(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 5, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)

The bite of your life

Few things are more exciting to a plant lover than seeing a new leaf or flower bud emerging on a prized rare plant. For this reason, few things are as anger-producing as finding the ragged remaining tip of what used to be that leaf or flower bud after some vermin has had its way with your plant. This very experience happened to me recently, and with more than one plant. My desire for sweet revenge burned deeply and I searched high and low for the culprit. I suspected caterpillars or snails, but could find no signs of their presence anywhere. I was nearly at my wit's end.

It is at times like these that serendipity is most welcome. A week or so previous to my disappointing discovery, I had happened upon a discussion online where a hapless plant fancier related how their prized Anthurium plants had been defoliated by some unknown pest. It turned out that the unknown pest was some kind of rodent, either mouse or rat. At the time, I felt sympathy for this unfortunate individual, yet happy that my plants were safe, being up on benches and in a secure greenhouse. Besides, I hadn't seen any mice or rats around my place, so why worry?

Sweet Revenge

Perhaps the knowledge of this possibility drew the reality to me like a magnet, or perhaps my star signs were in the wrong alignment, but I soon saw what this other person had been lamenting about happen to some of my own beloved plants! For days I pondered about what to do, thinking about what I might be dealing with and wondering about how I was going to handle it. Since I couldn't find evidence of snail or caterpillar, I had to consider the possibility that a little local mouse or rat was cultivating a taste for rare Anthurium leaves at my expense.

One morning I was out with my plants, looking at some and watering others, when out of the corner of my eye, a little critter scurried away amongst the nearby bamboo stalks. I knew it was no squirrel. It had to be my nemesis, the Anthurium leaf-pilfering scofflaw I had been searching for. Peppermint bloomingAt that moment I knew that I had to find a solution, and once again help came serendipitously. I had been searching the internet for information about natural pest control, not thinking specifically about rodents, but about other pests, when I happened upon a website offering information on repelling rodents using peppermint. This seemed straightforward enough, and certainly doable, so as soon as I could manage it, I obtained some peppermint oil from a local health food store. I proceeded to put drops of it on some pieces of cotton nail polish removal pads. These oil-charged pads were then placed strategically in each pot and/or tray where vulnerable plants resided. For good measure, I placed a few on the greenhouse floor as well. I put so much peppermint oil in there that I could smell it outside the closed greenhouse after I was done! Common mouse

Next was the wait to see if the varmints returned for further mischief, or if they would allow my greenhouse a wide berth. After a week or so I checked to see if any newly emerging leaves had been chewed. To my immense relief, the new leaves were intact in my peppermint greenhouse.


Once the peppermint odor began abating, I recharged the pads with more oil, making sure there was enough so I could smell it even when outside of the closed greenhouse. Thankfully, I haven't seen any damage since I began this regimen, but of course I won't let down my guard now. It is just a matter of getting used to a peppermint Anthurium house. I've always enjoyed mint anyway, so I don't mind. Peppermint is now a heavenly scent for me, conferring protection on my plants, at least from gourmet leaf-seeking rodents!

Next for me is to figure out the solution for a dastardly squirrel. This crafty beastie has developed a penchant for shredding the little red roses on my dwarf rose plant! I wonder if peppermint works on squirrels . . .

Peppermint prepared as a deterrent for rodents is available as products you can purchase online. One source is Dreaming Earth Botanicals and another is Gardener's Supply Co.. And of course you can always do what I did with the peppermint oil from the health food store. If you ever have a similar rodent problem and try this solution out for yourself, let me know how it goes!

Picture credit: public domain and from WPClipart.com