This cheap and easy homemade spray will keep squirrels, rabbits, and other furry pests from chewing up your plants
othing is more frustrating than working hard on your garden only to have it gnawed to the ground by mice, rats, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, gophers, and/or the biggest rodent of them all, deer. (Okay, deer aren’t technically rodents, but they might as well be.)
These critters are difficult to stop too. They easily climb or burrow under fences. Poisons post a risk to pets, poultry, and beneficial wildlife. Traps work, but rodents breed so quickly that for every one you trap, five more will be born (I trapped 36 ground squirrels in a single month and didn’t even make a dent in the population).
Deterrents like fake birds of prey, scarecrows, and shiny or noisy things, are quick to be recognized as non-threatening and ignored. (I’ve seen squirrels perched on top of a fake owl, using it as a lookout.)
The one rodent control method that does work fairly well is the repellent. These rely on chemical formulas to make the garden unappetizing to rodents.
Some repellents, like those that use urea (i.e., urine), are designed to keep rodents away by giving off the scent of a predator. Others use chemical combinations from spices, herbs, and other plants that either give off an unfavorable scent or taste, tricking rodents into thinking the plants aren’t edible.
But even those have their limits. The urea-based repellents make the critters cautious for a little while, but eventually they realize there are no predators around and resume munching on your plants.
Herbal repellents can be either ineffective (rodents have no problem eating members of the onion family so spraying liquid garlic on plants is actually like sending a dinner invitation), or they’re short-lived because the active ingredient is quickly broken down by the air/soil/microbe environment.
Plus, all that stuff can get expensive. I know. I must have spent $1,000 and tried everything short of a machine gun nest before I figured out how to stop critters from eating all my fruits and vegetables.
This rodent repellent tea will keep rodents away
First, a moment to geek out.
One of the common ingredients in herbal rodent repellents is cayenne pepper. You may know that what makes peppers “hot” is a compound called capsaicin. The “heat” you taste, or feel if it gets in your eyes or nose, is the capsaisin firing pain receptors in your mucus membrane very similar to being bitten by a (large) spider. So, if you like spicy food, you’re technically into self-inflicted pain.
What you may not know, is capsaisin only has this effect on mammals. It’s harmless to insects, reptiles, birds and other plants, and will break down in the presence of proteins, acids, and alcohols found in the soil. As a result, mixing it with other compounds, or simply sprinkling powdered pepper on the ground won’t do much because the capsaisin will lose its potency very quickly.
On the other hand, capsaicin is also “hydrophobic” compound, meaning it doesn’t dissolve in water. That means you can make a hot pepper “tea” and it will remain as hot as the pepper itself. Moreover, when you spray this tea on plants, the water will evaporate, but the capsaicin will not, effectively creating a plant with a spicy coating rodents need to nibble only once to realize the plant will set their nose and mouth on fire.
One application of this tea every few weeks, and no critter in its right mind is going to touch your plants for a long time.
(makes one gallon)
- 4 ounces of dried cayenne (or similarly hot) peppers
- 1 gallon of water
- Coffee or spice grinder (if pepper is not already ground)
- Fine strainer or cheesecloth
- 1-gallon container with lid
- Food service gloves
- Large funnel
- Spray bottle or garden sprayer
- Put on your gloves! – Nothing’s worse than finding out you had pepper on your hands when you touch your nose or eyes.
- Grind the peppers – If your peppers are whole, use your grinder to grind your peppers into as fine a powder as possible
- Put the pepper powder in the strainer – Place your funnel over the opening of your 1 -gallon container, put the strainer and/or cheesecloth on top, and pour your pepper powder in your strainer or cheesecloth
- Brew the tea – Slowly pour 1 gallon of water over the peppers to make the “tea.” You want the liquid to be a light red to brown (not pink or clear), so may need to pour the water over the peppers multiple times to get the right concentration. You can also make a “teabag” out of the cheesecloth and submerge it in the water, letting it steep until the color is dark enough
- Pour tea in sprayer – Move the funnel in your garden sprayer and put some cheesecloth in the funnel. Then pour the “tea” into the sprayer. The cheesecloth should catch any solid pieces of pepper powder that could clog the sprayer.
- Spray your plants – Once your sprayer is filled, set it to a wide spray and give the plants you want to protect a good spray. Make sure to get the lower leaves and stem especially well so burrowing pests like gophers get a taste when they snag those lower pieces.
- Let it dry – In a couple of hours the spray will dry and be invisible, but the capsaicin will remain on the plant like a fiery hot powder coating. I may take a day for the critters to test your plants, but once they do, they won’t again.
Other things to know
The repellent spray usually remains potent for a couple of weeks. If it rains, you’ll have to spray again, but I’ve learned that once a varmit has tasted the tea, it generally avoids the plant even if the spray does wash off.
If you’ve got extra “tea” just store it in a sealed container. If you plan on keeping if for more than a week, put it in the fridge to stop it from growing mold. Don’t add salt or vinegar to stabilize it. That will reduce the potency of the spray (plus salt isn’t good for plants).
Fruits and vegetables treated with the spray should be washed before you eat them. Otherwise there’s no special precautions.
Oh, and remember, this repellent spray only works with furry creatures. Birds, reptiles and insects can’t taste it, so it won’t slow them at all.