Sunday, January 13, 2013

Repel Mice From Your Garden with Peppermint Oil

Remember those seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago?  I awoke last Saturday morning to find dozens of decapitated seedlings.  Someone or something had ravaged the hell out of half of my seedlings.  And I know it wasn't ME.  It was a heartbreaking sight to behold; my first-ever time starting greens from seed, and half of them were ruined in little over a week :(.

I had a couple of clues as to the identity of the culprit(s).  For a few weeks prior to the seedling massacre, I noticed that leaves on certain plants had been cut cleanly away from the plant.  There weren't any bite marks on the remaining leaves.  I also noticed that the culprit(s) had cleanly snapped off whole branches of my softwood plants, such as my sampaguita and Mexican honeysuckle.  I was dumbfounded.  An insect couldn't have inflicted this sort of damage.  I asked around, and the verdict was that it had to be some sort of mammal.

Squirrels were the first thing to come to mind because they could easily climb my patio fence or jump from a branch to my third floor balcony.  (There wasn't any damage done to my second floor balcony plants).  But then again, I had never seen any squirrels in either garden.  So the damage was likely taking place at night.  Then I remembered one of my neighbor's blog posts about mice under her porch.

As if to only confirm my suspicions, it rained the night of the seedling massacre, and some of the empty flower pots on my patio filled with rain water.  To my horror, the following morning, I discovered a mouse that had drowned in one of these pots.  My worst nightmare had been confirmed: there were mice in my garden.  Worse yet, I read that mice can easily climb brick.  One contributor to a Yahoo Answer shared that he once watched a mouse scale the side of a three-story brick building as if it were "flat earth."  This confirmed that mice were, in fact, climbing up to my third floor balcony as well.  I felt sick to my stomach.

Disclosure: This is the part where I tell you that I an animal lover, through and through.  Yes, I know that mice are unsanitary and bring disease.  Yes, I know that many consider them vermin as a consequence.  But I still couldn't bear the thought of harming these little creatures.  The fastest and surest way to make me cry is to show me a hurt or neglected animal.  As soon as I hear that dumb Sarah McLachlan song, signaling to me that an SPCA commercial is on the tube, the waterworks start to form in my ocular region.  I don't even have to actually see the abused animals in the commercial, just hearing the song is enough for me apparently.  Even more ridiculous, I ugly cried when Hedwig, Harry Potter's owl, died and when Appa, the flying bison in Avatar: The Last Airbender, got kidnapped.  Yes, that's right--I ugly cried over imaginary animals.  Animals that aren't even real.  That's how deep this thing goes with me.

Poisons were out of the question then, especially considering the injury or potential death that could befall a neighborhood cat or dog that might eat a poisoned mouse.  Same goes for glue/electronic traps.  Hence I looked for more natural remedies.  I read that mice despise pure peppermint oil.  Some folks recommended applying a few drops of oil to cotton balls and distributing the minty mice bombs around your garden.  Others suggested spraying a pepperminty mixture on and around your garden with a plastic spray bottle.  I decided to try both methods.

  • Cotton ball method:
    • 100% peppermint oil.  I bought mine for $1.00/each in the baking section of my local grocery store.  I also tried 100% spearmint oil, which I read has a similar effect on mice.  FYI, by all accounts do not use peppermint extract and expect the same results.  Peppermint extract contains less than 10% peppermint oil, and is therefore not potent enough to repel your mousy intruders.  In addition, the high sugar content will attract ants.  In sum, buy only 100% peppermint oil.
    • Cotton balls
  • Spray bottle method:
    • 100% peppermint oil
    • Plastic spray bottle
    • Water
I used the "cotton ball method" on my patio.  I applied two to three drops of oil per cotton ball.  I then placed three cotton balls inside the pots of affected plants.  After that, I saturated a few more cotton balls with the oil, and wiped oil onto the rims of said pots.  

