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Do It Better: How to Keep Critters from Damaging your Home and Property

By Joyce Venezia Suss

It’s amusing to learn whether the groundhog sees its shadow every Feb. 2, which supposedly predicts if spring will arrive early. But as spring approaches, groundhogs are among many critters that cause property damage – not amusing at all.

Homeowners have long waged property wars with rodents that are looking for warmth, a quiet place to hibernate or rest, good sources of food, or a safe place for their babies. As increased housing development takes away wooded land, nature’s critters are forced to venture into human homes and yards.

That means raccoons and squirrels are invading attics, chimneys and garages; mice and rats are making their way into trash bins, basements, sheds and garages; opossums and skunks are camping under decks and crawl spaces; birds are building nests in vents; and groundhogs (also known as woodchucks) are burrowing into your lawn and garden.

If nature’s critters are posing an immediate threat to your family, it’s best to call a professional who can catch and relocate them far away. But there are also do-it-yourself methods that will humanely repel pesky critters without killing or hurting them.

• Dogs are quite effective at scaring away critters. Let your dog romp around your yard or explore areas where you suspect unwanted visitors.

• Remove sources of food such as fruit that falls off trees; vegetables that fall off garden vines; garbage cans with loose lids or open compost bins; even bits of food and crumbs that fall onto decks, patios or porches after an outdoor meal. Store pet food and bird seed in sealed containers, and don’t leave pet food dishes outside.

• Create non-toxic deterrents. Sprinkle Epsom salts, castor oil or soiled cat litter near burrow entrances once critters venture out for a stroll (not when they are inside). If you suspect animals are in your home’s crawl space, wrap an old T-shirt with twine, soak it in ammonia, and throw it into the space. Visit a barber or hair salon and get discarded hair clippings; put them in a mesh bag or old stockings, and place them in areas where rodents are hiding (they hate the scent of humans.)

• Use offensive smells. Critters such as groundhogs hate the smell of crushed garlic cloves and cayenne pepper. Ironically, they also hate herbs such as mint, basil, sage, rosemary, oregano and chives.

• Check your roof, chimney and air ducts. Have roof vents, flashing, soffits and eaves wrapped with heavy wire screening, and cap your chimney. Prune tree branches that overhang the roof. If raccoons and squirrels have already settled into your attic, try putting a battery-operated radio in the space playing rock music at a high volume to drive them out.

• Seal exterior gaps. Mice and squirrels can fit through tiny openings, and once inside a home, they can damage drywall and wood, chew electrical wires, and carry disease-causing parasites. Keep them out by putting weatherstripping on the bottom of garage and basement doors. Seal any building gaps with mortar. Push copper mesh wool into foundation cracks. Keep your garage, shed and basement doors closed.

• Install bird guards over louvered dryer vents, where birds like to build nests because of the warm air.

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