Cactus Plant Protection – How To Keep Rodents Away From Cactus

Cactus Plant Protection – How To Keep Rodents Away From Cactus

By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

Do mice eat cactus? Yes, they certainly do, and they enjoy every single bite. Cactus is a delicacy to a variety of rodents, including rats, gophers and ground squirrels. It seems that prickly cactus would discourage rodents, but the thirsty critters are willing to brave the formidable spines to get to the sweet nectar hidden beneath, especially during periods of prolonged drought. For some gardeners, rodents feeding on cactus can become a serious problem. If you’re wondering how to keep rodents away from cactus, read on for a few suggestions.

How to Keep Rodents Away from Cactus

Some cacti are hardy plants that can survive an occasional nibble, but in many cases, rodents feeding on cactus can be deadly, so cactus plant protection is necessary. Here are a few tips for protecting cactus from rodents:

Fencing: Surround your cactus with wire fencing. Bury the fencing at least 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm.) into the soil to discourage rodents from digging under.

Covers: If rodents are a problem at night, cover cacti every evening with a metal garbage can, bucket, or empty nursery container.

Mint: Try surrounding your cacti with mint, as rodents don’t appreciate the powerful aroma. If you’re worried that mint may become too aggressive, place potted mint plants near your cactus.

Pets: Cats are rodent-control experts, especially when it comes to eradicating mice and other small critters. Certain dogs, including Jack Russell Terriers, are also good at catching rodents and other vermin.

Repellants: Some gardeners have good luck by surrounding cactus with the urine of predators such as wolf, fox or coyote, which is available at most garden supply stores. Other repellants, such as hot pepper, garlic or onion spray, seem to be temporary at best.

Poison: Be extremely careful if you decide to use poison as a means of protecting cactus from rodents. Avoid poison at all costs if you have young children or pets, and keep in mind that poison can also kill birds and other wildlife. Lastly, remember that poisoned animals often seek shelter to die, which means they may breathe their last breath inside the walls of your home.

Trapping: This, like poison, should be a last resort and doesn’t work as well as you might expect. Often, trapping an animal creates a vacuum that is quickly replaced by another animal (or several). Live traps may be an option, but check with your Department of Fish and Wildlife first, as relocating rodents is illegal in many areas. (Consider your neighbors!)

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How to Keep Animals Out of Your Vegetable Garden

Last Updated: March 12, 2021 References

This article was co-authored by Ben Barkan. Ben Barkan is a Garden and Landscape Designer and the Owner and Founder of HomeHarvest LLC, an edible landscapes and construction business based in Boston, Massachusetts. Ben has over 12 years of experience working with organic gardening and specializes in designing and building beautiful landscapes with custom construction and creative plant integration. He is a Certified Permaculture Designer, is licensed Construction Supervisor in Massachusetts, and is a Licensed Home Improvement Contractor. He holds an associates degree in Sustainable Agriculture from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

There are 28 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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Planting and growing a vegetable garden can be a rewarding and tasty hobby. However, many wild animals will be just as eager to enjoy your hard work as you are. Keeping animals out of your garden can be a serious challenge, as they can be very persistent. However, there are many methods that you can use to deter animals from entering your garden, saving your vegetables for you to enjoy.


Common Succulent Pests

Mealy Bugs

These are one of the most common pests in succulents and cacti. They are tiny, elliptical insects about 2-3 millimeters long, gray or light brown in color. They get their name from a waxy or mealy white material they produce. An early sign your plants have mealybugs is the white cottony substance you see on your plants.

Chances are you’ll spot these white fluff first before spotting the bugs. These insects secrete honeydew or a sugary substance, which can promote the growth of mold and make the plan more susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections. You can usually spot them on the leaves or the underside of leaves, and between the joints of the plant. They can easily spread from plant to plant.

Remedy: Use a cotton swab or Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol and apply directly on the bugs and anywhere you see the white cottony substance. Your plant will not be harmed while killing the bugs with this method.

Alternatively, instead of dabbing with alcohol, you can use a spray bottle and spray rubbing alcohol directly onto the bugs and white fluff. Some people like to dilute the alcohol about half strength with water .

