bay.

*Another trick, which I learned from my mother, is to sprinkle the perimeter of the garden with a powder called "Rabbit + Deer Scram." I purchased the powder at Agway, my local yard and garden store. It is not cheap, but my mother swears by this potion and indeed it has kept the animals mostly away. It is made of powdered blood (a byproduct from slaughterhouses) and powdered herbs and spices such as garlic, peppers and cloves. I would not have been surprised if the directions on the bottle had instructed me to sprinkle this on the garden at night, under a full moon while chanting some spells.

There's also a bloodless remedy, Deer Pharm repellant by Pharm Solutions, which is made with USDA certified organic plant oils.

Deer detest dill, oregano, peppers, sage, and rosemary, So plant ‘em! They’re good eating garden essentials, too. For more on plants that repel deer and other mammals, go to

For great common-sense methods of discerning what pests you’ve got and how to outwit them or remove their cover, see this University of Georgia Cooperative Extention gardeners’ pest control publication. Your nearest USDA ag extension will be glad to help you with their scientific know-how for discouraging local garden pests of all spots and stripes. Find them on USDA's page here.


Weeding the garden is both satisfying and tedious, I find. Using my hands works better and quicker than a weeding tool. A new crop of weeds - mainly clovers, dandelion and stray grasses - seem to crop up every 5 days. It takes about 1 hour each week to make a clean sweep and restore the garden to crisp alternating lines of green plants and dark soil.

For least-toxic control of weeds, Pharm Solutions also makes an organic herbicide.

D.I.Y. solutions include sprinkling gluten meal (left over from making cornstarch), or targeting weeds with white vinegar. For more great tips, see Go Organic Gardening.

See Resources, below, for more organic gardening and least-toxic pest control websites.


Bio Integral Resource Center ( for common-sense pest control in home and garden
Deer + Rabbit Scram - Agway yard and garden store

Plant cages – your local garden supply store

Organic fertilizers, nontoxic pest control for insects, weeds, diseases, from essential oils to green soaps including composters and tools, can be got from Planet Natural,Gardeners Supply Company or Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, which also has canning supplies and sends you a gift of organic seeds with each order.

For information on how and why to eat organic and live green in all areas of daily life for your health and the planet, see GreenerPenny editor Mindy Pennybacker’s book Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth through Simple, Everyday Choices. Visit, to get more green news and tips, sign up for our free monthly e-newsletter, or ask any green living questions that pop into your head!

You can also comment on this blog and I’ll be happy to respond.

--by Lindsay Kurz, GreenerPenny web and graphic designer

Next week: Least-toxic insect control in the garden