I used the "spray bottle method" on my third floor balcony.  I mixed two teaspoons of oil (each bottle pictured above constituted one teaspoon) with 1 cup of water inside a plastic spray bottle.  I sprayed the soil directly below plants, along with the outside of their pots.  I then sprayed the railing of my balcony, in addition to the brick underneath the railing.  I will reapply the peppermint oil every 2-4 weeks under both methods.

It's been almost one week since I tried these minty mouse deterrents, and I have yet to see any traces of mice.  I guess it worked?  I will report back later.  If the peppermint oil fails me, I might have to invest in ultrasonic mice repellant devices.  My dad said he had a rat problem in his garage when Hurricane Ike hit a few years ago, and a couple of those devices drove the ratties away.  

Until next time, feel free to send me and my garden some mouse-repelling vibes!

Update, 1-30-13: Two weeks after applying the aforementioned peppermint oil remedies, the mice returned :(.   So I tried out cheap (3 for $20) ultrasonic rodent repellents that I picked up at Home Depot.  The mice didn't care.  I put out some basil cuttings as bait, and the next morning, all that remained were the stems.  My dad swears by a more expensive brand ($50/ea.) of a similar repellent device, so maybe I'll give that a whirl.

I really don't know what to do at this point.  Blockading the perimeter of my fence won't work because they can easily chew through the wood and create new holes.  Planting strong smelling herbs around the fence, as some of you have suggested, won't work either because the mice can crawl up and down the fence with ease.  Believe me, I've seen them do it :-/.  Killing/trapping them will only mitigate the problem, as rodents multiply like weeds.

As such, methinks it's time to start thinking up ways to coexist with the mice.  Perhaps I'll have to invest in a cold frame to protect my edibles on effected patios/balconies? *le sigh*

Stupid mice. *kicks rocks*


  1. " Yes, that's right--I ugly cried over imaginary animals."


    So THIS is why you don't hug your best friends. But seriously, who knew the culprit would be MICE!?? Well I hope the peppermint works for ya. Keep up the good works V!! Your blog rocks + dare I say .....inspiring? Maybe I'll finally start the container garden I've always wanted to but just haven't yet on my balcony. I tend to kill things tho :/

    1. I know, man. I was honestly surprised myself! But I guess it makes sense since we live in the city. I'm so glad you like the blog! You should totally start up a garden on your balcony. I DO NOT believe there is such a thing as a black thumb. I think getting the hang of gardening all comes down to informing yourself:

      -Determine how much light your balcony gets per day. Full sun = 6+ hours of direct light per day; Part Sun/Part Shade is 3-6 hours (if you see Part Sun on a plant tag, the emphasis is more sun, and vice versa); Dappled Sun = light filtered through tree branches or other structures; Shade = less than 3 hours.

      -Select plants based on the amount of sun you get on your balcony.

      -Start off with 1-2 plants to get a feel for keeping green things alive.

      -Read the care instructions tag that comes with the plant. Do a search on other care requirements, i.e. soil, humidity, fertilizer.

      -Do a quick search on the web to see if there are any special care instructions for your plant for the Houston area. FYI, if a plant tag says "Full Sun," it doesn't mean full sun in TEXAS, and especially in the summer. Our heat/humidity is too much for most PEOPLE to bear :). Stick to part sun/part shade for such plants.

      That's pretty much it!

    2. DizzzzANG woman!! This is hella helpful, THANKS!!! :D

  2. I am with you. I hate to kill animals also. I hope the peppermint works. Maybe you could grow some mint plants. I have no evidence, but I think squirrels avoid it.

    1. You know, the only herbs that the mice have seemed to steer clear from are my rosemary, mint, thyme and oregano. I guess the common denominator is how pungent the scent of those herbs are? I have a lot of plants, though, so I'd have to grow a LOT of mint to ward away those mice :/.

    2. It's kind of funny, I find the same is true of my cat, who usually likes to nom my houseplants. I've found if I put the pretty plants I don't want him to chew on a higher shelf, and put those strongly flavored herbs underneath, he won't touch ANY of my plants, even if he can still reach the ones he likes. I wonder if it would help you to grow those strong herbs around the edges of your patio as a barrier for the other ones in the middle?

