Spring has sprung, and with it comes the promise of colorful flowers, warm breezes, and delightful rain showers. Unfortunately, spring also results in a whole slew of pests to contend with — be they plant, animal, or otherwise (*cough* pollen allergies *cough*). I’ve been dealing with a handful of spring nuisances over the last month, and I’d like to share a few tips to help my fellow seasonal warriors fight the good fight.
The first spring nuisance. After a winter relatively undisturbed by mice, I was surprised to see one scurry across my kitchen floor a few weeks ago. I heaved a sigh and grabbed the trap from the laundry room, mentally preparing myself for multiple trips to the high desert to relocate the little buggers. I also realized that it was time to step up my prevention game; instead of trapping mice, I should be trying to keep them from getting into the house to begin with.
If you’re currently dealing with mice — or have a history of infestations — here are a few ways to nip the problem in the bud.
Cut off their entrances
Start by searching for cracks, holes, and openings around your foundation, eaves, and soffits. Pay special attention to cable and drain outlets, vents, and chimneys. In order to prevent mice from entering the home, anything bigger than 1/4 inch (6.4mm) should be sealed. Cracks and holes that are not functional in nature can covered with sheet metal, or filled with caulk, plaster, or cement. For everything else, you can either stuff the holes with steel wool, or install mesh screens.
Cut the clutter
Next, you’ll want to get rid of clutter that offers hiding places and nesting materials. Piles of magazines, newspapers, or other papers are a smorgasbord for nesting mice, so it’s best to store them properly or just toss ‘em straight in the recycling bin. Clothing stashed in bags is also prone to be used as a mouse nest. Instead, put clothes in a wooden chest or plastic bins to keep mice out. Since mice can chew right through cardboard boxes, avoid keeping them on the floor — or, better yet, invest in plastic containers for storage.
Don’t give them a reason to visit
Finally, eliminate any sources of food. Rake up fruit and nuts that have fallen from trees in your yard and compost or discard them. Clear away any birdseed that falls from feeders. Ensure your garbage cans have tight lids, and store them as far from the house as possible. Inside the house, you’ll want to store groceries, pet food, and birdseed, in metal, glass, or heavy plastic containers on shelves or in cabinets. Dispose of all food waste as soon as possible and take out the trash frequently.
Some species of mice can transmit diseases and viruses through their droppings, urine, and saliva. This is why it’s incredibly important to clean very carefully after you’ve gotten rid of the problem. First and foremost, do not sweep or vacuum mouse droppings, as this releases harmful airborne particles. Before cleaning, put on an OSHA-approved respirator with functioning cartridges and sturdy, non-absorbent gloves. Droppings and debris should be carefully picked up and disposed of, and all surfaces that have come into contact with mice should be completely disinfected. Once you’re done, throw away the gloves, towels, and clothing you used while cleaning. Wash your hands several times, and expose the newly cleaned area to fresh air and sunshine for a few hours.
On to the second of the spring nuisances. We currently have a goathead infestation — and no, I’m not exaggerating. A good 50 percent of my backyard is, in essence, a goathead crop. I’ve been doing a lot of research, trying desperately to figure out what it’s going to take to get rid of these little yard terrorists. It looks like I may have a fight on my hands.
Kill ’em and dispose of ’em
Goatheads (AKA puncturevine, AKA tribulus terrestris) are designed to survive, and they’re not going to leave quietly. Spraying is the first line of defense in the war against goatheads. In early spring, a pre-emergent herbicide — like Espoma Organic Weed Preventer — can be used as a preventative measure. If you already have plants springing up, you’ll need to use a post-emergent weed killer — like 30% Pure Vinegar — which is not the same as the 5% household vinegar. If the goatheads are in your lawn, BioSafe Weed Control Concentrate herbicide will kill all broadleaf plants and leave the grass alive. Be sure to read and follow the label on whatever solution you decide to use. Once you’ve finished spraying, place tarp over the infested areas to deprive the weeds of sun, and allow the treatments to penetrate fully. When plants are yellow/brown, remove the tarp.
Next you’ll need a shovel, hoe, or upright weeder to remove the dead plants from the ground. Take care not to shake the seeds loose from the plant, because you’ll be sweeping up anything left over. Rake the area, removing all goathead plants, thorns, and debris. Then, in order to prevent reseeding, you’ll need to either trash or burn the refuse.
Keep ’em out
Since goatheads don’t compete well with other vegetation, maintaining a healthy lawn is one way to choke out an infestation in a short time. If the goatheads are in an area where you can’t raise grass, plant wildflowers or other ground cover. You can water these newly planted areas, but be sure to spray for goatheads again within one to two weeks.
In the autumn, a propane weed burner is needed to kill the seeds left on the ground. For large infestations, sweep with weed burner and stay as close to the ground as possible. Do your best to burn the roots — but follow with weed killer, regardless, just to make sure the job is done. Check with your municipality before burning to make sure it’s legal, have a watering hose ready, and do not work on a windy day.
The third of the spring nuisances. Nothing kills the backyard buzz like nuisance animals. Wild pests can raid your garden, damage your lawn, or prey on your chickens — and that’s enough to ruin anyone’s good time. The good news is that it’s possible to keep these critters out of your yard, but it does take some dedication.
Start by making your backyard as unappealing as possible to nuisance animals. To eliminate breeding, nesting, and hiding spots, remove brush, lawn debris, wood piles, and high grasses. Seal off access to crawl spaces beneath your porch or deck, and fill any abandoned burrows you find with gravel. Minimize food sources by covering your compost pile, securing trash cans, cleaning up bird seed, and reducing insect populations.
A natural barrier
Certain animals can be deterred by planting highly aromatic flowers, plants with natural toxins, and plants with fuzzy leaves or stems. You can also use liquid or granular animal repellents on trash cans, bird feeders, plants, shrubs, or trees. Apply these repellents on mulch beds and fence lines for perimeter protection.
A physical barrier
Finally, create a physical barrier to keep animals out of your yard or garden. Fine mesh fences around your gardens, tree wraps, and perimeter fences are all fantastic ways to protect your paradise. Just remember, when building a fence, you need to extend the material underground to prevent critters from digging below it. You’ll also need to ensure that it’s tall enough that animals standing on their hind legs can’t reach above it.
I hope this article has added some new knowledge to your arsenal, and that you’re now armed with the tools you need to protect your home, yard, and garden. If you have any questions, comments, or additional tips, please let me know in the comment section below!