caterpillars on leaves

Pests/Wildlife in the Garden

Pests and wildlife can become a quick and serious problem in your garden. Unless you’re an experienced gardener, their presence can catch you off-guard. We first experienced this with our avocado trees a couple of years ago. Squirrels were ravaging through our trees and we felt helpless. We moved into our home at the end of August 2017, when the avocados were mostly ripe. We picked them from the trees a few weeks later and half were chewed up.

squirrel avocado bite

The following year was even worse. We only picked two avocados at the end of the season… we have two mature avocado trees! The extreme summer heat and some kind of disease (unknown to us) has really decimated the fruits. Squirrels were at it, too, because we’d find chewed up avocados all over the ground all the time. We tried various natural deterrents, mostly peppers and oils, but without success. We decided against adding any fake animals  after reading reviews of people trying this method without much success. They don’t seem to care or be bothered by our presence, or our neighbor’s dog, so some fake owls weren’t going to scare them away either. 

This year, our trees look much healthier and there’s quite a bit of fruit, so we hope we get to enjoy some of it. The last time we saw squirrels in our garden was over a month ago. when they came and left a mess – we found so many tiny, chewed up avocados all over the ground. It was brutal to see… My husband broke the news after seeing what they’ve done and telling me that ‘There’s been a massacre outside…’ 🙁

We were determined to find a solution and save at least some fruit for ourselves. We wanted to use something natural and harmless for the animals, so my husband decided to give oils another try, using a different combination this time. Below is the recipe. I don’t know if it’s the spray or not, but we haven’t seen any squirrels since that day. There haven’t been any chewed up avocados on the ground either, a sign that they haven’t been back when we’re not around to see them either. 

Mix 2 gallons of water with the following:

  • 1 tbsp dishwasher soap
  • 2 tbsp peppermint oil
  • 1 tbsp black pepper oil
  • 1 tsp cinnamon bark oil

Shake the mixture well. We spray it all over our backyard using a sprayer, focusing on pathways that squirrels use to come into the backyard. Will monitor and see how it all works out through the end of the season. 

For the veggie garden, the (only) issue we have are caterpillars. They’ve been chewing on our leaves ever since they’ve sprouted. At first we didn’t know what was creature was making holes all over the plants. Until one day I inspected every single leaf until I found a fat, green caterpillar crawling up on one. Bingo!

We didn’t want to use any pesticides and found that Neem oil is a good and natural alternative. The National Pesticide Information Center states the following: “Neem oil is made of many components. Azadirachtin is the most active. It reduces insect feeding and acts as a repellent. It also interferes with insect hormone systems, making it harder for insects to grow and lay eggs.” The other great thing about Neem oils is that it only works against pests that eat these leaves and ingest them and it does’t affect other beneficial insects, like bees, who don’t eat the leaves. 

We use 100% cold pressed Neem oil and mix it following the bottle instructions: 1 1/2 tsp of Neem oil, 1/2 tsp of dishwasher soap in a quart of water. With a spray bottle, we spray the mix on our plants about once a week. We noticed a huge decrease in ‘holy’ leaves, which means that it’s effective. It’s not 100 effective, however, because we still find holes and a few caterpillars occasionally. That happens because butterflies keep coming and laying eggs. We see them all the time around our backyard.

neem oil garden pesticide

We tried putting a net over these boxes, but that didn’t work out. The net we got was ineffective, despite having great reviews. The material is very light and curls up, leaving huge gaps on the sides. We placed nails all over the sides of our boxes to attach the net to, but it ultimately didn’t work out. A white butterfly made its way into the box after flying around that net and finding an opening. That was actually quite amazing to witness! This little thing just flew up and down until it figured out how to get inside and drop its eggs. So, we took the net down. For now, we’re just using the Neem oil mix, until we figure something more permanent. 

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