Garden Fences: Keeping Wildlife on the Outs

April 19, 2011

Edible gardeners recognize the importance of garden fencing to keep rabbits, groundhogs, and other critters from ruining all the time and effort invested in their precious produce. Choosing and setting up a garden fence is just a start; the real challange is in to keep wildlife on the outside looking in with envy at your tasty veggies.

The following email received from Bob:

I am on the hunt for fencing. You used some great looking fence material in your YouTube Video. Would you mind sharing with me where to purchase that specific fencing

and a question posted by Andrea on the VGT Facebook Page:

“I saw some fencing that was similar at Home Depot and Lowe’s but it wasn’t as tall… we are looking to have at least a 4′ fence,”

both requested information regarding the particular fencing that I used in the garden a few seasons ago. I’ll share my sources in a minute but want to start by offering some disclaimers and cautions to anyone expecting an easy fix to keep four-legged pests out of the garden!

Choosing a Fence to Protect the Vegetable Garden

The bad news is that 1) there isn’t a perfect solution that will work in every situation… 2) fences can be incredibly expensive and… 3) nothing is worse than installing a new fence and then realizing that it isn’t very effective. The good news is that there are various techniques that can be used or combined to protect a vegetable garden in spite of hungry critters.

The primary focus is usually on the height of a fence and making sure that it is too tall for animals, in my case primarily rabbits and groundhogs to go over the top. It didn’t take long for me to discover that groundhogs are great climbers and that rabbits can go right through mesh sizes that you would expect to keep them out.

So always use the smallest mesh size that you can find if rabbits are a nuisance in your garden. If you discover after the fact that your fence’s meshing isn’t tight enough, one fix would be to wire a section of chicken wire onto the bottom of an existing fence.

Tweaking Your Fence to Keep Out Specific Pests

For groundhogs flare the bottom of the fence outward and set it on the ground so that they can’t go underneath, and leave the top of the fence unattached to the posts so that the fence will flop backwards and make the climb more difficult.

To combat athletic leapers like deer you’ll need a taller fence that will make more it a bit of a challenge for them to jump over. Some gardeners employ a double row of fencing so the deer can’t clear both at the same time, and also don’t have enough room to jump, land, and then jump again to get over a second barrier.

Strips of ribbon tied to a strand of wire placed above the top of a fence can also provide some additional protection as the ribbons flutter in the breezes, reflect light, and make noises that can spook animals prevent them for getting comfortable around your veggie patch.

Harnessing the Sun to Create an Effective Barrier around the Garden

Two seasons ago I started using a solar powered electric fence around the garden and have gotten good results with it. This fence has plastic netting that is less than three feet tall and is easy to step over but creates a barrier to the rabbits and groundhogs in my area.

Unfortunately I have had one or two rabbits figure things out and simply take the charge to get in and out of the garden. That might be partly my fault for leaving the netting up but disconnected from the energizer during the winter months.

Electric fencing may be prohibited in some communities so do your homework first to determine if this is a good option for you. It also could be an issue if you have toddlers who are unsupervised around the fencing.

Local and Internet Sources for Obtaining Garden Fences

It is worth shopping around because there are noticeable differences in quality, and some of the fencing around has a very lightweight gauge that won’t hold up as well. In addition to local home and garden centers or farm supply outlets there are Internet sources that supply fencing but the problem there is that the shipping costs can dramatically increase the costs.

The fencing used in my video was purchased from the Louis Page Fence Company. They often feature discounted or discontinued rolls of vinyl clad wire fencing that are advertised on their website.

My electric fencing was purchased from Premier One. I went with a 30″ VersaNet and a Patriot solar energizer. I’ve seen less expensive kits on the market but can’t personally comment as to their effectiveness or reliability. The Premier One products are a breeze to install, maintain, and even to move if necessary.

A New Source for Deer, Rabbit, and Groundhog Barriers

Another promising source of fencing that I stumbled across at a spring garden show is Benner’s Gardens. They specialize in deer proof fencing that is designed to be difficult for deer to see… the idea being that if they can’t judge how tall the fence is they aren’t going to try and jump over it.

