container-garden tricks (and trickster skunks), plus other recycling in the spring garden

Large pot of pansies uprooted by skunksIPLANNED TO WRITE about how to save on expensive potting soil in big pots, and other container-garden tricks, but I guess the local skunks wanted to be written about instead—those naughty tricksters! No sooner had I potted up spring pansies and violas, than the creatures of the night unpotted them (upturning the empty plastic nursery pots I’d used as a “false bottom” to conserve soil). The score, after two nights of mischief: Skunks 2, Margaret 0.  Other key spring tasks here involve recycling at its best, too: I’m making new beds and smothering weeds with cardboard and newspaper, and of course there’s the biggest garden recycle operation of all, how to make compost, and lots of it.  (More photos of the 2013 edition of the Pansy War and my temporary solution on the jump.)

The casualties on Night 1 were pots I’d prepped by the barn, to eventually be moved into the garden once they’d filled in. Yikes (but maybe they just wanted to make sure you knew my tip on recycling those pots and cellpacks by making a “false bottom” in the pot, like this).

uprooted pansies in April

more uprooted pansies

After repotting, we decided some botanical body armor was called for, though I have to say, I hate doing things like this (a mix of tomato cages, netting and clothespins):

Pansy pots protected from animals by mesh and cages

The 30-inch-wide bowl in the photo up top was the Night 2 battlefield.

The skunks don’t seem to root around and disturb the cardboard “mulch” I’m using here and there to prep some beds quickly and easily. (Here’s how to make a garden bed with cardboard or newsprint, if you need a refresher.) Every local animal makes an occasional pit stop in my big compost heap, though–which I don’t mind at all. My page of composting questions and answers can help get yours cooking along. Now if I only had the answer on how to get the skunks to limit their nocturnal investigations to the heap alone.

  1. Looks like those violas are so wild they had to caged! Here in east coast Oz we have problems with bush turkeys digging up anything newly planted. I’ve used wire like you have but just put one layer of square mesh cut to size across the top of a pot, pegged it down with tent pegs and planted the seedlings through the mesh. They soon fill out and cover it up. But I kinda like you stalag look!

  2. dona mara says:

    Thank you for this post that let’s me know I’m not alone with the skunks. I know they are attracted to our porch because of the occasional cat food scraps but why do they dig up potted plants? I can’t figure out what they are after. Have decided there must be something in the soil of the container plants that attracts them. However, they don’t appear to eat up roots, soil or plants. The digging up mystery continues.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Dona. I think they like to dig in “fresh” soil (on the ground or in pots) in the hopes of finding grubs or something. It’s like clockwork — me and the skunks, year after year.

      Hi, Margaret. I have thought about stone “mulch”. Interesting. But don’t get me started on the topic of squirrels…my oh my, are they industrious and inquisitive creatures!

  3. wendy cleaver says:

    how very timely Margaret! I had just told my husband I was going to do more planting in pots this year and he said ‘why so more squirrels can dig them up?’ It is very annoying but then I do feed the squirrels throughout the winter months and so I guess I am encouraging them!

  4. Nancy Chapman says:

    Mothballs sometimes help prevent squirrels from digging up plants, perhaps they would work to deter the skunks?

  5. Margaret says:

    Hi. Margaret
    I have the same issues with the many containers I put out in the spring, but it’s the squirrels who dig out my plants. I tried all sorts of things to get them to lay off and then started putting flat rocks down in all the open spaces in my pots right after planting so they couldn’t dig in between plants. The plants grow in and hide the rocks eventually and it seems to deter the little cuties from digging. Just a thought….not sure if it will solve your problem or not. Good luck with the Open Days visit.

  6. Janis says:

    We are in a suburb in Colorado and have squirrels, skunks, rabbits and raccoons. Our beagles keep them away during the day but we must keep them from keeping the neighbors awake at night hence giving them free rein. We must bring our bird feeders in at night and had to stop composting. Rascals!

  7. Louise says:

    A bear got our “Squirrel proof bird feeder” and tore into a metal screen on our compost box. Birds like the worms in my chemical free lawn. I have to be satisfied about that.

  8. So here’s the question- Do we have to keep our pots caged for the season??? The chipmunks and Douglas squirrels here in Oregon are basically doing the same routine on my garden and pots- so aggravating!! I’ve put chicken wire covers over newly planted garden beds, but I’ll have to remove them at some point as the plants grow! What do you do in these circumstances??

  9. Irena says:

    Oh, my goodness! I’m sorry to read and see about this. For such reasons, I now save the metal grate shelves from the old disposed refrigerators that I find on the street on recycling pick up days and then use them to cover my pots or place them over certain plants in beds.

  10. Linda says:

    Oh Margaret, I feel for you….don’t we gardeners have enough challenges without skunks, squirrels and armadillos( here in Texas)?! Hope the cages work.
    I LOVE your green strawberry pot and wondered if you could give me a source. It’s hard to find them with large pockets like yours. Thanks. Carry on………….

