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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. No need erecting 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.
Boy can deer jump high! To keep Bambi out of the broccoli and beans, try using an 8-foot high black polypropylene mesh fencing attached to sturdy metal posts with zip ties or stapled to wooden posts.
Other than 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 snug 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 deer are most likely to come.
If your budget is tight, try this: For years we made do with light weight plastic mesh fencing wired onto tall metal rebar posts. Occasionally a wayward moose or spooked deer running full tilt would break through it but, other than trampling a few plants, 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 even bend the rebar, we take it down after the garden season is over.
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 the heavier posts and stronger fencing material for most of the garden. Since we have not only deer but 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 4 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 needs to be unattached to the post at the top 12 inches. A 4-foot fence with a floppy top will them from climbing it. Bend it slightly outward so it flops over under their weight and prevents them from making it into the garden.
When it comes to squirrels, look specifically for fencing that’s meant for them or rats. (Standard chicken wire has holes that a determined squirrel can squeeze through.) Of course, you can also squirrel-proof you 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 fencing might be perfect for you. For years we strung 3 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 keep the grass under it trimmed. 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 at about 4 inches from the ground. Beekeepers use electric fencing to keep bears from raiding their hives so it can be very effective. A single strand of electric wire added to the top of any fence will help to discourage climbers from scaling the fence. Just make sure that whatever fencing you are planning 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 simply need to go 2 feet up the trunk and a few inches below the ground to keep critters from gnawing on the bark in wintertime.