Florida has a very suitable climate for gardening as it contains rich soil and a year-round temperate climate. While Florida can yield vibrant blooms and lush greenery it is faced with numerous challenges from a set of pests. The armadillo, with its penchant for digging up landscapes in search of insects, the squirrel, notorious for stealing fruits and causing mayhem, and the rabbit, ever eager to nibble on tender greens, have become unwelcome adversaries for the Florida gardener. These critters, driven by their natural instincts, often greatly damage gardens. Understanding these adversaries is the first step in crafting a garden that thrives in Florida’s environment.

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Signs and Symptoms of the Primary Pests

Armadillos are primarily nocturnal creatures and often leave a distinct trail of destruction in Florida gardens. Their primary objective is searching for grubs and insects, which leads them to dig small, conical holes, typically 1 to 3 inches deep, scattered throughout the yard. Sometimes, they might even burrow, resulting in larger, more disruptive tunnels. These holes are a clear signature of armadillo activity, distinct from other common garden pests.

Distinguishing between the damages caused by armadillos, squirrels, and rabbits can be an essential skill for gardeners. While armadillos are diggers, squirrels are climbers and foragers. They are known to ravage fruit trees, nibble on vegetables, and dig up bulbs, leaving shallow holes, often with remnants of the pilfered bulb nearby. Squirrels might also strip the bark off trees, a behavior rarely seen in other pests. Rabbits, on the other hand, have a particular fondness for tender shoots, leaves, and flowers. Their damage is often evident at ground level, where young stems appear neatly clipped, unlike the more torn appearance resulting from deer feeding. The absence of tracks, given their furry feet, combined with this pattern of feeding, often points to a rabbit culprit.

In terms of activity, while armadillos remain a consistent nuisance throughout the year, their damage is most noticeable during the wetter months when the soil is softer and easier to dig. Squirrels are particularly active in the late summer and early fall as they cache food for the winter. Rabbits, meanwhile, are a persistent problem from spring through fall, but their voracity is most pronounced in the spring when young, tender plants are abundant.

Take Away

Gardens are very prevalent in Florida’s landscape and the challenges posed by armadillos, squirrels, and rabbits demand proactive and adaptive strategies from gardeners. By prioritizing community collaboration, safe intervention practices, and continuous learning, we can protect these gardens and maintain a healthy balance with the state’s diverse wildlife.

The Appeal of Plants and Habitats

Preferred Garden Plants

While armadillos are more driven by the hunt for insects than plants, they’re commonly attracted to gardens rich in earthworms. These worms thrive in soils replete with organic matter, such as those supplemented with “Miracle-Gro” or “Nature’s Care” organic plant foods. Squirrels, being opportunistic foragers, have shown an appetite for nuts, favoring pecan trees or almond blooms, while also favoring tomatoes or strawberries. Rabbits, on the other hand, are enthusiasts of leafy greens and will frequently nibble on lettuce varieties, especially “Buttercrunch” or “Red Sails”, and find the young shoots of “Nantes” carrots attractive.

The Allure of Water

Water greatly attracts wildlife in all forms. Gardens equipped with features like “Aquanique” ponds or “Best Choice” birdbaths might find them frequented by all three pests. Armadillos, though not primarily after the water, are keen on the insects found in the moist soil surrounding these features. Squirrels and rabbits, particularly during Florida’s more arid months, are drawn to these consistent water sources, ensuring they stay hydrated amidst the heat.

The Influence of Florida’s Climate 

The state’s humid subtropical climate significantly shapes the behavior of these garden pests. The wet season, spanning June through September, offers armadillos softer soils, making their insect hunts fruitful. Squirrels and rabbits, during this period, find respite in the shade of fruit trees, especially those like the “Flordaguard” peach tree, which provides both shelter and sustenance. The relatively milder winters of Florida ensure that these creatures are not in deep hibernation, resulting in year-round vigilance for gardeners.

Deterrence Methods – Natural and Man-made Solutions

Various methods exist to deter these animals from frequenting your garden and protect it from damage. Predators serve as a natural check and man-made methods including botanical approaches and technological products have also proved effective.

Florida’s Natural Predators

Certain predators play a vital role in keeping armadillos, squirrels, and rabbits in check in Florida’s ecosystem. Foxes and coyotes, natural inhabitants of Florida’s diverse landscape, actively hunt these pests, providing a natural balance. Owls too are effective in controlling squirrel populations, especially during nighttime when these creatures are most vulnerable.

Botanical Defenses

Certain plants emit aromas or possess traits that these animals find disagreeable. Marigolds, with their pungent scent, deter rabbits and can be purchased from local nurseries like “Florida’s Best Plants.” Similarly, the spiky texture of agave plants dissuades armadillos from digging nearby. Companion planting, a strategy where certain plants are grown together, can also reduce damage. For instance, planting garlic bulbs next to lettuce can mask the appealing scent of the lettuce, keeping it safe from rabbit raids.

Modern Interventions

Repellents, both natural and synthetic, offer varying degrees of protection. Brands like “Ortho Animal B Gon” produce sprays that deter both rabbits and squirrels, but their efficacy can diminish after heavy rainfall, requiring reapplication. Ultrasonic repellents, such as “Pest Soldier” or “TBI Pro”, emit high-frequency sounds that are discomforting to pests, driving them away. Though effective, their range is limited and might not cover extensive gardens. Scent markers, particularly predator urines available from brands like “Just Scentsational”, can deter pests but their smell can be off-putting to humans and might need frequent reapplication. For a more direct approach, “Orbit Yard Enforcer” motion-activated sprinklers are available. These devices, which shoot water upon detecting movement, not only startle pests but also ensure they associate the garden with an unpleasant experience, discouraging return visits.