Instead of alcohol, you can also use soap such as dish soap diluted in water. Try using a few drops of soap in 2 cups of water and shake to mix well. Spray directly onto affected areas where you see the mealybugs and white fluff.

Unfortunately, mealy bugs do not disappear that easily and it may take a few treatments to get rid of the problem. Repeat the treatment about once a week as needed until the problem is resolved. Isolate the infected plant to avoid contaminating your other plants as mealy bugs can spread from plant to plant.

Mealy bugs can also be hiding in the roots. To get rid of them from the roots, you need to treat the plant and remove the it from the pot. Clean off the soil and wash off the bugs from the roots.

Spray the plant with rubbing alcohol or soapy water. Some people like to dilute the alcohol with water, about half strength. Let the plant dry for a few days and then re-pot in a fresh potting mix that is well draining and suitable for cacti and succulents.

Scale

There are over a thousand species of scale, which vary in shapes, sizes and color. There are two groups of scales that commonly attack succulents: the armored scale and the soft scale insects. If you see small, brown bumps on your succulent, then you may have a scale problem. These insects like to eat the sap of succulents, damaging the plants and making them susceptible to diseases.

Remedy: Remove any visible insects you see from your plant either by hand or by hosing them off. Scrape off or spray off any visible bugs from your plants. If the scale problem is not that bad, you can physically remove them from your plant. You can treat scales the similarly as you would with mealybugs. Use a cotton swab or Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol and apply directly on the bugs.

Alternatively, instead of dabbing with alcohol, you can use a spray bottle and spray rubbing alcohol directly onto the bugs. Some people like to dilute the alcohol about half strength with water .

Instead of alcohol, you can also use soap such as dish soap diluted in water. Try using a few drops of soap in 2 cups of water and shake to mix well. Spray directly onto affected areas where you see the mealybugs and white fluff.

Some people have had success with neem oil in treating scales. If the infestation is severe, neem oil may not be enough. Dilute 1 tablespoon or 15 ml of neem oil in 8 cups of water and mix well. Spray the solution onto infested areas and the undersides of the leaves. When using neem oil, do so at night to prevent burning your plant from sun damage.

Unfortunately, these bugs do not disappear that easily and it may take a few treatments to get rid of the problem. Repeat the treatment about once a week as needed until the problem is resolved. Isolate the infected plant to avoid contaminating your other plants.

If the scale infestation is severe, you need to treat the plant by removing it from the pot. Clean off the soil and wash off the bugs from the roots. Spray the plant with rubbing alcohol or soapy water. Some people like to dilute the alcohol with water, about half strength.

Let the plant dry for a few days and then re-pot in a fresh potting mix that is well draining and suitable for cacti and succulents. When treating the infected plant, make sure to keep it away from your other plants to prevent spreading the infestation to your other plants.

Aphids (Greenflies or Plant Lice)

These are small insects with fat, teardrop-shaped bodies. They come in a variety of colors, from green being the most common. They are often numerous, and can be found sucking on leaves or flowers at the end of the stems.

They also expel a lot of sugary white substance or honeydew, as they feed. This sugary substance can encourage the growth of black sooty mold. Aphids suck on the plant’s tissues, causing the plant to have misshapen leaves and stunted growth.

Remedy: Spraying the plant that is infested with aphids and applying water pressure may do the trick and physically remove these insects from the plant. You can also treat the plant with a mixture of soapy water. Add a few drops of soap in water and mix well. Spray onto infested areas and undersides of the leaves.

You can also add vegetable oil to the soapy water. Put a few drops of soap such as dish soap in 1-2 cups of water with about 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil and mix well. Spray onto the infested areas where you see the bugs.

Neem oil have been effective for some people in treating aphids. Dilute 1 tablespoon or 15 ml of neem oil in 8 cups of water and mix well. Spray the solution onto infested areas and the undersides of the leaves. When using neem oil, do so at night to prevent burning your plant from sun damage.

Repeat treatment as necessary, about once a week, until the problem is resolved.

Spider Mites

Spider mites are very small and often go undetected for a long time. The most common variety is red. Spider mites love to suck on the sweet sap from succulents.

