Preview: It seems that whenever you start a garden, all of a sudden you have critters you’ve never seen showing up to eat your hard work. So what can you do to keep them away from your fresh vegetables? Here are some ideas of ways to keep critters out of your garden.
It’s been a long day at work. So are hot and tired and just want to put a quick meal on the table. So you decide to stroll out to the garden for some lettuce for a salad. You know you are just minutes away from dinner since you have some leftover grilled chicken in the refrigerator. You arrive in the garden, only to realize that most of your lettuce is gone. Where did it go? What could have demolished your lettuce overnight? And what can you do to prevent this from happening again?
What Is Eating My Garden?
The first step to keeping critters out of your garden is to determine what types of critters you are dealing with. If you aren’t sure, start investigating. Are the critters eating the plant or just the fruit or vegetable? Has the plant been eaten off at the stem or from the top? Are there any paw prints in the garden? Have you found any droppings that can help you ID your pest?
If you determine that bugs are doing the damage, check out 4 Ways to Get Rid of Bad Bugs In Your Garden and Growing Flowers in the Vegetable Garden. However, if you discover that it’s not bugs, but critters eating your produce, there are several ways to keep them out. Some ways are easier and less expensive than others, so depending on what’s eating your vegetables, choose the method that makes the most sense for you.
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If rabbits are eating your garden, you will usually find their droppings on the ground around your plants. If you don’t know what rabbit droppings look like, they are small balls that will be in a pile together. Occasionally, there will be a trail of them, but most often a pile.
I have fought the battle with rabbits in my garden for years. If you have a dog that is left outside at night, he or she will probably keep the rabbits at bay. If that’s not the case, you will have to take more drastic action. Rabbits love to eat young bean and pea plants and they will eat them off all the way to the ground. Funny enough, the rabbits always left my carrots and lettuce alone.
Things to sprinkle and spray
As a first line of defense, you can sprinkle cayenne pepper on the leaves and around the ground near the plants. Go easy on the leaves of your vegetables because it can burn them. Try not to sprinkle any on the vegetables themselves or you may taste the cayenne pepper when you go to harvest your crop. The downside to this method is that the cayenne pepper has to be reapplied after every rainfall.
You can also purchase repellents that you can spray around your garden to keep rabbits away. Some will even work for multiple pests. This spray from Tomcat is supposed to protect from rabbits, squirrels, and groundhogs. Unlike homemade repellents, this is supposed to be rain resistant and stink free.
If you want something more permanent to keep rabbits out of your garden, a fence is the way to go. While more expensive up front, it doesn’t require much of your time once it’s up. However, you must have a sturdy fence. It doesn’t need to be but about 2 1/2 feet tall, but it does need to be something they can’t chew through. I tried bird netting at first, but my rabbits chewed through that in under an hour. Yes, one hour. I found a hole one evening, repaired it, and an hour later they had chewed through my patch and were back in my garden happily munching away! GRRRR!
Don’t bother with the plastic stuff they sell as rabbit fencing either. Though it is thick, my rabbits chewed several holes in this in one night and ate all my tender bean plants. I was fed up! So I finally purchased 3 foot chicken wire to run around my garden. I turned 6 inches of the wire out so that the rabbits couldn’t dig under it and so far this has worked well.
After installing my chicken wire fence, I thought I was finally getting ahead in my garden, but then along came my next problem…
Deer can be a menace to your garden. They can chomp through a large garden seemingly overnight. If you find leaves and stems of your plants eaten, especially taller ones that bunnies can’t eat, you are probably dealing with a deer problem. Whereas rabbits prefer tender vegetation, deer don’t seem to mind eating spiky okra plants or sharp tasting tomatoes.
One year, we went on a week-long vacation. I came home and my tomato plants had been mowed to the ground. Yes, all 42 of them were basically gone. While on vacation, the deer had a feast! Most of the tomato plants eventually recovered somewhat, but I sure didn’t get many tomatoes. That was the year we decided to put up electric fencing.
While we chose electric fencing, for its ease and relative low cost, there are other options. Any fence you are building to keep deer out needs to be at least 7 feet tall but 8 feet is best. Deer can jump quite high and will scale a low fence with no problem to eat your vegetables. Almost any type of tall fencing will work from electric fencing to wire fence to wooden slats.
You can also use pepper spray or purchased repellents. (Keep reading for more info on these.)
Raccoons can be very tricky to keep out of your garden. Several years ago, my Mom was growing a good bit of corn. (We always go in together and plant a large plot.) She had checked a couple ears and they were almost ripe. A couple days later, she went out to get them and couldn’t find them. This kept happening numerous times, even though she was sure she knew where the ripe ears were. When my Dad mowed the field right beside their house, he found the corn that had been missing. The raccoons were pulling it up by the stalks and taking it to the field to eat it. AARRRGG!!!