Building Barriers With Fencing and Garden Design

There are a number of preventative approaches that can be implemented in your garden to decrease the chances of damage from these pests. Such methods include utilizing different types of fencing, mulch, and gardening outlines. 

Fencing Solutions

Effective fencing can often be the first line of defense against these persistent pests. For armadillos, a sturdy wire mesh, like the “Garden Zone Hardware Cloth”, buried at least 18 inches deep can deter their burrowing tendencies. Rabbits require a similar approach, but the mesh can be slightly above ground level, with a recommended height of 2-3 feet. Squirrels present a unique challenge due to their agility. A tall fence may not be enough and adding a smooth PVC pipe or metal baffles atop fence posts can discourage their climbing. For added security, “Tenax Garden Fence” offers a durable plastic mesh with a tight weave, making it challenging for both rabbits and squirrels to penetrate.

Ground Tactics

Mulching serves dual purposes in the garden as it can conserve soil moisture and deter pests. Coarse mulch, such as pine bark or “Vigoro Rubber Mulch”, makes the terrain challenging for armadillos to dig through, while the texture is unappealing to rabbits. These mulches, while initially an investment, can save costs in the long run by reducing plant damage and water bills.

Strategic Gardening

Garden design can significantly prevent damage. Raised beds, like the “Greenes Fence Cedar Raised Garden Kit”, elevate plants from ground level, making them less accessible to armadillos and rabbits. Integrating plants known to deter pests within the garden, such as the aforementioned marigolds, functions as a living barrier. Furthermore, clustering vulnerable plants closer to the home or within sightlines can discourage pests, as these animals are generally wary of human activity.

Regulations and Best Practices for Trapping and Removal

Pros and Cons of Trapping

Using live traps, like those manufactured by “Havahart”, can be an effective way to address garden invaders. For armadillos, baiting with overripe fruit or mealworms can be particularly enticing, while squirrels often can’t resist the lure of peanut butter. Rabbits typically enjoy leafy greens and may be attracted to a fresh cabbage leaf. However, the capture process has its downsides. Relocation might lead the animals into unfamiliar territories where they face new dangers, and there’s always the risk of separating young animals from their parents, causing distress to both.

Florida’s Wildlife Laws

Before setting any traps, Florida residents must familiarize themselves with the state’s wildlife regulations. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission mandates that armadillos, once trapped, can’t be relocated to public lands without a permit. Squirrels, being game animals, have specific seasons when they can be legally trapped. Rabbits, although not protected, should be treated humanely, and unnecessary suffering should be avoided.

Humane Solutions

Rather than trapping, some opt for deterrents that nudge these creatures away without causing harm. Reflective objects, like “Bird-X Reflective Scare Tape”, can frighten armadillos and squirrels due to their unexpected shine and movement. For rabbits, a solution of three parts water and one part hot pepper sauce sprayed on plants can discourage nibbling. For those determined to remove these animals, “Critter Ridder” offers a repellent that drives pests away without causing long-term harm, giving gardeners peace of mind about their impact on the local ecosystem.

DIY Remedies and Community Collaboration

Apart from direct removal methods, various other DIY deterrents exist that could assist any homeowner in managing their garden and protecting it from intruders.

Home-Made Deterrents

Many Florida gardeners utilize homemade concoctions such as cayenne pepper mixed with water, for instance, creating a spray that both rabbits and squirrels dislike, steering clear of the spicy residue left on plants. Similarly, a mixture of dish soap, water, and garlic can deter armadillos when sprayed around the garden perimeter. Common household items like coffee grounds and crushed eggshells scattered around plants can also form a textured barrier that deters pests, with the bonus of adding nutrients to the soil.

Habitat Tweaks

Making subtle shifts in your garden’s design can go a long way. Installing a gravel or rock perimeter makes for uncomfortable digging for armadillos. Pruning low-hanging branches can decrease squirrels’ launch points, while maintaining a clean garden—free from fallen fruits or nuts—ensures less food temptation for these critters.

Community Insights

Routine garden inspections, especially at dawn or dusk when these animals are most active, can provide early indicators of intrusion, allowing timely interventions. For more localized advice, the University of Florida’s IFAS Extension offers resources and workshops on gardening in the state. Beyond formal organizations, joining or forming local gardening clubs or online forums like “Florida Gardeners’ Group” on social media platforms can foster a communal exchange of tried-and-true strategies. Pooling resources, like splitting the cost of bulk repellents or jointly hiring a pest control consultant, can make prevention more affordable and effective.

Health Implications

Understanding the health implications is important in maintaining your safety when handling issues related to these pests. Safety gear should always be utilized for the safety of all.


Many Floridians are surprised to learn that armadillos, primarily the Nine-Banded species common in the state, can be carriers of the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae, which causes Hansen’s disease or leprosy. While the risk of transmission to humans is low, it’s not non-existent. Direct contact with the animals or consuming them can pose a risk. Wearing gloves while gardening, especially if you know armadillos frequent your yard, provides an additional protective layer.


Squirrels, especially in urban settings, can harbor ticks and fleas that might carry diseases like Lyme disease or the plague. Though these diseases aren’t directly transmitted by squirrels, a bite from an infected flea or tick can pose health concerns. Gardeners should consider using insect repellents like “Off! Deep Woods” when working in areas with high squirrel activity.


While rabbits themselves are typically low risk, the parasites they carry can be problematic. “Tularemia”, also known as rabbit fever, can be transmitted to humans if they handle infected animals or get bitten by ticks or fleas that have fed on an infected rabbit. Symptoms include fever, skin ulcers, and swollen lymph nodes. Gardeners should be cautious when handling wild rabbits and consider insect repellent clothing, such as those from the “Insect Shield” brand, to ward off potential insect vectors.

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