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Published November 30th, 2016
December Gardening Guide
Cotoneaster berries add sparkle to the season.

I was working in my orchard when I heard the screams. Never in my life had I seen four grown men run so quickly. “Are you okay?” I yelled. “What’s the commotion?” The men had been dismantling an old hot tub in a deck when their saws had unsettled a family of skunks who had made the warm, dark environment their cozy home. If you’ve had your dog sprayed by a skunk, you’ll understand.
With winter on the horizon, the wild things are looking for shelter. Rats, skunks, mice, raccoons, possums and other critters may decide that “su casa es me casa.”
Although we do want to attract birds and pollinators to our gardens by providing food, water and habitats, we don’t want to invite the vermin into our territory.
Rodents carry several diseases harmful to humans, including salmonellosis, leptospirosis, haniavirus, and arenavirus. They are not known to have rabies, but skunks can be carriers of rabies.
For prevention and control I consulted with vector control inspector Joe Cleope at the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District. After a few hours of discussions and inspections, I came away with effective methods of management and control to share with you.
Here’s a short list of advice:
Eliminate the following plants that are considered “rat condos”:
• Ivy
• Bamboo
• Blackberries
• Juniper
• Honeysuckle
• Pampas grass
• Yucca
• Star Jasmine
Trim shrubbery and trees:
• Keep palm tree fronds pruned or rats will nest in them.
• Prune climbing vegetation on your house to discourage roof rats.
• Store wood and lumber a foot away from structures and at least 18 inches above ground.
• Install rodent barriers as a prevention to climbing.

Eliminate food and water sources that attract rodents:
• Harvest your fruit and vegetables as they ripen.
• Pick up any fruit or nuts that have fallen on the ground.
• Fill pet bowls only with enough food that can be quickly consumed.
• Rid your garden of “escargot (a.k.a. snails), a favorite meal for vermin.
• Keep birdseed and pet food in metal containers.
• Repair leaky faucets.
• Empty containers of standing water.
• Secure garbage cans. Unfortunately rats will gnaw through bins and raccoons will open lids.

Rodent Proof your house:
• Check for openings larger than one-fourth inch in vents, screens, and foundation cracks. Patch the holes with one-fourth-inch galvanized hardware cloth.
• Use sheet metal collars around pipe entrances on wooden walls and use cement patch around pipes in brick, stucco or stone.
• Seal all gaps around electrical conduit.

Where the Wild Things Are!
• Varmint Control: The Merriam Webster Dictionary considers “varmint” to be any animal that is considered problematic — rats, mice, skunks, raccoons, prairie dogs, etc.
• Skunks: Besides doing everything above to keep the varmint out of your home, if skunks are visiting your property you can buy skunk traps, which are specially made so that once a skunk has entered, it cannot spray. Vector Control will come to euthanize the skunk. Once skunks have been to your property, they may return. Scatter mothballs in the area and add a radio playing music to deter them.
• Rats and mice: Don’t use the old fashioned wooden snap traps. They are too dangerous to humans and small pets. Available at hardware stores, power spring traps or easy, quick-set traps work best. A great way to assure that only the rodents get trapped is to set the trap with a dab of peanut butter placed under a larger plastic container. Cut a small hole in the container. I use a recycled flower pot. Place the container over the trap. Add a brick or rock to the top to keep it from toppling. You will catch the vermin.
• Raccoons: Follow all the instructions above. Add netting to ponds where raccoons will fish.
December Gardening Guide
Cleaning the Mess:
The smells associated with skunks, mice, and rats are nauseating. Their feces and nests could be a danger to your health. When we see droppings our first impulse is to grab a broom or vacuum. DON’T!
Sweeping and vacuuming releases virus particles into the air. Inhalation can result in infecting the person with the viruses. Here’s how to clean the feces, nesting areas, and dead animals.
• Wear gloves, a mask and goggles.
• Spray the area with Lysol or a disinfectant made with a strong solution of bleach.
• After five or minutes, wipe up the area with paper towels or rags you will toss.
• Pick up a dead rodent with a shovel.
• Spray more of the bleach solution to sanitize the area.
• Put all of the waste materials, rags, dead rodents and paper towels in a plastic bag.
• Seal the bag in another plastic bag and put in the outside garbage can.
• Wash your gloved hands thoroughly.
• Remove the gloves and mask, put in a plastic bag, seal, and put in the outside garbage can.
• Wash your un-gloved hands and your goggles with soap and warm water.
• NEVER vacuum, sweep, or blow out areas that harbor contaminates that could become airborne.

Getting Help:
If you have a problem with rodents or skunks, contact Vector Control at 925-771-6142. The service is free and you’ll be able to troubleshoot your issues. They will also pick up skunks that have been trapped.
There is nothing beautiful about pests finding shelter in our homes and gardens but this month does bring beauty to our doorsteps.
Sheltering the Beautiful
• With the rainfall our lawns and hillsides are green and growing.
• Cyclamen abounds at nurseries and garden centers in an abundance of stunning colors-red, pink, white, burgundy. Plant these perennials to add glamour to the winter beds.
• Sunflower seeds can be scattered for next summer’s glory.
• A cover crop blend will choke out weeds, protect soil structure, and increase soil fertility. Sow seeds to over-winter for spring growth.
• Cotoneaster, holly, and pyrancantha showcase red pomes or berries that are perfect for holiday décor.
• Watch for the unexpected growing in your garden. Perhaps a prickly pear has taken root next to a pine tree.
• A variety of mushrooms are sprouting throughout our landscapes. Unless you are an expert in mycotoxicology, enjoy these fairy houses, but don’t eat them!
• The sounds and sights of fountains flowing are stress reducing and healing.

Wishing you a very healthy, happy, and beautiful December where the wild things aren’t!

Happy Gardening and Happy Growing!

The best rat traps are these quick set reusable snap traps.
A skunk trap.
Mushrooms sprouting in the clover.
Who wouldn't love these hot pink cyclamen?
Yellow mums offer a sunshine welcome. A sunflower produces seeds for scattering. Cynthia Brian in a nighttime garden. (c)2016 Cynthia Brian The Goddess Gardener Starstyle(r) Productions, llc Cynthia@GoddessGardener.com www.GoddessGardener.com 925-377-STAR Tune into Cynthia's Radio show at www.StarStyleRadio.net I am available as a speaker, designer, and consultant.

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