How I Protect My Garden From Wildlife, Part 1
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:
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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