  11. Linda says:

    Margaret, I feel your pain! A couple of years ago my flower borders were the victims of the merry mischief of raccoons. I think they just couldn’t wait to get their paws into the freshly tilled, moist loamy soil, yet my newly planted seedlings were the spoils of their ravaging. Replanting the beds only seemed to invite more damage by those merciless marauders, who seemed to invite more of their friends. It was as if my garden received Zagat raves for the best grub (literally) in the neighborhood. My dear husband did a bit of research and learned that the smell of ammonia deters raccoons, subsequently placing ammonia sprinkled rags throughout the yard. I can’t say those rags enhanced the aesthetics of the landscapes, but after weeks of raccoon invasion and fighting the good fight, we finally won the battle! Linda 2, Raccoons 0.

  12. Linda Pastorino says:

    Dear Margaret,
    I look at you and always feel so rewarded with what little I have accomplished since you are a power house of effort. I really admire you. This year is no exception. I think you are still ahead since your yard is not damaged to such an extent that the clearing up process is still for me so far from allowing me to be in schedule for anything. I started to work outside property line in , as I had not really had time to do a long hard clear of road fence line. well starting as i did by cutting down dead vines sprouted tree suckers and clearing leaves etc, I found myself a day later with a rash that put me in the hospital and probably spider bite to boot! Never happened and I know poison plants well. Have no idea how since I was covered on legs arms and wearing gloves that never touched any of these spots. I was shot down in first attempt and I have a whole property to clear! So as much as my garden is not open this year to the public, I have to look at it and it’s state of deplorable condition. I only just had removed the 5 plus 100 foot trees from November which took the guy 10 days to remove! Good luck with any progress this year, no matter what! Linda

  13. mike burch says:

    Just wondering…will ground hot pepper(as in ghost peppers) deter those little stinkers,i know it works against squirrels …just wondering

  14. Dahlink says:

    I was just thinking what mike burch posted (great minds!)

    We have fewer pesky squirrels since a large tree in our back yard had to come down to keep it from landing on our neighbors’ house, but we still have raccoons. I am sure they are attracted by our fish pond. This week my husband went out for an early morning run and spotted a very large raccoon casually walking down the middle of the street. That bandit face looked back at him with an attitude that said “You got a problem, bud?”

  15. Beverly says:

    We pour human pee around places that skunks are frequenting.
    Reapply after a rain. Works against rabbits, groundhogs and squirrels, too. (example, around the perimeter of a shed under which some unwanted creatures may build a den…)
    Also helpful, relocating a fresh pile of dog poop to deter a skunk’s approach. Reapply as needed.
    Look at what our love of gardening has reduced us to!

  16. Carole says:

    I’ve been doing a lot of replanting also. My competition is armadillos, possums, and racoons. My tomatoes were pulled up three time before I put wire disks around each base. I move a lot back into the greenhouse each evening. I believe one attractant is the scent of the organic fertilizer I’ve been using.

  17. Holly M. Rider-Milkovich says:

    Ditto on rocks! it is the ONLY way to keep squirrels from uprooting or chomping everything new and lovely. I have a barrel full of heavy, fist-sized rocks and add them immediately after planting. After things are a bit rooted, I either remove them to plant around them, or leave them until winter clean-up. The lure of all that fluffy, fresh dirt is just too much. Also I place swaths of hardware cloth over newly seeded areas and wait for the seedlings to come up–it keeps squirrels (and dogs chasing them) from disturbing the soil before they germinate.

    I might have the only squirrels in the world that uproot and chew on daffodil bulbs. AND muscari. Alliums, so far, surprisingly unmolested. Thanks for sharing your struggle–know we’re all in it together prevents me from actually enacting my many squrrelcidal daydreams.

  18. Sharon says:

    Thank goodness I have not had any major issues yet this year. Nothing seems to want to go after my newly planted violas and pansies (though I may find that to be not true by the time I get home tonight). I did spray my hostas and tulips early with “Deer Out” to make sure that the deer won’t be as likely start nibbling on the newly opening foliage.

  19. Linda B Secrist says:

    oh Margaret, i thought that you might have meet directly with the striped beauties, that did happen to me while a teen. Walking next door after dark and suddenly my aunt refused to let me into her house, only then did i get the smell of what walked accross in front of me between the evegreen trees.
    I’ll never forget that smell. Consider yourself lucky. Has Jack met the skunk?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Linda. Not sure who Jack hangs out with these days. He tends to come in at night; in his younger years, he was an overnight prowler, but not now.

  20. Martha says:

    Margaret – spray your areas with coyote urine to keep the skunks away. I learned this the hard way. After much research and talking to others, went to the hunting store and got a spray canister. Smells terrible, but not as bad as the skunks!

  21. Linda B Secrist says:

    this time of year cats are shedding their old winter coat so brushing Jack should give you a PILE of kitty hair. I always put the hair out in the yard for the birds to line their nests-wonderful irony- kitty helping birdies lol

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