DEAR JOAN: We like to decorate with pumpkins along our courtyard wall but the last two years the critters have eaten them and made a mess. I suspect raccoons, but I really am not sure.

Is there anything that I can put on them to make them distasteful?

Jill Brennan

Danville

DEAR JILL: It could be the raccoons, but it also might be squirrels. Or it could be a combination of animals.

There are a number of things you can try.

It’s definitely the time to decorate for the holidays, but all of those backyard creatures may have other ideas for your
It's definitely the time to decorate for the holidays, but all of those backyard creatures may have other ideas for your jack'o-lanterns. Courtesy of Jill Brennan ( Jill Brennan )

  • Hot peppers. Buy the largest, cheapest bottle of hot sauce you can find and either paint or spray it on the pumpkins. You can make your own by mixing powdered chili, water and a drop or two of dishwashing liquid in a spray bottle. Squirrels really don't like spicy things, and it can deter other critters, too. The oil in the peppers will saturate the skin of the pumpkin, so even if you don't see the hot sauce, anything taking a bite out of it will immediately taste it.

    Also, a note of caution: Some folks recommend sprinkling dried peppers around the pumpkins, but the pepper can blow away and can be harmful if the creature or a human gets it in their eyes.

  • Lacquer. Spray the pumpkin with lacquer and let it dry. This could help preserve the appearance of the jack-o'-lantern, too.

  • Dog and cat hair. If you have a pet, then take a blanket from their favorite snoozing spot and place it under the pumpkins. Squirrels especially don't like the aroma of eau de dog, and it might warn them away from the pumpkins. Raccoons are less likely to be bothered.

  • Vinegar. In fact, vinegar may be the most useful thing you can have in your house, good for so many household chores. The astringent smell is effective shooing away creatures with sensitive noses. Because the vinegar can damage the pumpkin, apply sparingly. Pour some on a rag and wipe down the surface of the pumpkin.

  • Eucalyptus oil. Pour some onto a rag and wipe the surface, or soak a cotton ball in the oil and drop it inside the pumpkin, but not near the flame.

  • Commercial animal repellents. I have limited faith in these. Some of these sprays can be rather pricey, and if they worked consistently well, everyone with issues would be buying them. However, some folks have great luck with them. Spray the outside of the pumpkin and repeat as necessary.

  • Hair spray. This creates a sticky texture on your pumpkin, which the creatures won't appreciate. Spray the entire pumpkin but be sure to get the exposed flesh of the gourd.

  • Petroleum jelly or a menthol chest rub. But be aware, this approach also can be messy, and if birds get it on their wings, it can be a problem.

    If folks try any of these remedies, let me know how well they worked.

    DEAR JOAN: We drew the line when the cats started using our garden as their personal litter boxes.

    The best solution we found was to cut and spread chicken wire around our plants. When weeds came through we removed the wire (some weeds come out with removal) and then replaced it. This really works.

    Carol Davis

    Bay Area

    DEAR CAROL: I love to hear these homegrown, proven solutions. Keep them coming.

    Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com or 1700 Cavallo Road, Antioch, CA 94509. Follow her at Twitter.com/AskJoanMorris.