Keeping Animals Out of Your Vegetable Garden

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Tue, May 24, 2016 - 9:03pm

Keeping Animals Out of Your Vegetable Garden

There is a lot of wildlife and there are quite a few pets in our area. Just today, I saw squirrels, a weasel, five species of songbirds, a mouse, an osprey, a sharp-shinned hawk, and large turtles. I've recently seen deer and red foxes and opossums. That population is on top of all the cats and dogs. Here are things I've learned from experience, things I've seen, things I've read about to keep them out of my garden.

Raised beds. Small animals like rabbits are often reluctant to leave ground level to jump up into a raised bed. But in my experience, it has to be more than a few inches above the ground for that to work. Rabbits loved to nibble on my 6" raised bed full of lettuce, until I...

Moved the things getting nibbled on. When unappetizing leeks and onions replaced the lettuce on the edge of the yard near the woods, Peter cottontail stayed away. We moved the lettuce and carrots nearer to the house, and they were left alone. We also...

Planted distractions. Some of these were foods they could eat while leaving the human's food alone: for example, mulberries to distract birds and squirrels from strawberries. Grapes on the fence by the wood to distract squirrels from the grape trellis in the front yard. Jerusalem artichokes to distract birds from sunflower seeds. That sort of thing. Of course, some of the distractions were...

Mechanical or man-made distractions. We're not above putting an aluminum pie pan on a string near a favorite crop. It works to keep birds and squirrels away, but only for a couple of weeks until they learn the light and noise are not dangerous. Leaving a porch light on scares most animals, too. Large animals like deer can be deterred by motion-sensitive lights.  Of course, to keep many of them out you can...

Put up a fence.  Wandering dogs and children will be foiled. That does not work with deer unless it's a really tall fence, though. I mean insanely TALL. Although a tall length of fishing line confuses deer when it makes your fence seem higher than it is. For deer we resort to...

Chemical warfare. Plant thorny bushes or a habanero pepper plant nearest where deer are entering your garden (they'll eat jalapenos, but not those!) Try putting human hair from your comb or haircut on the plants, and try tying strongly-scented dryer sheets at intervals. Or you could just use other kinds of...

Barricades. I love chicken wire as a barricade (see the cage on the strawberries, above). Pollinators can get in, but little paws cannot. I lay chicken wire flat on my seedlings to keep cats from using freshly-turned raised beds as litter boxes. Bird netting also falls into the category, and to some extent so do row covers.

What strategies do you use to keep critters out of your garden? Tell us in the comments.

 

 

18 Comments

Bytesmiths's picture
Bytesmiths
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Yogurt containers keep out cutworms
  1. Go to your local recycling centre and fish a bunch of yogurt containers out of their bin. The taller, the better.
  2. Cut them into 2-3 cm (1") strips.
  3. Put these strips around your tender plant starts, such as lettuce, cabbage, brassicas, etc. Press them into the soil slightly.

Now when those cutworms crawl across the ground, seeking to mow your young starts down, all they'll eat is plastic.

Patou's picture
Patou
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Keeping animals out of garden

My vegetable garden us a circle ,so all I have to do is turn on the sprinkler.
It's covered with chicken wire around and overhead and I recently put hardware cloth all around the bottom to stop my dogs digging under.
And when I plant new trees I search out mesquite trees with the largest thorns, prune them, and put the branches around the tree to disuade my dogs from digging or laying in the nice wet dirt.

Michael_Rudmin's picture
Michael_Rudmin
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aaah, the famous Mesquite tree.

As I remember the story, George Washington chopped down his father's favorite mesquite tree. Yes, it was a Mesquite, NOT a cherry tree (Easterners didn't know what a mesquite was).

Anyhow, his father asked him, "George, did you chop down my favorite mesquite tree?" And George answered, “Father, I cannot tell a lie. You as..."

Whereupon George's father forgot all about his mesquite tree, and interrupted him: “George, if you cannot tell a lie, you cannot be a Texan. I'm sending you to live with your grandparents in Virginia."

Of course, there was a later George W for whom the story did NOT end so well (he got a whuppin and had to stay in Texas).

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
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Ideas for keeping birds from eating cherries from cherry trees?

Hi All-

   This is a little divergence from the topic thread, because it is not about keeping critters away from vegetable gardens, but it is kind of related.  But if anyone has a tried-and-true method for keeping birds from eating all the cherries from your cherry trees, I'm all ears! 

    I am getting my first real crop of cherries from one of my dwarf sour cherry trees this year, which I am very excited about.  However, when I was checking it out the other night, I noticed that the number of cherries (even though still green) seemed significantly reduced already!  So I suspect (and and on-line search confirmed) that I already have a bird-problem.

   I had bought some bird netting and struggled today to get that to cover as much of the tree as possible.  But I may have let the tree grow too tall; I couldn't come close to covering the top or upper branches, and was only able to drape netting on the branches from about 8 or 10 feet down.  One of my books suggested a PVC frame which you then cover with the bird netting...that may actually be an easier approach. 

