How I Protect My Garden From Wildlife, Part 1 – Abundant Mini Gardens

How I Protect My Garden From Wildlife, Part 1

Groundhog climbing fence

As much as I love wildlife, I can't afford unexpected guests dining in my garden. They don't understand the concept of “share and share alike” and can often destroy dozens of garden plants overnight. And, the smaller your garden, the fewer bites it takes for a rabbit or deer to raze your garden to the ground!

The most effective methods I have used over the years to protect my gardens have involved using barriers, such as solid, well-designed fences, netting, and cages. You can read or hear about dozens of different types of repellants, scare devices, and makeshift fencing. Many of these ideas work for some people some of the time, but most of them are simply not reliable control methods.

Wildlife are smart. They have strong survival instincts, and will go to great lengths to reach a high quality food source.  Don't wait until after you plant your garden to put up fencing or other protection. Once they taste great food, they will be more determined to reach it again. Get your garden protection up first, if at all possible!  Fortunately, using small raised beds makes it easier to protect your garden.

Here Are Ten Wildlife Control Methods That I Recommend:

Rabbit Fencing

This pest is one of the easiest to control. While they may sometimes try to squeeze under a gap in a fence, native North American rabbits don't do much digging and they will rarely try to jump a fence that's 2 feet tall. Simple rabbit fencing (close spacing of wires near the bottom, with wider spacing near the top) does a great job of keeping rabbits away from my garden plants. We use this around vulnerable trees and shrubs, too.

Rabbit fencing

Rabbit fencing has wires spaced close together at the bottom of the fence and farther apart at the higher levels. It comes in plain galvanized wire or with this dark green vinyl coating. Rabbit fencing usually blends in pretty nicely with the landscaping.

Many people use chicken wire instead, but I'm not as fond of that product. It rusts and falls apart pretty quickly, and can be downright painful to take apart and discard. Hardware cloth also works, but is much more expensive. Rabbits can squeeze through welded wire fencing with 2” x 4” wire spacing.

Deer Fencing

Deer will try to either crawl under a fence or jump a fence. They are impressive jumpers, as they can clear a 6 foot fence without blinking. Deer fencing needs to be sturdy, too. They can easily break through flimsy barriers.

We installed a black 7-foot-tall high-quality deer fence around our back yard with our flower beds and mini fruit garden. The bottom six inches of the fence lies flat on the ground, to discourage deer from crawling underneath. We haven't had a single deer breach the fence in three years, though they come to feed on fallen fruit from an old apple tree right outside the fence.

Deer fence surrounding back yard

We installed a high-quality deer fence around our backyard. This one should last about 10-15 years. We had to add a metal rabbit fence outside the bottom of the deer fence, as the rabbits chewed their way through the tough plastic deer fence within 2 weeks of installation!

However, we ended up having to add a metal rabbit fence to the outside of the bottom of the deer fence. Our wild rabbits had chewed their own doorways through the tough plastic of the deer fence within 2 weeks of installing it!

Solid Walls

I discovered another simple wildlife barrier a few years ago. I had rabbits eating my carrot and beet leaves growing in an 8 inch tall garden bed. They had jumped up onto the bed to enjoy a free dinner. When I set a cold frame (without the cover) on top of the bed frame, the rabbits were faced with a solid 16 inch high barrier. Because they couldn't see over it, even when standing up on their hind legs, they didn't jump into the garden bed again. My new 18 inch high cinder block raised beds have the same benefit.

Protecting square foot gardens from wildlife

I protected these 10 inch high square foot garden beds from wildlife using 2 methods: 1) At the far right, I covered the plants with a lightweight row cover; it deters rabbits and birds, but deer might be able to push the fabric off the bed; 2) at the far left, I set a cold frame over the bed – rabbits can't see and won't jump over the 16-20″ combined height of the two frames; by adding a cover made with window screening, hardware cloth, or lightweight row cover and securing it well with a bungee cord or other fastener, you can protect small plants from birds, deer, and even squirrels.

 

You can also keep deer out of a garden with a solid wall at least 5 feet high. Unless they are running in terror, they will not jump over a fence they can't see through. But you need to install this tall solid barrier around your entire garden. Don't use a shorter garden gate, or worse, leave the gate open!

Floppy Fences

In most situations, it's important to install sturdy, solid fences if you want them to be effective barriers. However, some wildlife – such as groundhogs (woodchucks) – can climb fences .  I found this young groundhog after it had climbed the rabbit fence next to our deer fence.

Young groundhog climbing fence

I caught this young groundhog climbing the rabbit and deer fence surrounding our garden.

Groundhogs are tough to control in the garden. While most folks in my area simply shoot the offenders, others use electric fences or put wire cages over their vulnerable crops.

Another option is to install a “floppy fence.” The base of the fencing is secured tight to the posts, but the top 2-3 feet is left loose and “floppy.” When the groundhog climbs the fence, the top loose section will pull over under his weight, and he'll fall off. I had a friend use that method with a groundhog that kept climbing the gate on her garden's deer fence.

