Be Gone! Keeping Pets and Wild Animals Out of Your Garden

A few years ago, YouTube animal channel The Dodo had a hit on their hands when they shared the story of a gardener who, in response to a groundhog that kept stealing his veggies, grew a second garden specifically for his furry visitor.

It’s unclear whether the groundhog responded by limiting its snacking to its own garden and leaving the gardener’s plants alone, but the animal did seem quite pleased with its new assortment of produce.

Planting a groundhog garden was definitely a creative attempt at garden protection, but if you’re looking for ways to keep critters — or neighborhood pets — out of your garden, you do have other options.

What’s the attraction?

To be fair, animals tend to be a little fuzzy on the concepts of private property. When they discover a collection of growing veggies, fruit, and flowers, they see easy access to food, and in some cases, potential shelter. Others wander in because they’re curious.

Some of the animals known for raiding gardens include:

  • Deer: They’re attracted to gardens primarily for food, especially where their natural habitat lacks sufficient vegetation. They typically dine on gardeners’ leaves, flowers, and fruits.
  • Rabbits: Bunnies seek out tender shoots, vegetables, and flowers. They are especially fond of munching on carrots (shocking, we know), lettuce, and broccoli.
  • Squirrels: Not only do squirrels love nuts and seeds, but they also enjoy fruits and vegetables. And sometimes they dig in gardens to bury nuts or search for previously stored food, which, unfortunately, disrupts plant roots in the process.
  • Raccoons: Raccoons are omnivores and are drawn to gardens by fruits, vegetables, and insects. They’re also attracted to garbage bins or compost piles that are not securely covered or stored.
  • Birds: Many birds are attracted to fruits like berries and seeds. They may also pull out seedlings in search of insects or worms.
  • Moles and voles: Moles tend to look for insects and worms in the soil, but their tunneling can disrupt plant root systems. Voles, on the other hand, eat plant roots and can cause significant damage to shrubs and trees by gnawing at the bark.
  • Groundhogs: These herbivores are drawn to leafy greens, broccoli, peas, beans, and flowers. Their feeding habits can decimate a garden quickly, and their burrowing creates unsightly mounds and potentially hazardous holes.
  • Cats and dogs: Pets like cats and dogs may be attracted to gardens out of curiosity or to chase after other animals. Dogs might dig in gardens, while cats like to use its soft soil as a litter box.

Keeping your fur babies out

So, what can we do to keep our harvests for ourselves and protect our plants from animal-imposed damage?

Let’s start with our cats and dogs. If you’d just as soon keep them out of your garden areas, your best bet is a combination of physical barriers, deterrents, and training.

The most effective barrier option is fencing. It will need to be tall enough to prevent dogs from jumping over it, at least 5 to 6 feet, and secure at the base to stop pets from digging under it. For cats, you can help discourage climbing by angling the fence inwards at about 45 degrees at the top.

If you want to add some extra oomph to your barrier system, or need an alternative to fencing, create plant borders with dense, thorny, or prickly plants. Most pets will avoid them.

There also are steps you can take to discourage your pets from even getting near your garden. Effective deterrents include:

  • Motion-activated sprinklers: These systems, which send out a burst of water when triggered by animals’ movement, can startle pets away from your garden without harming them.
  • Ultrasonic devices: The high-frequency sound they emit is unpleasant to cats and dogs but is typically inaudible to people. However, their effectiveness can vary.
  • Scents pets dislike: Some strategically placed citrus peels or pet-repellent sprays might discourage pets from hanging out in your garden.

As for training, if you train your dogs to obey commands like “stay” or “leave it,” it will be easier to control their movements around your garden.

And, if you designate another area of your yard for your pets, a spot with toys and comfy bedding, they might decide they like spending time there much more than your garden.

Keeping wildlife out

When it comes to rabbits, squirrels, and other wildlife, many of the same principles (well, maybe not training) will discourage them from raiding your garden areas.

Strong fences are the best way to deter larger animals like deer and bears. They need to be high, at least 8-feet tall for deer and 6 to 8 feet for bears, and possibly buried a few inches into the ground to prevent critters from digging under them.

Physical deterrents like nets for fruit trees and row covers for vegetables are helpful, too, along with cages or wire mesh to protect individual plants and smaller garden areas.

As for deterrents, you can find products that mimic the scents of predators, which helps ward off animals that just as soon avoid them, like deer and rabbits.

Not only that, but some plants naturally repel certain animals. Examples include:

  • Marigolds: Their scent is repulsive to many pests, including rabbits and deer. 
  • Lavender: Repels moths, fleas, flies, and mosquitoes. 
  • Garlic: Repels deer and rabbits.
  • Chives: Repels Japanese beetles and deer.
  • Rosemary: Repels a variety of insects and is also unappealing to cats.
  • Peppermint: Mice, ants, and mosquitoes dislike its intense fragrance.

It also helps to make your property less hospitable to animals looking for shelter. You can do that by keeping your garden areas clear of overgrown bushes and piles of debris, and making sure your compost bins and garbage cans are securely covered. 

A note: Some wild animals are protected by law, and some deterrent methods might be restricted. It’s a good idea to make sure the methods you’re considering comply with your local wildlife regulations.

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