Choosing and Using Critter Repellants

When you have a problem with animals damaging your lawn and garden, repellants can be a valuable tool.
Fall  Garden Visitor

Fall Garden Visitor

Deer are beautiful creatures but not welcome in the garden.

Deer are beautiful creatures but not welcome in the garden.

Chasing the Invaders

When you are experiencing problems with the local wildlife, whether deer are eating your roses or snakes have invaded your backyard, you can easily find a repellant to help get rid the problem. But before you go to the local garden center, it is important to understand what you are about to spread in your landscape. Although there are lots of brands to choose from, it is important to look more closely at the label. Specifically, pay attention to the “active ingredients” list. Typically this can be found on the front of the package, in small print, somewhere near the bottom.

How Animal Repellants Work

Active ingredients are just what they sound like, they are the part of the product that does the actual work. The percentage expressed is the portion of the working ingredient contained within the product. The remaining percentage is considered “inert ingredients,” serving to make the active ingredients useful. Inert ingredients include carriers, anti-caking agents, time release agents, etc. Use this information to your advantage. When you compare similar products, and notice major price differences, you may find that the concentration of the same active ingredient is much higher in the pricier option than the cheaper one. By doing the math on the recommended application rates (for instance, how many pounds per thousand square feet) and treatment intervals (how often you need to reapply), you may find that the “expensive” option works out to be far less so in the long run.

Deer and Rabbits

Putrescent egg solids and coyote urine are two effective and popular ingredients among numerous manufacturers of deer and rabbit repellants. Both of these are scent based, which is good because they do not require that the animals eat the plant before providing a deterrent. Depending on the particular product and intensity of the problem, these may be used as a perimeter treatment around your garden in granule form, or as a liquid that may be sprayed directly on the plants to be protected.

Moles and Gophers

Castor oil is the most commonly used ingredient in mole and gopher repellant. Because these animals work underground, the product is spread on the target area in granular form and carried into the soil by rain and irrigation water. (It is also helpful to simply smash tunnels whenever they appear in the yard.)

Dogs and Cats

Makers of dog and cat repellants have yet to come to a consensus on what works best. Some of the commonly used active ingredients include geraniol, castor oil, peppermint oil, thymol, white pepper and methyl nonyl ketone. As you may guess, dog and cat repellants are generally scent-based because of the nature of these critters. They are available in granular and liquid forms, and come in indoor or outdoor formulas.


The most effective ingredients seem to be cinnamon, clove and eugenol essential oils in high concentration. Snakes are known to retreat when sprayed directly with these oils, and exit enclosed areas when the oils are introduced. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of packaged snake repellants sold at garden centers and home improvement stores, with consumers reporting mixed results. If you have an ongoing snake problem, consider hiring a wildlife removal specialist.

One Piece of the Puzzle

When you are dealing with animal intrusions into your landscape, consider what is attracting them to the area. Eliminating or reducing those invitations, combined with consistent use of proven repellants can help preserve your beautiful landscape.

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