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Gardening: Battling critters for your vegetables

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

If you find your tomatoes on the ground with bites taken out of them, you’re dealing with small animals such as squirrels or chipmunks. During a period of high heat and drought, animals are in search of water, and tomatoes – green or red – are a great source.

Many gardeners have luck wrapping their plants in plastic netting such as Bird X, sold in garden centers. Sadly, when sourcing water becomes a matter of life and death, animals will chew through the flimsy plastic.

When the chippies start raiding my container tomatoes and I find half-eaten green orbs sitting next to the pots, I use PlantSkydd animal repellant (plantskydd.com). This blood-based product comes in a spray and granular forms. It’s organic, OMRI listed and safe to use on edibles up to six weeks prior to harvest.

Liquid Plant Skydd is effective for repelling deer, and granular PlantSkydd scattered on the ground around plants repels small rodents such as chipmunks, voles and squirrels. In the summertime, when applied according to directions, this repellant lasts for six weeks. However, fresh, new growth on trees, shrubs and tall flowering plants such as oriental lilies should be sprayed to be protected.

In situations where using the spray or granular product may not be an option, such as a bird feeder, my friend Julia Hofley makes up PlantSkydd sachets by dumping a quarter- cup of PlantSkydd in a knee-high nylons and hanging them from the corners of her feeders. Not caring for the “look” of nylons, I swapped them out for those little gauze bags jewelry and other small treasures come packaged in. The colorful cotton “Brighton” bags also work. To activate the PlantSkydd, I spray the bag with water after hanging.

For those who like to recycle, the little bags – about 4 by 5 inches, can also be made by sewing used dryer sheets together. Use rubber bands to close the bags and hang them on the tomato cages with paper clips after they are filled.

Tip: If the leaves of your tomatoes are turning yellow, remove the diseased leaves, bag and put them in trash. Spraying the plants with the OMRI listed organic fungicide Actinovate to the point of run off, being sure to hit the undersides of the leaves, will help protect new growth. Actinovate can also be used for powdery mildew on cucumbers, zucchini and flowers such as Phlox. Be sure to mix up enough product to drench the soil around all plants. Actinovate is also good to control a raft of turf diseases.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to Yardener.com and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnewscom/homestyle.