Urban Gardening – Coexisting with He Who Scratches With His Hands


Our garden feels like a small victory. Although we don’t have any yard at all, just a narrow cement walkway to our front door, we are host to heavenly blue morning glories, lilacs, lavender, two rose bushes (yellow Julia Child, and pink Sexy Rexy), our favorite herbs, and various other edible and non edible green beauties. Everything is grown in containers.

Our largest vessel is an old 7-foot long metal school locker we laid on its back and filled with soil. All our non-edibles live in the locker. For edibles I wanted to be sure the containers were food safe so we grow those in copper and galvanized metal tubs. Our garden is often messy and definitely imperfect, but it feels like glorious reclaimed green space.

urban garden copper pot
The biggest enemy of the urban garden are raccoons. Squirrels are number two on the list. The name raccoon comes from a native Algonquian word meaning “he who scratches with his hands”. He-who-scratches-with-his-hands can be spotted all over the city happily popping open green bins and tearing into garbage bags. We have a family living in our roof; we’ve had a one-way door put in…twice.

To keep critters away from delicate young seedlings try this – the idea is to make it uncomfortable for little paws to get close to the seedlings and trample or pull them up. Gather as many sticks as you can, at the very least roughly 10 inches in length and up to 1 to 2 feet. The bigger the better. Create a barrier or wall of sticks around your seedlings. Push the sticks into the soil several inches deep, till they feel stable. A 2 foot long stick with half of it pushed into the earth will make a very sturdy barrier. The best time to do this is right when you’re planting the seedlings so you can be sure not to injure the roots.

curly endive and sticks

You can also sprinkle some cayenne pepper around the perimeter, but not directly on the plant. After a rainfall or watering reapply the cayenne. Of course all this is just a deterrent. He-who-scratches-with-his-hands can certainly pull up the sticks if he wants to, but I’ve found this works beautifully in my garden. So far this season I’ve only lost one Echinacea plant.

The sticks are only necessary when the seedlings are freshly planted. As the plants get bigger and stronger the critters seem to leave them alone. You can leave the sticks, the plants will grow through them, or move them around as needed. If there’s anything ultra precious you want to protect, chicken wire is the most impervious, but is an eyesore.


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  1. Posted May 24, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Oh, thank goodness! I’ve been looking up some fixes for this very problem. They’ve been driving me crazy this spring! I’ve had to replant radishes and beets and carrots twice! Thanks for the tips! (And I’ve tried cayenne, but didn’t reapply) Oops!

  2. Oscar
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Melinda when I woke up this morning there was dirt all over my walkway, someone had been digging. But luckily because of the sticks they didn’t hurt the plants at all! They just dug around the perimeter of the container.

  3. sam
    Posted May 25, 2012 at 1:37 am | Permalink

    luckily i haven’t had to deal with the raccoons…but the squirrelys!!!! bah! dirt strewn everywhere!!! i found myself some decent sized and nice looking stones at the beach and they seem to deter the little beggars-mostly….hungry little dudes!

    • Oscar
      Posted May 25, 2012 at 1:51 am | Permalink

      i hadn’t thought of stones – good idea!

  4. Sarah Cohen Newman
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    I have this same problem, thought my cayenne pepper idea was original! My planter is right outside my apartment, its about 6 x 2 x 3 feet. I have been hit twice in the past month by raccoons. Started adding pepper to the garden, and eucalyptus oil drops on top of the bricks that make up the planter. Keeps everything away … I also have a problem with water bugs and crickets, and slugs but not if I use the chili powder and mint oil

    • Oscar
      Posted June 7, 2012 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

      I like the eucalyptus oil idea Sarah!

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