Hello Master Gardeners, We are thrilled to be living in a home — for the first time — that has space for a small garden. We are hoping to grow some vegetables and herbs in stainless steel container garden. Do you have any suggestions for herbs and vegetables that are less likely to be devoured by raccoons, squirrels and other urban wildlife? (We are planning to plant a native pollinator garden as well.) Also, do you have a recommendation for what kind of soil we should purchase to fill the container? Thanks for your wisdom!
Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners. Certainly, Toronto gardeners have a challenge with these cute but pesky critters.
I see your question having two parts:
- What kind of herbs and vegetables are less palatable to raccoons, squirrels and other urban wildlife?
- What kind of soil do you need for your containers?
I’ll answer the easiest question first – the best soil for containers isn’t garden soil. It’s something called a soilless mixture or potting soil: a sterile blend that provides drainage, aeration, and moisture retention without compacting over time, as garden soil can. Be warned that a large, deep container such as a galvanized steel water trough will require a considerable amount to fill it. You can limit this by placing overturned pots to take up some space in the bottom of your container. Other than tall, vining crops like tomatoes, many of the herbs and vegetables you’ll grow will have fairly shallow roots.
Your first question is more complex because different creatures pose different problems.
Raccoons are omnivorous – they’ll eat everything. They’re also clever and used to living in urban environments. Ensure that you aren’t making your property too inviting for them by keeping a lock on your garbage cans and not leaving pet food outdoors. If possible clean up your property so it does not have a place where raccoons may want to make a den. If possible, do not have woodpiles or dense shrubbery and try to reduce access to your roof by ensuring that there is not a trellis or large branches that the raccoons can use to climb on. Try to limit access under any decks or porches.
Racoons may also carry a variety of internal parasites and diseases. Their faeces can contain raccoon roundworm which if ingested can cause disabilities. This may be of concern if you have young children.
In the vegetable garden, raccoons have a real fondness for sweet corn and grapes. They’ll also eat fruits like strawberries, low-hanging tree fruits, melons, peas, tomatoes (often just a bite, darn them!) and, like skunks, can dig holes in your lawn to find grubs. They’re said to be less fond of vegetables with prickly leaves and stems such as pumpkins and squash. This is another benefit of the “three sisters” method that grows beans and squash at the base of corn plants. But tall corn and sprawling squash or pumpkins are probably not good candidates for your containers, anyway.
Some suggestions to deter raccoons include regular applications of blood meal (dried blood, also a source of nitrogen) on soil – regular, because rain or watering will wash it away. While you’ll sometimes see sprinklings of hot pepper recommended, this is not a very humane treatment. In any case, raccoons are notoriously resistant to commonly suggested methods. The best strategies might be simply to plant enough to share and to create an environment that doesn’t invite the animals to make a home.
Squirrels represent a different kind of nuisance factor. While do take bites out of produce, their problem relates more to the fact that they can uproot your newly planted seedlings. This is because they dig where they smell overturned earth, thinking they’ll find something tasty buried by another squirrel. It can help to disguise the scent of freshly dug earth by sprinkling pelletized hen manure – which is also a good organic fertilizer – around your new plants.
I hope this helps you plan and enjoy your first vegetable garden.