  3. Thank you SO much! I will try it in my garden!

  4. I don't like to kill animals either however I'm all for the circle of life and my daughters barn owl would be ideal to have perched where the offending mickies (mice lol) tend to have lunch. In fact the presence of Birds of Prey certainly seems to have reduced the population of mickies here.
    I hope your natural and kind method has worked though and will enjoy reading any follow up. If it's a winner then I will most definitely recommend it to others.
    Good Luck


    1. Linda, my husband and I joked that we should hire an owl or a falcon to stand guard over our gardens :). I'm allergic to cats, so I guess that idea's out. Thanks for visiting!

  5. I know this is an older thread, but wanted to mention scented dryer sheets. In fact, I just thought of this for my own garden! We use them in our deck boxes and sheds, where the mice have been a problem.........and no mice after that! You have to replace them every so often. And get the cheapest, smelliest ones you can find. I try to be organic, and I'm not sure what would happen if the contents of the sheets got rained on and leached out........
    But try just setting some sheets around your balcony......or clothes-pin them to your pots.
    Good luck! I'm having trouble with mice in my garden out here in the country. But, like you, I don't want to hurt them. So we have to out-smart them.

  6. Thank you Anonymous for letting us know the easiest and friendly way to keep them away. I am with on this that we should not kill them but just need to keep them away.

    Andrew John

  7. i used cats to keep them away but i have a neighbor who has trapped my cats and gotten rid of them and now i am over run in the carport with them, i have replaced my cats but my kids as well as i get attached to them and when she traps and gets rid of them it's to dang heart breaking to see my kids cry and to try to explain to my two special needs children why their pets have gone missing again while they cry for days about it. hope to try planting the stronger smelling plants like mint , thyme, rosemary ect and hope it helps. Do not want to get anymore cats(i love cats) and see my kids get their hearts ripped out again.

    1. Someone should trap your neighbor and get rid of them.

  8. For BASEMENT APPLICATION I've read that drops of peppermint oil on cotton balls only last a few days because they lose potency during evaporation. One guy said that his basement wasn't finished so he sprayed peppermint oil directly on the blocks. He just walked and kept spray across a few inches away from the top of the blocks, which is about ground level - every weekend. He's a good man to spend a few minutes to spare a life.

    Larger Cotton Balls.. 8-12 feet apart - if you're not afraid of messing up a finish (or set on the ledges in your basement) - add more drops - a tablespoon is not to much for larger size cotton balls (I just tear them in half for my face lotions).

    Cotton balls in a sturdy lid.. 16-20 feet apart - to wick a cotton ball in an old metal lid or milk jug cap - using more than a tablespoon of oil that will last longer than a week - stop pouring or dripping just as it starts to leave or ooze out of the cotton ball. Tape down the lid to keep any animal from flipping it (maybe).

  9. Great info, loving what I've read so far, funny and sweet. We're having holes throughout the garden (google, gave me the low down) 'mice holes' ! We're out in the country, so theres lot's of furbabies around doing there thing. I'd leave them alone but, the garden has gotten bumpy with the tunneling. It's harder cutting the grass and I sink in places when hanging out laundry.Little tikes ! Thanks again, Jen x

  10. To begin planting your garden, select a sunny spot that gets direct daylight the complete day or a minimum of for daily until noontime. choose a website that's flat because it is best to figure on.

  11. One way of keeping mice out of your home is to use repellents. Learn how to make some natural repellents and some commercial ones that you can try as well.

  12. In the past I've tried, and it worked, putting aluminum foil around the plants (I have potted plants so I wrap it around the pot). It detered them for sure, what I'd read is that they hate the feel and sound of the foil. It's a pain to put it up every night and take it down every morning, but I did it for about 2 weeks and it kept them away. Worth a try. Garden blessings!


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