Every morning I would wake up to dug-up potted plants and mess of soil on my porch. So I decided to do a bit of research and figure out exactly what was digging my plants up at night.
Rodents, squirrels, raccoons, foxes, and household pets can be digging up your potted plants at night. They might be attracted to the plants or the bugs crawling around in the potting soil. You can add a physical barrier, repellent herbs, bonemeal, or cayenne pepper to keep them away.
It’s best that you understand exactly what animal is attacking your potted plants at night. This will help you take the appropriate actions to keep them out of your plants and make sure they don’t dig up the soil. There are some tips and methods I’ve written below so keep reading.
I had cats digging up my potted plants and created a cage out of thick plastic mesh that worked really well. You can create something similar with wire mesh or chicken wire. Check out the best wire mesh on Amazon.com.
What is Digging Up My Potted Plants at Night?
Potted plants are naturally enticing to a wide variety of animals. Not only is it a moist and wet environment, but many soils also attract bugs.
That alone is enough to get backyard animals coming. If you’re dealing with a pesky digging animal, here are the most likely culprits.
Rats, mice, rabbits, gophers, and more can wreak havoc on your potted plants. You can identify rodent problems through the distinct holes they leave in the soil. In some cases, rodents can even chew through brittle plastic pots.
Rodents are keen diggers, so they’ll have no problem rifling through the soil in your pots. They may be doing this to search for insects to eat. Sometimes, they’ll even chew on the plant leaves.
Whatever the case may be, it’s not good for your plant. Rodents can burrow deep into the soil to create a temporary home. This will kill the root system of your plant.
Contrary to popular belief, squirrels aren’t just active during the day. They’re crepuscular creatures, which means that they are most active during the evening and early morning. You can sometimes catch squirrels in the act as the sun is setting.
Squirrels seek out potted plants to hide their stache of nuts and seeds. These animals will bury their food and return it later if they remember.
If you have bare seeds or bulbs in the pot, there’s a good chance that the squirrel will take that, too.
Raccoons are one of the most annoying backyard pests. Referred to as trash bandits by many, raccoons are opportunistic feeders that will eat anything they can get ahold of.
This includes vegetable crops. Many will also dig into the soil if they sense the presence of grubs and other insect pests.
Thanks to their five-fingered hands, raccoons can tear up plants and severely disturb the soil.
But that’s not the most pressing issue. Raccoons frequently carry infectious diseases and parasites. Many of those diseases can affect humans, so it’s not good to have these animals poking around your container garden.
Foxes are primarily nocturnal. While you might not think that you have any foxes in your neighborhood, there’s likely many lurking around your garden.
These animals often dig in search of worms in the soil. However, natural fertilizers can draw them closer to gardens, too.
If you’re looking for natural fertilizers, I’ve a post that shows 27 such fertilizers you can get for free or cheap for your plants.
Have a cat or dog that spends a lot of time outside? They could be the ones ruining your plants.
While cats have a reputation for liking to stay clean, they’re avid diggers. Potting soil closely resembles cat litter. Many outdoor cats will seek out loose soil to do their business.
Sometimes, your potted plants just happen to be the nearest suitable soil to do their business.
If you’re looking to keep your cats away from the potted plants, you will find this post useful. There are a lot of simple ideas you can use to keep the felines away.
Dogs can dig up plants, too. Digging canines is nothing surprising. Most will start digging just because they’re bored. Some will start digging because they smell something interesting in the soil.
How Do I Keep Rodents Out of My Potted Plants?
Rodents are, perhaps, one of the most irritating of all pests to deal with. Their penchant for burrowing underneath roots can quickly kill your plants. Luckily, there are several ways to deter them.
Create a Physical Barrier
One way to keep rodents out of your soil is to physically block them. There are a couple of ways to do this.
The first is to use metal hardware cloth. Just cut the cloth to shape and leave a small opening for the stem of your plant.
The fine metal mesh will stop rodents from breaking through the soil. However, it’ll still allow water to flow through. You can also use fine chicken wire or geotextile.
Another method involves old-fashioned plastic forks. This trick is pretty popular within the gardening community.
Stick the forks into the soil pointing upwards. The points of the fork will stop them from going onto the soil at all.
It may not be the most attractive technique to deter rodents, but it certainly works.
Keep the Potted Plant Clean
Rodents gravitate towards anything they can use to create shelter. This includes brush piles, weeds, tall grasses, and spent plants. They also enjoy stealing mulch and natural compost.
If you want to keep rodents away, remove those attractants. Keep the area surrounding the potted plants clean and clear. Hopefully, this will make them ignore the plants altogether.
It’s always good to do a regular garden cleanup that will include cleaning the potted plants and their surroundings. Check out this post for a list of 10 ideas you can use for doing such a clean up.
Keep Some Herbs Nearby
You can use herbs strategically to keep rodents far away. Rats hate strong scents. Herbs like basil, garlic, and thyme are good natural deterrents.
The same goes for mint. Mint plants are particularly effective for rat deterrents.
Surround your potted plants with strong herbs. That should keep rodents from even attempting to dig in your potted plants.
Here’s a complete guide that will show you how to grow herbs in pots. You can choose different types of herbs, when to grow them, and how to grow them with ease.
Keep Grub Worms Away
Grub worms are a pretty common sight in both large gardens and container plants. Interestingly enough, grub worms are not worms at all. They’re beetles in the larval stage of life.
Many rodents will seek out grub worms. So, you can eliminate the worms to reduce the chances of rodent issues.
You can add beneficial nematodes to the soil. The microscopic worms release bacteria that kills worms.
Alternatively, you can use milky spore bacteria. It’s a naturally occurring bacteria that can kill grub worms and prevent future worms from calling your soil home.