An infested plant at first becomes lighter in color and can eventually turn almost white or silvery, as the mites destroy the plant. Pay close attention to neighboring plants to catch infestations early. Early signs of spider mites are usually spider webbing and small brown spots on your plant.

Remedy: You can deal with spider mites the same way as you would with mealybugs. Use a cotton swab or Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol and apply directly on the bugs and anywhere you see the white cottony substance. Your plant will not be harmed while killing the bugs with this method.

Alternatively, instead of dabbing with alcohol, you can use a spray bottle and spray rubbing alcohol directly onto the bugs and white fluff. Some people like to dilute the alcohol about half strength with water .

Instead of alcohol, you can also use soap such as dish soap diluted in water. Try using a few drops of soap in a cup of water and shake to mix well. Spray directly onto affected areas.

It will take a few treatments to get rid of the problem. Repeat the treatment about once a week or as needed until the problem is resolved. Isolate the infected plant to avoid contaminating your other plants.

If you suspect the infestation to be worse, then you might want to repot your entire plant. Remove the plant from the pot, clean off the soil and wash off the bugs. Spray the plant with rubbing alcohol or soapy water. Some people like to dilute the alcohol with water, about half strength. Let the plant dry for a few days and then re-pot in a fresh potting mix that is well draining and suitable for cacti and succulents.

Whiteflies

These are commonly found with leafy succulents. They are small, white, flying insects that reproduce very quickly and can be difficult to control. You can see whiteflies flying from the underside of the leaves when an infested plant is shaken. Like aphids, these insects produce honeydew everywhere on your plant which promote the growth of sooty mold.

Remedy: Blast the flies off with water to remove some of the flies. Spray the plant with rubbing alcohol diluted in half strength with water. Instead of alcohol, you can also use soap such as dish soap diluted in water.

Try using a few drops of soap in a cup of water and shake to mix well. Spray directly onto affected areas. Repeat the treatment as needed.

Fungus Gnats

Fungus gnats are perhaps one of the most common houseplant pests. While fungus gnats are not as harmful to your plants as other pests, they can still be a pain to deal with and to get rid of. They resemble mosquitoes. If you water your succulents too much, or if the soil is constantly moist, the gnats will be attracted to it and will start breeding.

Remedy: Fungus gnats are attracted to moisture. Make sure you are not over watering your succulents and that the soil is allowed to dry out between watering. Succulents and cacti need to be in well draining soil. Repot your plants in a well draining potting mix suitable for cacti and succulents if they are sitting in the wrong medium to prevent moist soil.

For a natural remedy, sprinkle cinnamon powder on top of your potting mix. Cinnamon has natural anti-fungal properties and may help with the problem. You can also use one of those yellow sticky insect pads. The fungus gnats stick to these pads and may help lessen the problem as you deal with the source of infestation.

Ants

Ants are found everywhere in nature so they should be harmless on succulents right? Well, one or two ants here and there are fine but if you see an army of ants on your plant, it is often a sign that you have other insects such as mealybugs, aphids and scales on your plant. Ants farm these insects because they secrete honeydew or these sugary substance that ants love.

Remedy: Spray the plant with soapy water or insecticidal soap. Repeat as needed about once a week. You can also use ant baits near your plants to draw the ants away from your plant. Inspect the plant for other insects that are attracting the ants to the plants and treat as needed. Often, soapy water should help with the problem.

If you the infestation is worse, you might want to repot your entire plant. Remove the plant from the pot, clean off the soil and wash off the bugs. Spray the plant with rubbing alcohol or soapy water.

Some people like to dilute the alcohol with water, about half strength. Let the plant dry for a few days and then re-pot in a fresh potting mix that is well draining and suitable for cacti and succulents.


How to use plants to repel pests

1. Plant live plants around your property

Landscaping isn’t only for good looks, it can help in so many ways.

The best place for pest repelling plants is wherever their meal of choice happens to be. That may be in and around your home, around the chicken coop, or in the vegetable garden.

Planting pest repellant plants around your property not only helps keep pests away from those zones, you can use the leaves and flowers to ward them off elsewhere too.

