Most gardeners eventually have heated encounters with unwanted wild animals. The best and kindest solution is to keep them out with the right kind of barrier. A good farm dog can be a huge help, and repellents and scare devices work sometimes for some animals, but you can’t beat well-chosen garden fences for reliable long-term, around-the-clock protection.
Assessing Your Needs
When the primary purpose of a fence is to deter animal pests, you can’t choose the best garden fence until you know what they are. The eight most prevalent wild animal pests of gardens are (in alphabetical order): deer, groundhogs (woodchucks), pocket gophers, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, and voles. Note that opossums and moles are missing from this list. Neither species directly damages garden crops, and both eat enough insects to be considered beneficial.
To help you identify which animal (or animals) is making mischief in your garden, match the evidence you see to the damage descriptions in Who’s Raiding Your Garden? Most animals leave signs of one kind or another — footprints, tooth marks, scat, or the way they dig as they forage for food. Check with your local extension service to find out which types of animals are known for damaging vegetable gardens in your area.
You can often witness damage being done by birds, squirrels, or groundhogs during daylight hours, but the night shift can be harder to track. If you can’t figure out which critters are doing the damage, station a $10 wireless motion-sensor light in your garden, and then turn off most of the lights in your house. The light might scare the animals the first few times it comes on, but after that they will accept it if doing so means getting a good meal. Have binoculars handy to get a good look at your new enemy.
Permanent Perimeter vs. Temporary Pop-Ons
Do you need to fence your whole garden, or are there only certain plantings in need of protection? If your only problem is protecting strawberries from birds and squirrels, making a secure cover for one bed using chicken wire, row cover or both is much less work than putting up a fence. Raccoons after your sweet corn are another problem that can be handled on a small scale with a carefully positioned two-strand electric fence, with one strand 6 inches above the ground and the other 12 inches high.
Fencing Out Deer
We could go on for hours discussing deer deterrence, which can include many other methods in addition to fencing (such as growing catnip and daffodils in deer access paths, or hanging dirty dog blankets from trees). But when you get to the ultimate solution — an effective fence — set aside the notion you may have that height is what counts most. Height certainly helps, but it turns out that depth (as in two fences) is the critical factor. Deer are great jumpers, but their depth perception is poor. Here are two ways to create a three-dimensional fence to keep them out of your garden.
If you already have a fence that’s not keeping out deer but your kids play there so you don’t want to go electric, you could install a second fence about 3 feet inside the outer fence. The two fences — one inside the other — will deter deer from jumping in because of their limited depth perception.
Where deer pressure is severe and losses cannot be tolerated (such as new fruit orchards), you can deter deer effectively with a 3-D electric fence. You can use strand-type electric fencing if you like, but it’s even better (and cheaper) to use electrified tape because it’s easier for deer to see. You will need a minimum of three lines: Two of them form the inner fence (about 2 and 4 feet from the ground, varying slightly with the size of local deer), and the third hot line (about 3 feet from the ground) creates the outer fence, 3 feet away from the inner one. Most deer leave after getting zapped while eating grass and weeds beneath the single strand outer fence. If they attempt a jump based on the more visually prominent inner fence, their front hooves will likely connect with the outer fence before their rear hooves leave the ground — a critical detail for a successful zap. This electric fence can be integrated into a wire fence quite easily.
Not everyone likes to use electric shock to get the attention of animals, but sometimes difficult choices must be made. When you install a critter-proof fence, you can keep your food garden and local wildlife peacefully separated.