Protecting Vegetable Gardens from Small Animals

Small animals are easer to fence out than deer, and that is the best defense with most.

Moles

These insectivores are looking for earthworms or insects when they visit your garden, but may burrow so much around the roots of a plant that it dries out and dies. They are best controlled with traps. Step on a couple of runnels (surface runs) in the evening and see which are opened up again the next day. Set a mole trap on an active run.

Voles

Voles, also called meadow mice or field mice, make runways above the ground that are often the first clues to their presence. The runways usually run from one hole to another. The holes are about 2 inches in diameter.

Like other rodents, voles like cover. They are fond of ground covers and deep mulches. Discourage them by surrounding your garden with lawn. If you have a vole problem, avoid making mulches too deep, and don’t pull them up to the stems of plants; voles will use the mulch for cover to eat the plant.

Because they are so small and dig so well, voles are difficult to fence out. However, you can protect individual plants with a wire basket. See Fencing Out Animals for a discussion.

Trapping is probably the best control method. Set a live trap or ordinary mousetrap in a run, baited with peanut butter, apples, cookies, or grain. If you catch a vole, set it again in the same spot. Continue until you don’t catch any more voles at that location, then move it to another run 10 or 15 feet away. When you don’t catch any more, destroy the tunnel entrances to discourage more voles from taking up residence there.

Pocket Gophers

Unlike voles, gophers are solitary animals; if you catch the one that’s bothering you, your problem is solved, at least for a while. Trap gophers with gopher traps, used in pairs. With a probe, locate an underground run and dig down to it. Place a trap in the gopher hole in each direction. Place a board over the hole to exclude light. Check the traps every day.

Fence gophers out of raised beds or from individual plants with an underground fence. See Fencing Out Animals .

Rabbits

Most people find rabbits appealing and like their presence, if only they wouldn’t eat their vegetables! Fortunately, the best way to control rabbits is to fence them out of the garden, so you can still enjoy them around the yard.

They don’t jump well, so a fence only 3 feet high will keep them out. Bend the bottom outward to keep them from digging under; see Fencing Out Animals for instructions. Rabbits don’t like to stray far from cover, so a sweep of clean lawn around the garden makes it much less attractive to them, and may keep them from discovering it at all.

Raccoons

Raccoons are intelligent, tough, and dexterous. They have foiled many attempts to exclude them. You might find them in the city as well as the suburbs and country. They are omnivores, and relish an ear of corn or an almost-ripe melon as well as a crayfish, insect, or mouse . . . or your garbage. They may also tear holes in your lawn looking for grubs.

Repellents are effective against raccoons. People have reported success with people-scented dirty laundry or hair, dog droppings, baby powder, and cayenne pepper. An alert dog in the back yard will also keep them away.

The best defense, though, is a good fence. Make a floppy-top fence 4 feet high with an apron bottom. See Fencing Out Animals for instructions. An electric strand at the top of a 4-foot fence is also effective.

If you decide to live-trap and relocate the raccoon, be careful. For all their cute appearance, raccoons can be dangerous.