   The other thing about the netting I'm using is that I am concerned I am going to have birds getting tangled in it, which would bother me.

   Next, I'm going to try putting my garden owl out on a tall bean pole by the tree.  It seemed to help with my apples trees last year, maybe it will help with birds and cherries.

   Do you guys have any other suggestions that have worked for you? 

Michael_Rudmin's picture
Michael_Rudmin
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couple ideas about birds and cherries

1) black cherries: the birds are less efficient about destruction
2) race to harvest.
3) sit back and enjoy your birds. For us it was sunflower seeds... The gold finch would only eat a seed&aseed&aseed... I joked about getting an extra large harvest of cold-pressed goldfinch oil. But truth be known, the reduction in stress that I got by seeing the goldfinches was worth it.
4) Get pigeons. Let THEIR marauding pay you back in eggs in your dovecote.
5) if your tree is too high to cover, it's too high to harvest. Let the birds have those top fruits.

Tall's picture
Tall
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Protecting fruit
pinecarr wrote:

Hi All-

   This is a little divergence from the topic thread, because it is not about keeping critters away from vegetable gardens, but it is kind of related.  But if anyone has a tried-and-true method for keeping birds from eating all the cherries from your cherry trees, I'm all ears! 

    I am getting my first real crop of cherries from one of my dwarf sour cherry trees this year, which I am very excited about.  However, when I was checking it out the other night, I noticed that the number of cherries (even though still green) seemed significantly reduced already!  So I suspect (and and on-line search confirmed) that I already have a bird-problem.

   I had bought some bird netting and struggled today to get that to cover as much of the tree as possible.  But I may have let the tree grow too tall; I couldn't come close to covering the top or upper branches, and was only able to drape netting on the branches from about 8 or 10 feet down.  One of my books suggested a PVC frame which you then cover with the bird netting...that may actually be an easier approach. 

   The other thing about the netting I'm using is that I am concerned I am going to have birds getting tangled in it, which would bother me.

   Next, I'm going to try putting my garden owl out on a tall bean pole by the tree.  It seemed to help with my apples trees last year, maybe it will help with birds and cherries.

   Do you guys have any other suggestions that have worked for you? 

I have had a bad experience with bird netting. I have accidentally trapped and killed birds and snakes in the net.

However, I found a product that excludes animals safely (including some insects) without killing wildlife. It is shadecloth. It comes in multiple densities. I use the lowest density (30% shade) to cover my blueberry, blackberry and cherry trees after fruit has set, but before it ripens.Yes, pruning to keep the fruit within reach is a useful technique if you want to cover the plants. 

See an example of shadecloth here: http://www.greenhousemegastore.com/product/30-percent-black-shade-cloth/shade-cloth_1

Artificial owls are somewhat useful. Be sure to move it around, take it out of the garden some days. If you leave it in one place, they learn that it is not real within days to weeks.

 

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
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Thanks for the suggestions, Michael and Tall

Tall, I like the idea of the shade cloth; thanks for the suggestion.  I checked out the link for the shade cloth you provided, and have a couple of questions:

1) Is this a solid fabric or still a netting (but with much smaller openings)?

2) Is this the same brand you tried?  (I would feel much more comfortable buying it if it is the same brand you've had success with.  Otherwise I will do extra research to see if I can find reviews on the different brands to make sure I'm buying something of decent quality)

I just checked out my cherry tree, partially covered with bird netting.  So far no birds stuck in it.  Maybe it is because I hung narrow tin foil strips all over so the birds would be scared away (or at least realize that there was something there to avoid).  Or maybe it is just because they have free access to the top of the tree and are happy with that! :p

Another interesting suggestion I found was rubber garden snakes!! http://www.amazon.com/Green-Garden-Snakes-Great-Rubber/dp/B007P5321C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1465128795&sr=8-1&keywords=garden+rubber+snake . 

Sure would be easier (and cheaper) than putting up bird netting!!  Hmmm...the neighbors might not be thrilled looking across at trees with snakes hanging down, though!

Tall's picture
Tall
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Shade cloth

Pinecarr, snakes need to moved daily just like owls. The birds figure out they are not real if they remain stationary.

The shade cloth is a fine mesh. The finer the mesh, the higher the shade value. I used a different vendor about 12 years ago that fabricated custom widths and sizes for me to cover different types of plants. I do not remember the vendor.

When you research a source, the important aspect is expected and / or guaranteed lifetime. Higher UV resistance is associated with longer life.  Mine has lasted with no problems for a dozen years, but I bring it indoors, dry, clean, folded and protect it from rodents (in storage lockers) after each harvest for the winter months.

I have heard others hang small plastic beads colored and shaped like the fruit you are trying to protect on trees - leave them there year round. The birds habituate to the fake fruit and do not go after your real fruit when it emerges. I have not tried this, but it may be worth a try.