Benner also markets a rabbit and groundhog barrier consisting of a two or three foot high PVC coated steel mesh barrier. It sounds like this is intended to be attached to the bottom of the taller deer fencing but it’s also available in other sizes that may work well on their own.

So keep in mind that there is no perfect fencing solution that will be 100% effective all of the time. The next entry will share some ideas that can be used in addition to fencing to deter wildlife and provide security that you may not get with a fence alone. In the meantime feel free to share your own tips and tricks for keeping those critters at bay!

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • Kristine

    I am a gardener in Southeastern PA and I installed a Benner’s Gardens Small garden enclosure three years ago. It is very effective at keeping deer out. I love it and couldn’t grow vegetables on my property without it. My only suggestion to anyone interested would be to go ahead and spring for the rabbit and groundhog barrier. Groundhogs can and will snip right through the mesh!

  • While the taller fences such as the Benner mentioned are indeed effective ( I have one) I did later learn of a somewhat less expensive alternative. 7 ft tall fences aren’t cheap.

    Deer have terrible depth perception. As a result, many people here in “Deer Alley” of South Texas have gone to a double fencing system. The first outer barrier is generally a simple electric strand with maybe some stock fencing below it. Only 4 feet tall bot slanted slightly outward at the top. the second row is only about 3 – 31/2 feet in and is a standard 4 foot stock fence, or multiple strands of wire. White cloth or tape strips are tied to the fence. You want the deer to see it. The outer electric strand is baited with some peanut butter for a while to get the deer to know it’s electric. With the fence slanted outward, it becomes even more difficult for the deer to determine room for a jump.

    Since they can’t judge well if they can jump the first barrier, they generally don’t try. At least that’s the theory. I have neighbors that swear by this system, and it’s a lot less money.

    Of course, the best anti-deer remedy is a dog or dogs roaming the property. One expert I interviewed on one of my podcasts even described a “20 Chihuahua Anti-Deer System” used by one fellow!

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  • Trent

    I’m a gardener in Missouri. Last year I had some deers that visited my vegetable garden every night. After doing my searching online – I decided to go with the deodorant soap technique and, I was skeptical at first but believe it or not, it did work and it only cost me about $3.

  • Michael

    Kenny: My above ground garden, is doing very well. End of May, picking sugar peas and green beans, and I just started the garden, at Easter. Flowers on everything else, and 12 cucumbers on the vine. Unfortunately, I ran into my first pest problem, this past week. Rats!
    40 acres of swamp and field behind my house, with snakes, alligators, rabbits, squirrels, etc., and I get rats? Any suggestions for green bean eating rats?

  • Michael – From the description, I was wondering do you maybe mean Muskrats? What sort of evidence have you found pointing you to rats? I guess if you’ve seen them that would confirm it, but was just wondering?

  • Michael

    Steve: Oh, it’s rats, for shure! My son’s dogs have killed several, and we have traps on our screened in carport. So far this year, we have killed at least 10. We get field mice too, but the whole back yard is fenced off. We are in city limits, so we have an ordanance about fire arms, otherwise I’d be sitting out there at night with my rifle. I heard that planting garlic, in the sme boxes would help, and I have at least 10 different boxes???

  • I’m using a huge net, supported on 6 hefty posts, to keep off the pigeons, rooks and smaller birds from eating my veggies. I also have a problem with rabbits, so I’ve got about 8 chicken wire panels dug in around the veg patch to keep them out. It was a lot of hard work at the beginning of the year setting all this up, but now I’m reaping the rewards of a pest-free vegetable garden.

  • We install a few rabbit fences around the UK, generally we use a chicken net wire mesh supported on stakes. We bury the lower part of the mesh 12 inches deep with a 3-4 inch return at the bottom of the slit trench.

    It can be quite alot of digging if you haven’t got a machine, but the results are good if you are looking to keep rabbits out!

  • Sam Osborne

    Keep in mind that gates can have space underneath so measuring and trenching the gate can be useful. Step on the outside with the gate flush so it closes any gaps stops those pesky rabbits! Found a few guides, this seemed the most useful (outside of manufacturers instructions which will obviously differ)

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