Now that I’m trying to encourage biodiversity in my ornamental garden and provide habitat for wildlife, I notice how much time I’ve been spending trying to foil animals, especially squirrels, rabbits and birds, who are pursuing their legitimate aims.
Last weekend I spent an hour planting sunflower seedlings I’d started in the kitchen and surrounding each one with a foot-tall tube of fiberglass window screen tied together with bits of wire. I anchored the tubes to the ground with earth staples. The reason for all this fussing is that in previous years, squirrels bit the seedlings off at ground level, apparently enjoying a snack of sunflower sprouts. If I can give the sunflower stems time to reach a height of two or three feet, they’ll be woody enough to lose their gustatory appeal. Meanwhile, the visual effect of my arrangement is what my husband Steve once dubbed “the garden at Checkpoint Charlie.”
|Protected from squirrel attack|
Rabbits have moved into the neighborhood in the past few years. I thought having a dog would protect my garden from their nibbling, but not so. They barely glance at Nadia, our German shepherd mix, hopping away casually if she gets too close. She seems a bit scared of them.
After a summer when rabbits chewed my green beans to the ground as soon as they sprouted, I gave up and ringed the vegetable bed with a waist-high rabbit fence of half-inch wire mesh that’s sunk into the ground a foot deep to discourage the bunnies from tunneling under. That’s holding them off so far, but I figure it’s a matter of time before they find the weak spot in my defense—the narrow space between the ground and the lower edge of the gate. They still have free range in the rest of the yard.
The fence allows me to grow vegetables for our table, but outside the fenced vegetable area, my preference is to share with other inhabitants of the garden. Sometimes this means changing my point of view.
For example, years ago I planted six blueberry bushes, but I harvest about three blueberries per summer. That’s because the birds always get there first. I’ve tried covering the bushes with bird netting, only to find that birds have no trouble plucking berries through the netting. I, on the other hand, can’t lift the netting without tearing off berries and leaves. I could build a conspicuous frame to hold the netting off the branches, but instead I decided to change my attitude. I’ve declared that the blueberries are there to provide food for birds. That way I can be happy when the ripening blueberries disappear. I still harvest some raspberries and the paw paws that raccoons don’t get.
By providing seeds, fruit, shelter, and nesting opportunities with native plants, I aim to provide more stable support for birds instead of putting out birdseed in the warm months. My sunflowers will help—if they survive the marauding squirrels.