Good luck!

Tall

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pinecarr
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Thanks for the additional info, Tall!

Ah, it would have been so easy if I could have ridden in the wake of your successful buying decision!  :)   Thanks, though, for the additional info on your shade cloth.  It's really good to hear that yours is lasting so well.  I can't imagine that the bird netting I have now (this stuff: http://www.amazon.com/Gardeneer-Dalen-Bird-X-Protective-Netting/dp/B000BQ81A4/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1465150147&sr=8-8&keywords=bird+netting ) would last more than a season or two; it catches on everything, and I expect it will not fare well when I have to take it off the tree at the end of the season. 

Eric R Abrams's picture
Eric R Abrams
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Shade Cloth is Good

I concur with using 30% shade cloth to cover and protect fruit trees.  It is durable and coarse enough to not catch birds.  I have saved many a quail and cardinal from the fine light green netting that is sold for this purpose.  Plus, this fruit tree netting is so fine it can, in the best of situations, last only one season.  I like to build a PVC dome over my trees using 1/2 inch pipe.  I use 8 separate, long pieces 25 to 30 feet long each (you'll have to use a PVC sleeve to extend the lengths of the poles as most of the time you can only find the PVC in 20 foot lengths), depending on the size of the tree, that are secured in place with re-bar driven in the ground in a circle around the tree ensuring that each re-bar piece has a partner on the opposite side of the trunk.  Stick one end in the re-bar and bend it down and stick the other end down.  Where the pipes intersect at the top I tie them together with light cord.  It make kind of a cool looking dome over your tree.  The white PVC dome is a little stark for my taste so I painted the pipe dark green. Then just throw your 30% shade cloth over it. If your shade cloth is not big enough you can put a run of chicken wire at the base. Doing this you will save most of your crop and you can still throw some fruit out for the birds and the bunnies. . 

sand_puppy's picture
sand_puppy
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Fruit tree dome picture, please

Hi Eric R Abrams,

Could you please take a picture of what a PVC dome looks like?

Thank you,

Sand_puppy

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
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Thanks Eric!

That's really good info, Eric; thanks!  Two positive votes for shade cloth from folks here goes a long way in my book!

You wouldn't happen to remember what brand of shade cloth you bought, by any chance?  Some of the ones I looked at on Amazon, big enough for a fruit tree, have mixed or no reviews.  It isn't cheap, so I'd prefer buying something I know someone has had good success with.

Thanks!

robshepler's picture
robshepler
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Row cover material

We used the spun poly row cover material to cover our grapes last year, worked like a charm. I bet it would work to cover a fruit tree. It is less expensive than shade cloth but not as durable. Spring loaded clips keep it in place. Farmtek and Johnny's have many sizes.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Posts: 1982
shade cloth

I've used shade cloth as bird netting. It works.

Eric R Abrams's picture
Eric R Abrams
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Links to buy Shade Cloth

Hi Sand_Puppy and Pinecarr,

Sorry, I am afraid I don't know how to insert a picture in this post. Below are a few links to places that sell shade cloth.  It is more expensive, but if you attach it to a frame and don't just drape it on the tree it will last a long time.  It is the branches that will tear the cloth. Plus, you can use one big piece on different trees as the fruit matures.  By the time I have finished protecting my apricots it is time to put it on my apple tree.  I haven't tried building a frame around my citrus trees as they are rather large.  The only bird tough enough to get to that fruit are the woodpeckers.  They get about 1/3 and I get 2/3's.  So far I am happy with that arrangement. smiley

http://www.greenhousemegastore.com/product/30-percent-black-bulk-shade-cloth/shade-cloth_1

http://www.arizonabag.com/product/shade-fabrics-30-shade/679/

 

https://www.growerssupply.com/farm/supplies/prod1;;pg103761_CC3104.html

 

 

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
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Thanks robshelper and Wendy!

Good to know the shade cloth has worked for you, too, Wendy.  And thanks for a less expensive option with the spun poly row cover material, robshelper!

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
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Thanks Eric!

-Appreciate the links! I have built small pvc frames for my blueberry bushes before, so I have a decent idea of how to go about building a frame for my cherry trees if I do go that route. I hesitate because it would be expensive (and another project to add to the project queue! :). But it would sure be nice to not worry about the birds stripping my fruit trees, or about the birds getting stuck in cheap netting like I tried with my cherry tree! I do like that you found you were able to move the frames (with shade cloth) around as different fruit trees matured; that would help make it somewhat more cost effective. And the fact that the shade cloth can last multiple seasons is another plus.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Posts: 1982
Painted rocks as decoys

A friend of my says, "The idea was to attract the birds the birds to the rocks so they could peck them and lose interest before the fruit appears. I'll have to say, this was a great way to solve the problem. This bed is full now and I never have the bird problem."

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