Day 23: Critter Control in the Vegetable Garden

The two biggest issues for vegetable gardeners in the North are deer and rabbits. Both are relentless and clever, if they are hungry enough. Fencing can work to control both types of pests, though installing effective fencing requires some effort and expense. Other pesky mammals and rodents — voles, moles, mice and gophers, for example — can only be controlled by fencing if it is buried 2 feet deep or more.

Fencing Out Deer and Rabbits

deer at garden

Deer eyes garden from behind compost pile.

For rabbits, you’ll need to fence all around your vegetable garden and the fence needs to be buried at least 6 inches underground to prevent burrowing under it and rise about 36 inches above ground to prevent jumping over it. It also needs to be made of wire (bunnies will chew through just about anything else) and the wire needs to have very small gaps because bunnies can squeeze through small spaces. Chicken wire, while not extremely attractive, is the material of choice. Here are some detailed instructions on how to build a rabbit fence.

For deer, the issue is not digging or squeezing, but their incredible ability to jump fences. If deer are a persistent problem in your vegetable garden, you’ll need a fence 8 to 10 feet tall to keep them at bay. That’s more than many gardeners are willing or able to do, which has led to a large market for deer repellents, both commercial and homemade. Most of the homemade options are based on creating a smell the critters do not like.

  • signs of rabbit damage

    A sharp cut on the branch of a shrub indicates rabbits in your garden.

    Predator scents. To discourage critters from frequenting your garden, you can try to fool them with things that smell like predators. Gardeners have sprinkled dog and human hair around their gardens, or tied clumps of it in a bag to hang near the garden. Bloodmeal is another option, as are products that smell like fox urine. If you have a dog, you may also want to let it urinate near (not in!) the vegetable garden to leave a scent.

  • Rotten eggs. Mix them up with water, then toss it on the mulch for a rotten aroma.
  • Plant alliums. Plants that are related to onions, chives or garlic may deter rabbits. If you are planting chives, be sure to plant them in a container as they can be quite aggressive.
  • Motion detectors. You can set up sprinklers or lights on motion detectors, which might surprise the critters and get them to move one.Terry Yockey has a blog post with more suggestions for dealing with deer.

Moles, Voles and Raccoons

mole

Moles do a lot of good in the garden as well as some damage.

I will admit I have spent way more time and money trying to deter burrowing creatures than I should have. My garden is located on the edge of a nature area and as a result is frequented (sometimes overrun) by pocket gophers, moles and voles. These creatures can be maddening indeed, though not as much in the vegetable garden as in the lawn. You can control some nibbling by these pests by burying hardware clothe fence 2 feet down near the garden. If you are starting a new raised bed and burrowing creatures have been a problem in the past, you can line the underside of the bed with hardware clothe as well.

For gophers, which can really rip up your yard, a neighbor boy with a BB gun was the only effective deterrent I found — and then, only when he had a good aim. Traps work for moles pretty well, though I’ve stopped trying to trap them and instead concentrate on the good moles do by improving the soil and eating grubs and insects. Voles are more of a problem with fruit trees than vegetables and, if your city allows it, an outdoor cat might be a good options for controlling voles.

Raccoons are mostly an urban problem, and a family of raccoons can eat their way through a fairly large vegetable garden. (Corn is a particular favorite.) Fencing, either tall or electric, is one option. Other recommendations are sprinkling chili flakes around the garden, putting moth crystals at the edges of the garden or allowing a large, loud dog out in the yard.

What critters get into your vegetable garden and how do you contain them?

 —Mary Lahr Schier

Follow Notes from Northern Gardener throughout January as we offer our series on 31 Days to a Great Northern Vegetable Garden. Tomorrow: Planting a Second Crop.