Crop-eating critters out in force |

Crop-eating critters out in force

Shaena Roth
Special to the Daily
Garden plants looking like something has been snacking on them? The Richardson's ground squirrel could be the culprit.
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

EAGLE COUNTY — It’s the time of year for home gardeners when their hard work is finally beginning to show. Herbs are flourishing, tomatoes are turning from green to red and produce is growing larger by the day.

Dreams of fresh pesto, garden salads and homemade salsa abound. This is the time of year when a failed crop is furthest from our thoughts, but it’s also most likely to affect our harvest. Enter the garden pest.


The Richardson’s ground squirrel is running amok along most of the Interstate 70 corridor this summer, wreaking havoc on local gardens.

“It’s worse along I-70; they’ve been displaced. It’s worse where there are empty lots because they gather there,” said Jean Couture-Dziekan, master gardener and steward of the Eagle-Vail Community Garden.

One of the most devastating pests, the Richardson’s ground squirrel thrives this time of year, when garden plants are at their peak. It will eat away anything green and healthy on your plant: flowers, herbs, produce and leaves.

“They come along, they take one bite and then they set it down. They are the worst for vegetables this time of year,” said Shannon Philpott, owner of the gardening company Dawn Farm and Gardens.


Another pest that eats your plants is deer. However, deer are different from the Richardson’s ground squirrel in that the entire plant will be eaten right down to the ground, whereas the ground squirrel will leave the stem.

“It has been a horrible year for deer all season long,” Philpott said.


Ground squirrels and deer are two of the more visible pests. They might often be spotted in the act or running through yards. Moles and voles are on the other end of the spectrum. They damage plants from underground.

“They eat the roots, which kill the plant above ground,” Couture-Dziekan said.

A plant damaged by moles or voles will wilt and die because it lacks a root system. Moles and voles can also be spotted by the holes they use to burrow in the ground.

“(Look for) lots of holes close together in a group,” Couture-Dziekan said.

Another pest that is more difficult to identify is slugs.

“Slugs leave a slime trail,” Philpott said. “They are on everything but mostly ground covers and lettuces. There will be a browning area at the base of the plant and holes on the inside of leaves.”

The actual slug might also be seen, either on the plant itself or in the dirt around the plant.

These four pests are the most common this time of year. The excess rain this season has made it an especially bad year for pests in general.

Tips for natural methods of mitigating garden pests are as follows:

Richardson’s ground squirrel: The Eagle-Vail Community Garden just installed high-frequency sound emitters in order to keep the ground squirrels away. Other methods include moth balls, red pepper flakes or witch-hazel applied around plants.

Deer: According to Philpott, an all-natural and organic deer repellant is the only way to go. Apply the repellant every week and re-apply after heavy rain. Deer resistant plants are another option, these include: echinacea, day lilies, rhubarb, bearded iris, Russian sage, lavender and lamb’s ear. Although, Philpott stresses that nothing is deer-proof, only deer resistant.

Moles and Voles: A container garden is one way to avoid these pests. Also, a raised bed lined with fabric and woodchips can work. Organic repellant sprays also work and can be used up to the day of harvest.

Slugs: Clean the plant and surrounding dirt of all slugs. A salt border around plants can then be applied to keep them away. Philpott also recommends a product called Slug O Plus, which is organic and can actually work to keep away all insects.

Shaena Roth is interning for the Vail Daily. Email comments about this story to

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