Sett up your defences

Lily of the Valley
Lily of the Valley

Walking up my garden a few weeks ago, I discovered great clumps missing from my lawn, and that the resulting holes had been used as some sort of animal toilet.

I live in a fairly rural area, and was soon told the likely culprits were badgers, territorial creatures which have no problem digging under fences to forage for food in my — and many other people’s — prized grass.

A Generic Photo of sorrel. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

A Generic Photo of sorrel. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

“They are the JCBs of the animal world, built for digging,” says Jack Reevey, media adviser of the charity Badger Trust (www.badger.org.uk). “It’s very difficult to deter them. If you try to fence them out, it would have to be a very strong chain link fence rather than chicken wire and you would have to dig it 2ft down because they can burrow under fences. The fence also needs to be higher than 3ft or they’ll climb over it.”

Pungent scents such as Olbas oil or citronella can deter them, he notes, but such scents will have to be re-applied regularly because they evaporate or rain simply removes them. If you are fertilising flower borders, avoid adding fish, blood and bone to them as its scent attracts them, along with the rich, loamy soil which is a haven for worms.

“Although badgers are timid creatures, light doesn’t particularly worry them and they get used to other distractions such as scarecrows or sonic devices,” he notes. “Noise doesn’t worry them either. I’ve heard of setts being made under train tracks and of one instance where a sett was found under the runway of an RAF airbase.”

If you have a particular patch of lawn where the badgers are feeding, you can place a piece of chicken wire on the offending area, pegging it down strongly, and let the grass grow through it. It should deter the badgers, who don’t like getting their claws caught in the wire mesh.

To minimise the risk of badger and fox damage, you need to have a healthy lawn. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Mike Hughes via Badger Trust. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

To minimise the risk of badger and fox damage, you need to have a healthy lawn. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Mike Hughes via Badger Trust. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

Lawns in good condition, particularly if they are well drained and free of moss, are also less likely to suffer, the Trust says.

The RHS advises replacing damaged turf by re-sowing with grass seed or laying turf in April. They add that improved aeration and drainage of a lawn will reduce the insect larvae burden too. Also the removal of moss and overhanging vegetation which both contribute to damp areas. Generally well drained and well aerated lawns are less attractive to insects as an egg laying site so less larvae result.

A badger’s diet consists of around 50% worms and the rest is made up of leatherjackets, which are larvae of the cranefly, chafer grubs and other insect larvae, the majority of which can be found in lawns and short grass.

In the vegetable patch, they love carrots but I’ve heard they don’t like parsnips or beetroot which you can plant to keep them away, and some gardeners put out peanuts (which they are fond of) in the hope it will distract them from more precious garden crops.

They will also eat flower bulbs, fruits and vegetables, and seasonal availability of these foods will often mean badger activity fluctuates with the time of year — my own badger problem tends to happen in winter and spring, with Reevey says is common.

With all this advice in mind, always seek advice before taking any action. Many badger conservation groups have a lot of experience in dealing with problems caused by badgers and your local group may be able to provide advice.

This delicate-looking but tough-as-old-boots perennial is one of the scented highlights of late spring and early summer, when its fragrant white or pink bell-shaped flowers appear amid lance-shaped green leaves. It prefers a moist, shady spot where its rhizomatous roots won’t dry out, but beware that it doesn’t totally invade the area if you want to keep it contained. Good varieties include Convallaria majalis ‘Hardwick Hall’, with its white fragrant bells, and ‘Albostriata’, which has creamy white variegated leaves.

If you’re looking for something a bit different in your herb or vegetable garden, have a go at planting some sorrel now which, if you grow enough of it, can replace spinach as a vegetable either cooked or used as a leaf in salads.

Sow seeds in April in rows or a small patch to grow into a clump or into pots to go on to patios. Seedlings should be thinned out once established and make sure you water in long, dry spells. Remove flower spikes when the plants try to bolt and they should continue to produce leaves.