Just like a natural ecosystem, a permaculture design should always be looking to achieve balance. Establishing biodiversity is one way of doing this, but planting many species of plants, which in turn attract lots of different animals, from insects and spiders to birds and frogs. However, in managed systems sometimes nature needs a helping hand to retain that balance. On a permaculture plot, you can use plants to help protect others from the unwanted attentions of animals.
There are many different combinations of species that can be used to keep insect populations at manageable levels, either by deploying scents that deter insects, attracting species that predate on other problem animals or attracting birds and amphibians for the same purpose. But plants and other organic material can also be deployed to repel larger animals that may damage your plot and eat your crops.
Rabbits will eat a wide variety of vegetation given the chance, particularly if food is scarce elsewhere. However, there are some species of plant that they do not like and which can actively repel them. The herbs, rosemary, sage and thyme are effective repellants and can be interplanted with crops such as lettuce, beans and peas to protect them from the attentions of rabbits. Onions and garlic can also perform this function. Of course, all these deterrent plants have the added benefit of providing food for your kitchen.
The best method of keeping deer from eating the crops on your permaculture plot if effective fencing or hedge screening. Using shrubs and bushes with thorns along the border where deer access your plot is good, as is planting bamboo as the close clumping form in which the plant grows hinders penetration by large animals. Placing recycled materials that make a noise on your border can also keep these skittish animals away – wind chimes or tin plates can work. However, if none of those options are possible, nor is installing a fence, there are plants that do repel deer. Fragrant herbs are among the best species for keeping deer away as they dislike the aromas. Plant sage, mint, rosemary, dill or oregano among your more vulnerable crops to keep the mammals away. These plants have the additional benefit of attracting beneficial insects to your plot with their bright flowers. Daffodils and sunflowers are other options for deterring deer, and are often deployed in orchards.
Daffodils can do double duty as a deterrent for squirrels as well as deer. Squirrels find daffodils poisonous so steer clear of them, meaning planting a circle if the flowers around trees that are vulnerable to the attentions of squirrels (they scratch bark away as well as eat nuts and fruits) can keep the animals away. Odorous plants, particularly alliums like onions and garlic, can also repel squirrels.
These smelly species are also the first line of defense against chipmunks. These critters can eat young plants, seeds and dig up bulbs. But they don’t like the smell of onions or, particularly, garlic. In fact, crushed cloves of garlic mixed with water and sprayed on the leaves of plants can be a useful way of keeping chipmunks, and other animals, away from crops if you don’t have the space of conditions to grow the grow itself.
Raccoons are omnivorous, meaning they will eat plants on your site as well as dig up the ground and scratch up mulch in search of edible insects. Raccoons are often a problem if you are cultivating a crop of corn, as they like to eat the young, tender ears before they are ready for you to harvest. One easy of keeping them away from your corn is to plant squash around the edge of the crop. Raccoons do not like walking on the prickly vines of the squash and if the planting is comprehensive can act as an effective border.
Given that they remain predominantly underground, moles can easily go undetected on your permaculture plot. While they are insectivores, their movement through the ground can damage plant roots and leave plants exposed to attack from other, herbivorous, animals. Chives, garlic, leek, onion and shallots are good crops to plant to repel moles.
Mice and other rodents can be difficult to detect on your plot until they have eaten their fill. However, incorporating certain plant species into your permaculture garden can help keep them at bay. Lavender, mint and marigolds are effective at repel rodents, while daffodils and catnip may also help.
It’s not just wild animals that can be a problem on your permaculture plot; domestic pets can too. They won’t eat the plants, but digging and scratching at the ground can cause significant damage to plants. Domestic pets are also a threat to the wildlife you do have on your plot; cats predating native birds are a particular problem in many urban areas. The best plants to deter domestic pets are those with strong odors. Cats and dogs have a much more acute sense of smell than humans, and certain aromas will repel them from a garden. Garlic and onions are particularly effective in this regard. The strong odor of cayenne peppers has a similar effect – and cultivating them will also add spice to your kitchen. Pets can be useful however, in deterring other animals. Collect the hair that falls from your dog or cat when you brush them and sprinkle around the base of vulnerable plants. The smell of these ‘predators’ will deter creatures like squirrels, rabbits and chipmunks.
In combination with good fencing or hedge deployment, as well as the trusty scarecrow, these plants can help to protect your edible crops. However, wildlife remains an important part of a permaculture plot, so it is not ideal to exclude all animals from accessing your site. Consider providing alternative food sources specifically for animals to lure them away from plants you want to protect, For instance, incorporating a small patch of clover or soybeans into your design provides rabbits with a favorite form of food, which should help protect other crops you wish to eat by diverting their attention.