What is a Natural Deterrent for Squirrels?
Whether they bury their food in the early evening or in the morning, squirrels have no place in your potted plants. Here are some natural ways to keep your plants protected.
Cayenne Pepper Deterrents
Cayenne peppers, as well as other hot peppers, are a great natural remedy to your squirrel problem.
These critters do not like powerful spicy odors. They also hate black pepper and garlic.
You can sprinkle some pepper flakes over the soil, apply it in a powdered form, or create a spray solution.
Spray solutions are very easy to concoct. Just mix one small bottle of cayenne-based hot sauce with a gallon of water. Give it a good mix and spray down the soil.
Don’t worry: the pepper won’t harm your plant at all. You can learn how to make a cayenne pepper spray for cheap and use it to protect your plants from pests and diseases.
A Layer of Bone Meal
Like spicy peppers, bone meal has an offensive odor that squirrels can’t stand. Bone meal is simply ground-up animal bones and animal waste. You can easily get it at your local garden center.
The difference between pepper spray and bone meal is that the latter can improve your plants. It’s a great source of phosphorus that will improve soil quality with time.
Sprinkle a fine layer of the bone meal over the soil. That should be enough to keep squirrels away. You can find all the instructions on using the bone meal and precautions to protect yourself in this post.
You can also use blood meal, which also acts as an excellent high-nitrogen fertilizer.
If all else fails, you can always create a physical barrier to keep squirrels away from your plants.
The best kind of barrier is a nice layer of rocks. The rocks are far too heavy and difficult for squirrels to get through.
Use the rocks as mulch to cover the soil entirely. For the best results, use larger pieces of river rock or cobblestone. Fine gravel isn’t difficult for the squirrel to pick up.
How Do I Keep Animals From Digging in My Potted Plants?
Animals can completely ruin your potted plants. Instead of just letting them have your way with your pots, here are some things you can do to put a stop to their destructive streaks once and for all.
Many of the previous methods we went over for rodents and squirrels will work with squirrels, too. Deterrent sprays, physical barriers, and getting rid of grub worms are quite effective.
However, raccoons are naturally curious creatures. Where other pests might stop, raccoons will continue taking risks.
You can try smell-based deterrents. Beyond cayenne pepper, many have seen success with things like mothballs and Epsom salt. You can even go so far as to purchase a predator’s urine or leave some ammonia-soaked rags in the area to make the raccoons fear your plants.
For more instant results, you can use a bit of technology to help you. As nocturnal animals, raccoons have an aversion to bright lights and sounds.
Install some powerful motion-detection lights. You can also find sonic deterrents or motion-detection sprinklers.
When the raccoon investigates your pots, those systems will catch them in their tracks and scare them away.
Foxes don’t like bright lights, sounds, or water either. So, you can use some of the previous methods with these pests, too.
The better choice, however, would be to get a professional trap and release service. Foxes are a lot more cunning than raccoons, rodents, and squirrels.
They’re avid climbers, excellent jumpers, and can dig underneath perimeter fencing. If all of the previous methods we covered in this guide don’t work, the best option would be to remove the fox from the area permanently.
If your very own pets are to blame for your ruined plants, you’re going to have to spend a bit more time addressing the problem.
For dogs, the biggest issue is boredom. Canines will turn to destructive behaviors when they don’t have mental stimulation.
Consider spending some more playtime outside or going on long walks. When you’re not around, mental-stimulation toys can keep your pup occupied.
All of these steps will keep your dog busy and tire them out. They’ll have no reason to go digging where they shouldn’t be.
As for cats, you can try out a few different deterrents. Placing rocks over the soil is a good choice. When cats can’t dig into the soil, they’ll forget about your plants and move on.
You can find a ton of simple ideas to keep your pet cats away from the potted plants. Just go read the post here.
Alternatively, a bitter spray works well. Any natural lemon-based spray works well. Just make sure that it’s safe for your plants.
For good measure, consider giving your cat their own plant to play with. Felines enjoy cat grass, catnip, and several other plants. It’ll keep them occupied and away from the off-limits pots.
Here are some of my favorite container gardening tools
Thank you for reading this post. I hope it helps you with your gardening needs. I’ve listed some tools below that can help you with container gardening. These are affiliate links so I’ll earn a commission if you use them.
Gardening Gloves – I find the Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Gardening Gloves really good for both men and women. It’s made from bamboo so helps absorb perspiration. They are also comfortable and fit very well.
Containers – You know picking the right container is crucial for your container gardening. I’ve written a detailed post on the best containers you can choose from. If you’re happy with a plastic container, you can check out the Bloem Saturn Planter.
Watering Can – This is a must-have tool when you’re growing plants in pots or grow bags. It helps to water the potting soil without splashing on the foliage. The Kensington Watering Can is stylish, strong, and can provide precision when watering potted plants.
Trowel – Garden Guru Trowel is my favorite because it’s durable and comfortable to use. My gardening friends really love having a trowel because they use it for digging soil, mixing fertilizer, moving seeds, leveling out the soil, mixing compost or mulch, and also dividing tubers
Bypass Pruner – I really like the Corona Bypass Pruner because it’s durable and gives a clean cut that helps plants recover faster. If you’re looking for something cheap, get the Fiskars Bypass Pruner that is really good as well.
To see an extensive list of the best container gardening tools gardeners recommend, check out this resource that I made for you.
Kevin is the founder of Gardening Mentor, a website that aims to teach people to grow their own food in a limited space. As a self-taught gardener, Kevin has spent several years growing plants and creating gardening content on the website. He is certified in Home Horticulture and Organic Gardening by expert gardeners from Oregon State University.