2. Use the leaves or flowers in sachets, sprays, and infusions

Dehydrate the leaves and/or flowers from pest repelling plants to make a portable pest repellent that can be used wherever you’re having trouble.

Dried herbs and flowers can be just as effective at repelling pests as live ones. Dried herbs can be hung near windows, placed in sachets inside drawers and cupboards, or used in decorations like wreaths and bouquets. Lavender flowers, in particular, make for beautiful pest repellant home decor.

These plants can also be used fresh. Many people take the freshly picked leaves and rub them between their hands to release the oils, then spread them on exposed skin to ward off bugs.

Another great way to use the fresh leaves is to infuse them in oil, then use the oil on your self or around the house to keep insects away.

Yet another way to use fresh herbs is to make a tincture using alcohol or vinegar. This can be poured into a spray bottle for easy homemade bug spray.


3. Use Natural Rabbit Deterrents

While fencing and barriers work great for deterring rabbits, it’s simply not practical to hem in every single cultivar in your garden.

Rabbits have been helping themselves to the gardener’s bounty for time immemorial, and so there are many old timey tricks handed down through the generations:

Scatter Human Hair

After a haircut or a beard trim, collect the hair clippings and scatter it on the soil around your plants.

Not only is the hair good for the soil, the scent of human tresses will inspire fear in your backyard bunnies since it smells just like us.

In the rabbit mind, humans can only mean trouble and will move along to decidedly human-free areas. If you’re short on human clippings, try using pet fur instead.

Add Some “Predators”

Since rabbits are prey animals, they have plenty of natural predators to be wary of in the wild.

To a rabbit, the sight of a hawk, fox, owl, or snake is terrifying. We can use this knowledge to our advantage by adding some faux predators to the garden.

Plastic snakes, fake owls, and even cat statues (replete with reflective eyes) can be strategically placed around your yard to make bunnies think twice about munching on your grub.

Make Noise

The oblong and curved shape of their ears makes bunnies excellent listeners that can detect small sounds that could indicate that a predator is near.

This sensitivity to sounds – with the ability to pinpoint exactly where it came from – is among the few defenses at a rabbit’s disposal.

Try hanging up some wind chimes, a string of aluminum cans, or pie tins to make a little noise every time there is a breeze.

Apply Blood Meal

Composed of dried and powdered cattle or hogs blood, blood meal is nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer that can be mixed in with compost or topsoil to give your plants a sizeable boost in vegetative growth.

Because it smells of blood, it is very effective for deterring rabbits, squirrels, deer, and other rodents from feeding on your plants.


10 Ways to Protect Your Garden from Critters

Are critters chowing down on your vegetables before you get the chance to enjoy them? Here's what you can do to minimize the nibbling.

Those fuzzy little bunnies are adorable hopping around your back yard—until they munch on your newly planted veggies and mow down your marigolds. Like it or not, your wild neighbors aren't selective about what's yours and what's theirs. "Your yard and garden are part of a larger system," says Matt Tarr, associate extension professor and wildlife specialist at the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. "They're a continuum of the habitat around your home."

While it's not possible to make your garden completely critter-proof, here are a few ways to minimize the nibbling and live peacefully with hungry animals, big and small:

Choosing the right kind of management methods, such as how tall a fence you might need, means you have to figure out who's eating what. "Critters most likely to case the quickest damage are deer, rabbits and groundhogs," says Tarr. Look for telltale signs: Deer may leave tracks in the soil and make clean snips on herbaceous plants or tear woody plants. Rabbits make sharp cuts on herbaceous and woody plants and may leave pellet droppings. Groundhogs leave large mounds of dirt 10" to 12" in diameter at entrance to their burrows, typically eating greens, not woody shrubs. Birds peck holes in fruit or steal it before you even know it's ripe.

Fencing is the most effective (and sometimes only!) way to keep unwanted visitors out of your garden. "Put up a fence from day one to prevent them from finding the food source in the first place," says David Drake, extension wildlife specialist and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A fence that's a few feet tall will work for most rabbits, though persistent bunnies and groundhogs may burrow under. To prevent that, bury it about 10" deep. Chicken wire, hardware cloth, or rabbit fencing are the least expensive alternatives for small mammals. A fence that's at least 4 feet tall will work for many deer situations. But if your neighborhood is overrun by deer, you may need one that's 8 feet tall. Plastic bird netting can be placed over small edible bushes like berries the week or so before they ripen, to protect fruit.