A raccoon will usually just eat the ripe or almost ripe fruits and veggies in your garden. Raccoons tend to love cantaloupes and watermelons, as well as corn. They will bust one open and eat it (or part of it) in a heartbeat. From then on, they will be back and they seem to have an uncanny ability to know exactly when the produce will be ripe.
Ways to Keep Raccoons Out of the Garden
There are several ways to deal with raccoons in the garden, however be prepared to vary your methods. Raccoons are very smart critters. Some people recommend a pepper spray, but to actually keep the raccoons from eating your produce, you have to spray it on the veggies themselves. So your tomatoes will likely taste of pepper spray. Yuck. You might can get away with using it on cantaloupes and watermelons though, since you don’t eat the skin of either fruit.
If you don’t plan on using electric fence (see below) I would try solar powered motion lights in the garden to scare raccoons away at night. This is probably the easiest and cheapest method. Some of the lights blink at random times and vary the patterns so the critters don’t get used to them.
You can also try motion activated sprinklers but these do require a hose connection near your garden. If you aren’t careful you may end up wet if you accidentally forget to turn the sprinkler off before entering your garden. I have heard about using a radio to scare the raccoons away. However, I have my doubts about this method. I feel that after a few days, the raccoons would get used to the noise. Plus, you have to have a dry location near your garden to put a radio and an electrical outlet to plug it in. Feel free to give it a try if you would like, but I think the other methods would be a bit easier.
The best way to keep raccoons out of the garden is with an electric fence, though it is still not fool proof. It is recommended to put one wire about 6″ above the ground and the second wire about a foot above the ground. If deer are also a problem, you can continue stringing wire up the poles about 18″ apart until you get to at least 7 feet high.
It can be difficult to determine whether you are dealing with an opossum (a.k.a possums-I live in the south, y’all!) or a raccoon, but the methods for controlling them are the same.
Possums are a nuisance in the garden as well, but they usually aren’t as difficult to control as other animals. They can often be kept out of the garden with many of the same tactics used to control raccoons. You can purchase repellents or use the solar powered motion lights to keep possums out of the garden. Keep in mind that most repellents will have to be reapplied frequently, especially after a rainfall.
Can You Keep Squirrels Out of the Garden?
Squirrels will oftentimes carry the produce out of your garden to consume it. If you keep noticing that you are missing tomatoes that you thought we almost ripe, you can bet it’s a squirrel.
Squirrels are the one critter I can’t seem to keep out. One morning, I looked out my kitchen window and saw a perfectly ripe tomato sitting on a 7 foot high fence post around my garden. I wondered how it got there. A little bit later, when I looked out again, there was a squirrel happily munching away at that tomato.
The squirrels seem to get in and steal my veggies no matter what I do. Fences don’t keep them out and I’ve tried repellents that work briefly, but anytime I forget to reapply after a rainfall, the squirrels seem to know it and show up. Any advice that you have on keeping squirrels out the garden would be greatly appreciated.
Our Current Setup to Keep Critters Out of The Garden
We have lots of critters in our yard. Rabbits, deer, raccoons, possums, and squirrels are regulars around our farm. So while I have shared how to handle each critter individually, here is what has worked to keep the majority of these pests from destroying our garden.
For reference, our garden is about 35 feet by 45 feet. We purchased a solar charger and bumblebee wire for our electric fence. (I chose this particular charger because I wanted to be able to turn it off during the day when my boys were outside playing.) We set 5 cedar posts, one at each corner, and the fifth one for the gate.
Between each cedar post, we drove two T posts equal distance apart. I attached 3′ chicken wire all the way around the garden, turning about 6-8″ of the wire out so that rabbits couldn’t dig under it. Then, I started the first strand of bumblebee wire 6″ above the chicken wire. Each additional strand of wire was 18″ above the previous strand with a total of 4 strands of wire. This put my fence roughly 7 1/2 feet tall.
For the cedar posts, we used nail in connectors (These are black. Ours are yellow. I would have preferred the black, but I’m not changing them now.) For the metal T posts, we used insulators that snapped on to the T posts. You will see there are many kinds to choose from, so pick a type for the kind of posts you are using.
So far, this setup has worked to keep out rabbits, deer, possums, and most of the raccoons. While we do occasionally lose a few tomatoes to the squirrels, we’ve come to accept that and just plant a few extras.
What Kind of Critters Visit Your Garden?
Do you have trouble with keeping critters out of your garden? What animal causes the biggest problem in your yard? I would love to know. Leave a comment below and tell me how you deal with the animals eating your garden veggies.