Puppies and poison ivy solutions
Mike McGrath, WTOP garden editor
Will hair of the cat keep evil squirrels at bay?
Patricia in Greenbelt writes: "My community has a no-roaming law for cats. But my neighbor has still been able to utilize a cat-based solution for squirrels. When he grooms his cats, he saves the hair and scatters it around his yard. He thinks it works. What do you think?"
I think that my evil squirrels (sorry, that's redundant) would laugh at cat hair the way they laugh at my actual cats. But squirrels are frightened of dogs, and many people have had success protecting newly planted beds from squirrel attacks by covering the soil with dog hair.
Now, you'd need a lot of hair to protect an entire landscape, but big dogs provide a lot of brushed hair. And that hair is guaranteed to slay slugs when spread around plants. Slugs get all tangled up in any kind of hair -- human, cat or dog -- and can't get loose.
Hair also provides plant-feeding nitrogen to the soil as it breaks down. So mulch your beds with hair -- dog, cat and/or human -- as long as the human hair isn't bleached or chemically treated.
Keep skeeters away with garlic -- or a stiff breeze
Matt in Rockville writes: "A while back, you recommended something for repelling mosquitoes on outdoor patios. Not something you spray on yourself, but something that could be sprayed on the bushes surrounding the patio. We've been getting 'eaten alive' trying to sit outside. Does this ring a bell, and do you recall the name of the product?"
Sounds like you're talking about one of the backyard foggers whose active ingredient is garlic oil, Matt. Available under a variety of brand names (like Mosquito Barrier, Garlic Barrier and St. Gabriel's Mosquito Repellent.) These landscape sprays are very effective at repelling mosquitoes and other biting flies.
But, so is air power. If you place an oscillating fan behind you when you're outside, the steady breeze will make you feel cooler, and mosquitoes won't be able to fight their way through to you. It's remarkably effective and works immediately. Just to be sure to use a grounded outlet and cover the fan or take it inside when it rains.
Trap groundhogs before somebody gets hurt
Phil in Severn writes: "My neighbors have an absolutely awful problem with groundhogs living under sheds in their backyard. The backyard borders woods, and they do have a stockade fence, but the groundhogs just squeeze under it. Their two terriers have cornered the ground hogs, resulting in fights and trips to the vet. Is there any sort of harmless chemical that (can) be sprayed around the sheds to convince the groundhogs to leave and seek shelter somewhere else?"
No, Phil -- even if you soaked their lairs with proven, effective deterrents like castor oil or deer repellent, they'd just dig new homes nearby. And those dogs are lucky to be alive -- any vet can tell you horror stories of cornered groundhogs tearing family pets apart with their powerful claws.
The groundhogs should be professionally trapped and removed. Then, a specific type of 6-foot high fencing needs to be installed to keep them in the woods where they belong. It must be buried 2 feet deep in the ground, have 3 feet of fencing solidly staked and then the top foot must be unsupported and bent out backwards to act as a baffle -- groundhogs are excellent climbers.
Here's a link to an article I did a few years back that describes the trapping and fencing in more detail.
'What kind of pest is this? One that chews on limbs…?'
Erica in Manassas writes: "We've noticed what we suspect to be mole tunnels in our yard and now small limbs appear to be chewed on. We haven't actually seen the creatures, and our attempts to catch them have not been successful. We've even consulted professional services, but nothing is working. In short...HELP!"
My pleasure, Erica.
- Moles -- M O L E S -- make raised tunnels (mostly in lawns) and only eat earthworms and grubs underground. Moles do not eat plants.
- Voles -- V O L E S -- make small holes in the ground and do eat plants, but mostly underground things like roots and bulbs.
If the holes are big, it could be groundhogs, which eat enormous amounts of plant material, but tend to be pretty obvious in a landscape.