Animals are helpful in the garden about as often as ants are helpful in the kitchen. Sure, the ants might eventually clean all the dishes, but the downside is the whole “infestation” thing. Now I know some of you will helpfully point out, “How about the mules helping the Amish work the fields?” to which I will point out that I’m typing this on a laptop — ergo, not Amish. And my neighborhood has an (accursed) HOA which would very likely frown on a horse-donkey crossbred pets, even if they had mad plow-pulling skills.
Let me think back to the last time I had an animal-garden experience… oh yeah, yesterday. I had acquired a Mexican Flame Vine clipping last year and had nursed it through the winter until I finally transplanted it in the garden this spring. With the onset of the heat of the summer (and my continuous attention), it finally took off and bolted to the top of the fence. However, yesterday it wilted without so much as a text message. Turns out it’s not great at transferring water to its leaves after a dog rips its roots out of the ground. Who knew.
And don’t get me started on rabbits. In fact, I’ll devote an entire article to rabbits soon. Spoiler: the best technique to keep rabbits away is to plant plants they the don’t want to eat. Fences work but look ugly. Rabbit Keep-Out products smell nasty and don’t work anyway. Shotgun blasts are too messy and are apparently “illegal” in the city limits. Pshaw.
Deer are like rabbits but with longer legs and bigger bellies and shorter ears and in fact not so much like rabbits at all except for the fact that they will eat anything you love before they will eat stuff you don’t care about, even though that other unloved stuff is abundant. But as you may have read here, I’m in DFW, so no deer, at least close to the city. I would say the best defense is the same as for rabbits — don’t plant it if they like it.
You might think, “But I love that plant, and those rabbits aren’t the boss of me!” And you may be right. But you will be right with a gnawed-off stub of a plant and a hole in your wallet and a burning hatred in your belly that will cause you to lash out at your loving children when they ask why you look so grumpy. Or so I’ve heard….
(I can hear you saying that I’m being negative and that some animals are really good for the garden (e.g. snakes), but I’d like to point out that complaining is way more fun than complimenting, so let’s just gloss over the beneficial fellas in the hopes that I get to those in a later article.)
I could write several articles about all my “lost loves” that were taken from me by critters. I’ll give you a quick summary of what I’ve learned:
- Rabbits love Japanese maples (especially expensive mail order ones) and will strip it to a nub
- Crying on said Japanese maple nub will not cause it to spring back to life
- Beautiful purple New Orleans dwarf Crape Myrtles make great tug-o-war ropes for unattended dogs
- Squirrels will raid a bird feeder but will leave my garden alone, so they get to live
- A low decorative wire fence will not keep a dog from trampling a promising tomato garden to the ground (to the ground!) after he sees a bunny go in there
- Snakes, though helpful at scaring away birds, are also fantastic at eliciting foul language from unsuspecting tomato-harvesters as they part the leaves and reach for a low fruit
- Freshly prepared beds are great for Peruvian Lilies but even better for dogs who want a nice soft spot to lie down (after of course they scoot all that pesky vegetation and mulch out of the way)
- Closely related to the above: corners of yards underneath large shrubs are not for shade plants like hostas, they are for dogs
- Drip irrigation lines make excellent water straws for rabbits, but only after they chew through them over and over and over
- Low fences are great for keeping rabbits out but are merely temporary trip hazards for dogs when at a full run
- Outdoor cats are great at partially controlling rabbits, but rabbits are fertile and persistent and quite stupid, so they are never far away
- Birds love red things (like tomatoes and raspberries) and blue things (like blueberries and blackberries) and fruits with beak-shaped holes in them (like all of the above)
- Birds are as stupid and persistent as rabbits, and a net thrown over a fruit bush serves to keep most of them out but also some in
- Voles and moles apparently can’t dig through the gummy mud and rocky caliche around here, so they’re not around me, and also get to live
I’ll summarize by way of an equation: animals+garden=grief