Choose the Best Vegetable Garden Fence

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What type of fencing keeps deer, rabbits, and critters out of the garden

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Need a fence to keep animals out of your garden? Build the fence to fit the animal—be it deer, rabbit, or groundhog! We’ll explain what type of fence you need, how high it should be, and other tips to protect your vegetables from being eaten.

In the poem Mending Wall, Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors,” but they also make good gardens.

Know Your Enemy

Frost also advises us to know what we are walling in and walling out, so before you begin, know your enemy. There is no need to erect a 7 to 8-foot tall deer fence if it is a rabbit that is nibbling your nasturtiums or a woodchuck chomping the Swiss chard.

Deer have no front teeth on top, so they tear the leaves rather than neatly clipping them as a woodchuck or rabbit would.

Jagged edges left behind on grazed plants indicate deer damage, while a clean cut means rabbits or woodchucks are probably the culprits. Look for footprints in soft soil. Tell-tale sharp, pointy hoof marks mean deer have been there.

Deer prints are easy to see in the snow.

Deer Fencing

Boy, can deer jump high! To keep Bambi out of the broccoli and beans, use 8-foot high black polypropylene mesh fencing attached to sturdy metal posts with zip ties or stapled to wooden posts.

Besides the tall posts, the fencing is not very noticeable, making it look less like Alcatraz.

The fence practically disappears visually for most of the year, only being obvious against the snowy white background in winter or when covered with ice.

Ice can weigh down a fence and even rip it.

Be sure to pin it down snugly between post stakes with ground stakes to keep clever deer from ducking underneath. Because of how deer jump, it’s also best to slant the fence at a 45-degree angle in the direction where deer are most likely to come. 

Learn more ways to deter deer!

If your budget is tight, try this: We made do with lightweight plastic mesh fencing wired onto tall metal rebar posts for years. Occasionally, a wayward moose or spooked deer running full tilt would break through it, but they did not stay long enough to dine on anything, and it successfully kept the marauders out. We still enclose one of our gardens that way, and it might be all you need to deter them. Since heavy, wet snow and ice can weigh down the fencing enough to rip it or bend the rebar, we take it down after the garden season.

Ice can coat the mesh and weigh down the fence. It also weighs down any neighboring tree branches.

When we added fruit trees that needed year-round protection, we turned to heavier posts and more robust fencing material for most of the garden. Since we have deer, woodchucks, and porcupines who like to visit the garden, we added galvanized chicken wire to the bottom of the fence, burying the lower 6 to 8 inches to keep them from digging or crawling underneath.

The addition of chicken wire kept the porcupines from getting into the garden. They are like bulldozers, flattening what they do not eat.

They can’t gnaw through the metal, either. If mice and voles are a problem, you’ll need to use wire with tighter holes, such as hardware cloth. Since they are experts at tunneling, bury at least a foot of the wire.

Here are the four kinds of fencing we’ve mentioned from left to right- heavy mesh polypropylene, lightweight plastic mesh, galvanized metal hardware cloth, and galvanized chicken wire.

Squirrels, Raccoons, and Climbers

If climbers, including squirrels and raccoons, are a problem, any fence must be unattached to the post at the top 12 inches. A 4-foot fence with a floppy top will prevent them from climbing it. Bend it slightly outward so it flops over under their weight and prevents them from making it into the garden.

Regarding squirrels, look specifically for fencing meant for them or rats. (Standard chicken wire has holes a determined squirrel can squeeze through.) Of course, you can also squirrel-proof your vegetable beds by installing row covers, bird netting, or hardware cloth. Learn more about deterring squirrels.

Don’t let this cute baby raccoon fool you. His whole family is waiting to invade your garden after dark.

Rabbits, Woodchucks, and Diggers

If you have a problem with determined little diggers such as rabbits, woodchucks, armadillos, skunks, or gophers, a shorter, 5-foot-tall, chicken wire fence will do as long as you bury the bottom 12 inches. Instead of going straight down, bend half of the bottom in an L-shape and bury it several inches deep to thwart the diggers. Learn more about ways to keep rabbits away.

Armadillos have long sharp claws perfect for digging their way into your garden.

Electric Fences

Electric fencing might be perfect for you. For years, we strung three strands of electric wire at 12, 30, and 48 inches high to keep the deer out of our old vegetable garden. It worked well as long as it didn’t ground out when a branch fell on it, or we failed to trim the grass under it. After a shock or two, they respect its power and give it a wide berth.

If you are trying to deter smaller animals, put the strands lower down where they’ll encounter them, starting about 4 inches from the ground. Beekeepers use electric fencing to keep bears from raiding their hives, which can be very effective. A single strand of electric wire added to any fence’s top will help discourage climbers from scaling the fence. Make sure that whatever fencing you plan to use is allowed in your community.

We have a herd of neighborhood deer that visit our garden year-round. That’s what we get for living in the woods!

Don’t forget about the trees! You can use wire mesh guards to protect their trunks. They must go 2 feet up the trunk and a few inches below the ground to keep critters from gnawing on the bark in wintertime.

Learn more about deterring skunks in the garden as well as keeping birds away from the garden.

About The Author

Robin Sweetser

Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. Read More from Robin Sweetser

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