How to tell which critter is eating fruit out of your trees

Q: Some critter has been peeling & eating the rind off my lemons & leaving the fruit hanging on the tree. Same thing has happened to another neighbor’s avocados.

I don’t know if it’s the neighborhood squirrels, an opossum, or rats. Next door neighbor’s dog did catch and kill an opossum recently. Have you ever heard of this?

A: Squirrels, opossums and rats can all wreak havoc in the garden, each in their own way. Squirrels will visit your fruit trees just as the fruit is ripening, then take a bite out of every single fruit and toss it aside. You are left with a lot of ruined fruit rotting on the ground. I really, really hate ground squirrels.

Opossums can also climb into fruit trees, but they prefer to go after fallen fruit. They will eat anything and everything, but they can be kind of lazy. Don’t leave pet food outside. Cover your compost bin, and pick up any fallen fruit. They may still go after vegetables that are within reach – they seem to especially like pumpkins and winter squash. Stack firewood tightly since they like to nest under wood piles.

They also tend to fight with domestic cats and dogs, and their sharp teeth can do some serious damage. (However, we did have a young opossum that would visit and seemed to have befriended my cat. Of course, they aren’t very bright and probably thought he was just an especially ugly cat.) When opossums visit your garden, you will usually see half-eaten fruit on the ground, but they won’t take everything out of the tree.

Rats will hollow out fruit while it’s still hanging on the tree. They really like citrus and avocado, so my guess is that you have a rat problem. You can identify their hideouts by the piles of empty snail shells they leave behind. Too bad they don’t just eat snails!

Trapping is the most environmentally friendly way to control rats. Poison has many drawbacks, including unintentional poisoning of pets and wildlife. For detailed instructions on how to trap rats, visit

Q: I read your recent column on ant control in the yard, and I have a question for you. I have been unable to find ant bait that is no more than 1% borate.  All the products that are online are 5%. Can you give me a brand name? Thank you so much for your help! We have had a serious ant problem the last few years.

A: Almost all the commercially available ant baits are 5% boric acid, which is too concentrated to be effective for ant control. Luckily, ant bait with a 1% boric acid concentration is easy to make yourself.

Mix 1/2 teaspoon of powdered boric acid (which can be found in most drug stores) and 9 teaspoons of sugar into one cup of hot water. This is enough to kill ants, but not before they get a chance to take it back to their nest.

This ant bait can be used like any other liquid bait in bait stations. You can also make your own bait stations by poking a couple of holes into the sides or top of a plastic container (such as an old margarine or yogurt container). Put a couple of cotton balls into the container and pour in a tablespoon or two of the liquid bait.

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