Fencing Out Animals

Fences are the most certain way to keep animals out of your garden. However, they are obtrusive, may be expensive, and can be ugly if you don’t pay attention to their looks.

Electric Fences

Although they sound mean, electric fences are humane and effective for keeping out animals. They give a highly unpleasant but harmless shock when touched. They are best used as part of a standard fence, used to keep animals from climbing over or burrowing under.

Control weeds under an electric fence; any that touch it reduce its charge. Electric fences should be left on most of the time, turning them off only when you are working around them. Polytape, a tape of polypropylene with stainless steel strands woven in, is more visible than single-strand wire, and more effective at training animals to respect it.

Electric wire can be used to make a “peanut butter fence”. This fence isn’t really a fence, but a device to train deer to stay out of your garden. String a single strand of electric fence 2 1/2 feet above the ground. Every 3 feet, tape on a piece of aluminum foil about 4 inches square. Dab some peanut butter on each piece of foil. The peanut butter attracts the deer, who gets a frightening but harmless shock and learns to respect the strand of wire.

Fences for Deer

Deer are intelligent and adaptable. It is more difficult to keep them out of your garden after they have gotten used to browsing there and know its delights. Fences are most effective if put in place before the deer get used to feeding on your vegetables. The effectiveness of the fence also depends on the hunger of the deer. Very hungry deer will brave great odds or overcome unusual obstacles to get a meal. You’ll have better luck with well-fed deer who are just exploring.

Deer are excellent high jumpers; an ordinary fence must be 8 feet high to keep deer out, and hungry deer may go over that. However, they are not good at jumping both high and wide. A fence only 4 feet high can keep them out if it is also 4 feet wide. Make a slanted fence by planting 7-foot fence posts at a 45-degree angle, so the top is 4 feet from the ground. The fence should slant away from the plants you are protecting. String woven wire fencing along the fence posts. Make it doubly effective by stringing an electric wire at the top.

The simplest and least expensive deer fence is made of plastic netting sold for the purpose. Usually 8 feet high, it can be strung between trees and bushes as well as fence posts. Use this type of fencing for a quick, temporary barrier.

Floppy-Top Fences

Many small animals will try to climb a fence, but are not good jumpers. You can deter woodchucks, skunks, raccoons, cats, and other climbing animals with a floppy-top fence.

Make the fence of chicken wire or woven wire fencing 4 feet wide. Fence posts should be 2 1/2 feet high. Fasten the wire so the top 18 inches is loose and pull it slightly toward the outside of the garden. This makes the “floppy top” that keeps animals from climbing over. As they climb, the top bends back under their weight, confusing them and keeping them from getting over.

A strand of electric wire along the top of a fence will also keep animals from climbing over.

Apron Fences

Digging animals like rabbits and dogs can be kept out with an apron, an extension of the fencing 2 feet wide that extends along the ground away from the garden. Either bury the apron or peg it down tightly to the ground. Burrowing animals will try to dig under the fence at the vertical portion and be deterred by the apron.

Small-animal fences can be built with both floppy tops and aprons to deter both climbers and diggers.

Underground Fences

Digging animals, mostly pocket gophers and voles (field mice), burrow through the soil to get to your plants, sometimes eating it underground. Plants can be protected from them with underground fences.

To protect one plant or a small group of plants, line the planting hole with chicken wire or hardware cloth before planting. Use 1-inch mesh for gophers or 1/2-inch for voles. This is a good way to protect bulbs. Fill the hole and plant in it as usual. The plant roots will go through the mesh, but the pests won’t be able to eat the bulb or the center of the plant.

Protect raised beds by lining the bottoms with chicken wire or hardware cloth before filling them with soil. This simple measure is very effective at avoiding problems with burrowing rodents.

Underground perimeter fences are probably more trouble than they’re worth, and may not keep gophers out. If you want to try, the fence should extend at least 6 inches above the ground and 18 inches deep, and have a 1-foot apron at the bottom. That means digging a trench 18 inches deep and a foot wide all around your garden, a daunting undertaking. Gophers will easily burrow under a fence without an apron, but the apron may stop them. They have been known to dig burrows as deep as 6 feet, however, so a burrow may still extend under your fence.