When they're hungry enough and competition for food is high, animals will eat anything. "Nothing is foolproof," says Tarr. But there are certain kinds of plants that are less appealing than others, especially plants that are highly aromatic, fuzzy, or have prickles. Thus, while hostas, arborvitae, and azaleas are often favorites for deer, they're generally not interested in many types of ornamental grasses, holly, and barberry. Look around your neighborhood to see what's fared well, talk to nurseries, and consult your local coop extension service for lists of less tempting regional plants.

Those brand-new nursery plants, which have been pampered and fertilized before you bought them, offer delectable, tender new growth. "Whether a plant is tasty or a deterrent to animals has to do with the nutrient and chemicals a plant produces," says Tarr. "Plants recently purchased from a nursery are nutritionally superior. The animals can sense those micronutrients, and they're naturally attracted to them." New plants also cannot withstand as much grazing damage as established plantings. Fence off or use trunk wraps or protectors for new plants and shrubs once you put them in the ground.

Sometimes you can eliminate nibbling opportunities by elevating pots or planting in raised beds. A raised bed two feet or taller will limit rabbit damage, especially if you add a short fence on top. Pots can be mounted on railings, or try planting greens in window boxes out of the reach of hungry bunnies.

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If you live in a less urban area, let the shrubs and grasses around the edges of your yard go a little wild. "If there are a lot of other opportunities for food around you, your garden will be less attractive," says Tarr. "Animals will be less likely to come out into the middle of the yard to your garden to expose themselves to predators if there are other good food sources along the edges."

Open compost piles attract all kinds of creatures that then discover the other delicacies in your backyard, says Drake. Use a self-contained compost bin with a lid to keep marauders away. And if you feed your pets outdoors, be sure to bring their bowls inside after meals so you won't attract skunks, opossums, and raccoons.

Metallic streamers, or bird tape, or an old-fashioned scarecrow may keep birds away, though you'll have to move it around daily. "You can't let it just sit there. Otherwise, once they get used to it, that particular technique loses its effectiveness," says Drake. Motion-activated sprinklers or lights are another possibility for mammals.

Odor repellants are granular and attempt to keep the animal away from an area in the first place with a bad smell. Taste repellents are sprayed on vulnerable plants. They repel by flavor or by causing the animal to feel sick when they ingest the treated plant. "It's sort of like if you ate at a buffet and became ill," says Drake. "You wouldn't want to go back there anytime soon, and neither does the animal." It's important to note that while repellants may upset wildlife tummies, they are not designed to hurt the animals—just to train them to stay away from a specific area. But taste is personal, so some animals will eat treated plants anyway or will get used to the bad taste. Also, these products typically have to be used year-round and must be reapplied after rain. Of course, you'll want to keep your pets away from repellants of any sort, too. Homemade repellents using human hair, bars of soap, garlic, or a host of other ingredients don't work much better. "Try them until you get sick of trying them, then put up a fence," Drake suggests.

"In any given year, a number of factors including the severity of the winter and the number of animals in the area affect how much damage you may incur," says Drake. There are good years (when you'll see little loss) and bad years (when you'll feel like you opened up a free salad bar for the neighborhood critters). Keep your perspective though, and realize what you're doing in your yard benefits the local wildlife, too, even if you didn't get to enjoy that heirloom tomato you planted. As a gardener, there's always next season!


10. Scales

Adult females look like hard or soft bumps on stems, leaves, or fruit males are minute flying insects and larvae are tiny, soft, crawling insects with threadlike mouthparts. They can be found on many fruits, indoor plants, ornamental shrubs, and trees throughout North America. All stages suck plant sap, therefore weakening plants. Plants become yellow, drop leaves, and may die. Honeydew is also excreted onto foliage and fruit. For control:

  • Prune out infested plant parts
  • Encourage native predators
  • Scrub scales gently from twigs with soft brush and soapy water, and rinse well
  • Apply dormant or summer oil sprays
  • Spray with neem oil


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