University of Maryland Extension

Leaves/Stems Chewed - Vegetable Seedlings and Transplants

Back to Common Problems - Vegetables

- Cutworm

- Earwigs

- Slugs

- Wildlife

Many wild and domesticated animals, including deer, voles, rabbits, birds, squirrels, groundhogs, rats, dogs and cats may damage vegetable gardens occasionally or consistently. Be aware that wildlife tends to feed more heavily on vegetable crops during dry seasons when little water is available.

Deer, rabbits, birds, and groundhogs are the large animals most likely to feed on vegetable stems. Starlings, finches, crows, pigeons, and sparrows will dig out and consume seeds before or after they have germinated. Dogs and cats may also trample young seedlings.

Animal tracks, droppings, the height of the cut off stems, and type of chewing injury can provide clues that aid in identification of the culprit(s). In un-fenced gardens, more than one type of animal may be feeding on plants. Deer may feed on almost any type of vegetable plant, depending on available foods, numbers of deer, time of season, garden location, etc. Groundhogs are also fond on many different vegetable plants but seem to prefer members of the cabbage and cucumber families and sweet potato foliage (they generally do not eat eggplant or pepper foliage). Rabbits are more found of crucifers, leafy green vegetables, and beans. Deer lack upper incisors and leave a ragged edge to chewed stems. Rabbits and other rodents clip stems leaving a sharp, oblique edge. Rabbits cannot easily chew a plant stem that is more than 20 inches off the ground.  Groundhogs and deer are more likely to feed in the early morning and evening. Be aware that wildlife tends to feed more heavily on vegetable crops during dry seasons when little water is available.

Below are some tips for minimizing wildlife problems:

  1. A 3-foot high fence of chicken wire or other closely woven wire is very effective at excluding rabbits, groundhogs, cats, and dogs. Be sure that the fencing extends 4-6 inches below the soil line. Groundhogs are excellent diggers.
  2. A two-strand electric fence can be very effective against a wide range of animals. The wires are strung 6-8 inches and 3 feet from the ground.
  3. Cover seedbeds and young plants with a floating row cover. This works very well for all types of wildlife.
  4. Commercial repellents are available which work well against deer, rabbits, cats, and dogs. Small deodorant soap bars hung on stakes, cages, fences, and trellises can deter deer. Deer are more readily repelled by smell than by taste. Repellents lose their effectiveness over time and after rainfall. Dried blood and crushed hot pepper can also be sprinkled around the garden.
  5. Squirrels, groundhogs, and voles can be captured in live traps and released in another location or euthanized. Check with your county wildlife control agency for details.
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