How to Keep Animals Out of Your Garden

Learn how to keep animals out of your garden with these proven defenses.

| May/June 2014

  • If you struggle with deer in the garden, consult Rutgers’ list of deer-resistant plants at
    Photo by Veer
  • Cut on the blue lines, and fold on the red.
    Illustration by Nate Skow

Vegetable gardeners are optimists by nature, so we are not inclined to focus on problems that may be hiding in the bushes. But truth be told, almost every garden is threatened by wildlife of some kind, be it hungry rabbits that eat your salad greens down to nubs or the neighborhood cat who uses your beet bed as his litter box. And sure, free-range chickens help earn their keep in summer by eating bugs, but they will scratch through newly planted beds to eat the seeds the moment your back is turned.

Clearly some sort of defense is in order, but enclosing your entire garden with a critter-proof fence is expensive and time-consuming. And, while electric fencing is cheap and effective, it is not a practical solution in gardens shared with children and pets. A better strategy is to protect sensitive new plantings with barriers that hide crops from view and/or keep animals from getting within nibbling range.

Deter Unwanted Wildlife

You may already be using row covers for spring frost protection—this strategy provides the additional benefit of hiding plants from view. When animals cannot see your lettuce or carrots, they won’t try to eat them. When it gets too hot to use row covers, you can switch to covers made of tulle (wedding net), which does not retain heat even when all the edges are securely tucked in with boards and bricks. Tulle is better than bird netting for frustrating berry-eating birds because little hummingbirds don’t get tangled in it, as often happens with bird netting.

Large veggies such as tomatoes and sweet corn quickly outgrow row covers but may still need protection from animals, especially those of the domestic persuasion such as dogs and chickens. Using lightweight polyester poultry netting and a handful of slender stakes, you can quickly enclose a large planting area with a knee-high fence you can step over. Animals will respect the boundary because they encounter it at eye level.

In front-yard gardens or other areas where fences are not practical, many gardeners use motion-detector sprinklers that shoot bursts of water accompanied by clicking sounds when animals come within 35 feet. Although models such as the Contech Scarecrow ($45; available at Amazon) and the Havahart Spray Away ($70; from Havahart) are somewhat pricey, they are effective. They can even change the behavior patterns of animals that have become habitual visitors.

If damage to your garden always happens at night, a solar-powered motion-activated light can work well, especially if you move it every few days so animals do not become accustomed to its light pattern.

5/14/2014 2:51:34 PM

I live out in the country, and I’m also an animal lover…so the issue of animals in the garden is an ongoing one for me. Although it depends on the individual situation of course, something I would add is to plant extra, planning on a certain percentage of loss. I also have found that a dog running loose at night is a great deterrent (although this isn’t always feasible if you have neighbors). We also have tried planting some beds close to the house or driveway, which worked for a while until the deer, turkeys and raccoons got used to it. Rotating where your garden is can help since animals become acclimated to finding a snack in certain locations. For some row houses to help with early starts, as well as deterring animals, try:

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