Raccoons, Squirrels, Mothballs & Evergreens

What to do about raccoons and squirrels; what about mothballs and the pruning of a number of evergreens.
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

July 8, 2007

Above, a fairly large live trap such as this one from Bugspray will enable you to catch several of the ‘cute‘ characters at one time! Photo courtesy of Below, a shot of our oceanspray shrub (Holodiscus discolour ariaefolius). It is a native shrub here and at this time of year very pretty. It should be hardy into southern Ontario at least, but I have never seen it growing there.
Author photos.

A way back on June 19th M. Morassut of unknown location wrote to Donna Dawson with a common complaint: “I hope you can help me. We have a very bothersome raccoon in our neighbourhood. He or she keeps coming into my yard and knocking over all my plants that are in my planters. I have gotten up in the morning only to find my beautiful flowers all broken, roots all torn up and dirt spread all over the place. I thought I would outsmart him and put all my planters in ceramic planters so he could not knock them over. Well this must have made him more angry. He destroyed the flowers in the ceramic pots as well. My flowers were doing so beautiful and its such a shame that this has happened We have never fed this raccoon or have left food out. I have sprayed around my yard a product called "Cridder Ridder" but he keeps returning so it must not be working. The animal control people will not do anything about raccoons. Do you have any suggestions as to what I can do? Thank you and have a wonderful day!”

I am not surprised that you had little action from Critter Ridder, many gardeners report the same. If you can find it, the product Ropel may well work better if you spray it on the outside of all the containers. But it will have to be done regularly. My own suggestions for raccoons include human hair (get it from a local beauty salon, and put it in small cheesecloth sachets among your plants. Generally it needs to be renewed about once per week. Another ‘solution’ is to place a portable radio among the plants. Left on a talk (preferable I think) station all night, raccoons usually will leave. I have also had success by being in the garden with a garden hose at the ready at night. When they come around you can chase them away (often up a utility pole) with a strong jet of water (they do not like being soaked). I found one such treatment often kept them away for a week or more.

Another related treatment is to purchase a ScareCrow motion-activated sprinkler from ConTech, a Victoria-based company, and generally available across this country, and in the U.S ( ). Any motion sets the sprinkler off and it throws a strong jet in the direction of the activity. It works well with almost all types of animals.

Finally, live trapping is known to work well with raccoons. Traps may often be borrowed or rented from municipalities, or animal supply stores. Or, companies in the U.S. such as offer different models for sale. Good Luck!

On June 20th, Lois McLaughlin wrote: “On Mother's Day I was given plants for my balcony. Unfortunately the squirrels are digging into the earth. To deter them I put moth balls around in the pots. I do not know if this is the answer to my problem but I am wondering if these moth balls would be harmful for the plants themselves. Would appreciate a response from you, if possible. Thank you.”

Those two questions arriving here just a day apart was a coincidence. No, Lois, the mothballs should not hurt the soil or the plants, but I think you can do better to keep the squirrels away. Mothballs will likely do a better job of keeping you off your balcony than keeping the squirrels away. Two of the foregoing suggestions for raccoons should work equally well for you--namely human hair in cheesecloth sachets and the product Ropel. The ScareCrow should also work but I don’t think your balcony would accommodate it too well!

On Canada Day, Brenda & Bruce Bews also of unknown location wrote with several good questions about pruning. “We have a Nootka tree which I think is also called a Weeping Cypress. Can we prune this tree as the branches are starting to grow into the other trees around it? We have tied off a couple of the branches to keep them out of the oth-er trees. We also have some Cedar trees. When can we prune them? These are also some that we dug up out of our bush - they look quite healthy, but need filling in, and thought that pruning them would help. The Cedars are about 5-6 ft. high and we planted them about 3 yrs. ago. Exactly what do we cut back? Also have a Gold Star Juniper PomPom. When can we prune the PomPoms? Also how much should be cut off?

We have tried to find books on pruning Nootkas - Cedars and Juniper PomPom. Some books mention a bit about them but not really enough to let us know exactly when or up until when to prune and how to go about it.

Or do you know of a book that we could purchase that would tell us about pruning these trees and other evergreen trees? Hope you can answer our questions. Thanking you in advance.”

First, I do not have a current good book that shows good pruning practice. Yes, all three of those plants may be pruned, reasonably severely if necessary, and you could do them right now and/or next spring.

The Nootka tree is likely a weeping Nootka false cypress (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’). Judicious pruning of this consists of shortening back most of the side branches possibly by as much as one third, but not cutting any one branch back so far that there are no needles left on the branch. Use a good pair of Fiskars secateurs to make individual cuts, and it is always better to cut two or three times taking a bit more off each time, and stepping back to check the look before cutting more.

Much the same applies to the cedars (which I assume are eastern white (Thuja occidentalis). If they are what are commonly called bush cedars they need pruning to get them to become more bushy. They also need regular application of a fertilizer such as Cedar Feeder from spring until the end of this month. I would trim them now with hedge shears and just trim up to a few centimetres (not more than two inches) off all the plants, all the way around. That could be done again next spring just after the new growth has emerged.

The same applies for the Pompon Junipers--note the spelling of Pompon--which may also be spelled Pom pon! Obviously you cannot trim these back too far--be sure to leave some green needles all the way around each pom pon.

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