Floppy fence used on gate of deer fence

My friend had a stubborn groundhog that kept climbing their garden gate to enter her garden. She had installed her deer fencing rather loose and floppy instead of stretched firmly between the posts, but the gate was rigid enough for the animal to climb easily. She added an extra layer of deer fencing that flopped over on the outside of the gate to block it. This worked pretty well for her.

Bird Netting

I have also used high-quality bird netting (not the cheap plastic kind sold at stores) to protect berries and fruit crops from birds – especially if I want to harvest any of my blueberries. Bird scare devices are usually not very effective.

Bird netting covering strawberries in square foot garden bed

We covered our ripe strawberries with a high-quality bird netting. It did a decent job in deterring our chipmunks, too! We also use this netting on our blueberry bushes and miniature cherry trees.

My favorite bird netting is AviGard R brand. It is a UV stabilized high density polyethylene knitted yarn that stretches 17 feet wide, is easy to handle, and is soft on plants. I purchase mine through Seven Springs Farm. They sell a wide range of organic farming and gardening supplies. I don't receive any commissions from them, but I love the company. They are a local, small business that I have dealt with for many years.

I also purchase my row cover supports (hoops) through them – 8 foot long, 1/4” resin-coated fiberglass rods. The UV-stabilized resin coating lasted about 3 years for me before the fiberglass fibers started becoming exposed and irritating my hands. These rods are tough and flexible, and I use them all the time in my garden.

Row Cover

You can also use row cover to protect your garden plants against wildlife. It can deter birds from eating young seedlings. I have even seen people use it to keep deer or rabbits from eating their crops, though you have to secure it well to prevent the rabbits from slipping underneath or the deer from just pushing it off the plants.

Don't use row cover to protect plants that need bees to pollinate their blossoms. Some vegetables are self-pollinating (like tomatoes and beans), but others need bees to visit their flowers. When the blossoms open, remove the row covers on cross-pollinating plants like squash and cucumbers.

Continued in Part 2….Click Here

 

  • Dave Miller says:

    Your visuals are good and the floppy idea is great. Groundhogs somehow need to take one bite to taste each squash and zucchini.

  • Thanks for sharing Debra. We have a agriculture farm land but often visited by Deers and Elephants. I think deer fence seems a good protection but for vast area i dont know whether its affordable for poor farmers in India.

    • Debra says:

      I’m glad I don’t have to deal with elephants! (So sorry you do.) Unfortunately, I’m not able to make effective international gardening recommendations. Gardening climates, soils, pests, and resources vary tremendously from region to region. Hopefully, someone in India can provide some helpful suggestions for that area. Best wishes!

  • Sloane says:

    Hello I was wondering if you might be able to send me some pictures of how you attached the deer and rabbit fencing to your posts. Can you also maybe send a picture of the 6 inches of deer fence on the ground at the bottom, and how it intersects with the rabbit fence? What brand deer fencing do you use? I have heard that deer can plow through the plastic stuff, is yours plastic mesh? Also how did you make your entrance gate?

    • Debra says:

      Unfortunately, I’m too busy right now preparing a gardening course to look up any photos for you. We attached both the deer and rabbit fencing to the poles with zip ties. If you want the zip ties to last longer than a couple of years, you should buy the better quality ones sold for deer fencing. We bought our fencing material from Seven Springs Farm here in Virginia, but Deerbusters is another source of good quality material. Yes, our deer fence is polyethylene, but it’s so tough that deer rarely ever break through it.

  • Ian says:

    Debra, many thanks for your sharing, It teach me a lot .
    Only one questions, where can I buy the plastic fencing? From ebay, amazon or?
    Hope you can reply me.

  • Marji & Dan Pratt says:

    Hi Debra,
    Thanks for the info! We have a squirrels munching on all of our harvest. So, we are going to add a cover onto our raised beds. Thinking of ordering the bird netting you suggest through Seven Springs with PVC or any other type of flexible material. Have you had any experience with squirrels in your area getting to the fruits/veggies with this type of cover?
    Thanks!
    Marji & Dan

    • Debra says:

      I can’t be sure, as I’ve never had a bad squirrel problem. It seemed to help keep a chipmunk out of my strawberries, but again it was a minor problem. Theoretically, they could chew through anything except metal. But it might be worth testing in a small area. Good luck!

  • Babs says:

    I have some strawberries in a window box. They are sitting on my deck railing. I tried, unsuccessfully, this afternoon to fashion some kind of cover for them using some wire (not chicken wire). My berries are blooming and small green berries appearing. I have LOTS of squirrels in my yard. Any suggestions for covering my windowbox?

    • Debra says:

      For a small situation like that, you might want to try using metal window screening. Easy to cut, and you could stitch it into shape with fishing line or nylon thread. Good luck!

  • John H says:

    This is a nicely written article. I tried the floppy fence approach but I could never figure out how to build a gate that would work with it. The groundhog has always found a way through whatever gate I constructed. Any ideas?

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