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How to Protect the Garden from Animals
Before you can figure out how to keep animals out of the garden, you first have to find out who is digging in your garden! Identify the pests that cause the damage by looking at the various holes and mounds they make. It’s kind of like being able to identify animal tracks in the snow! The damage they leave behind is also a clue.
Rabbits in the Garden
Rabbits like to chew on herbaceous plants’ stems, especially those freshly planted, and will eat almost anything. If left unchecked, they can ruin your gardening dreams!
Small holes following a wall, raised bed, or another structure is likely from an opossum. They tend to follow structures, as they have poor eyesight.
Mole, Gopher, and Vole Holes
Holes around the garden, about the size of a large golf ball, are probably the work of a gopher, mole, or vole.
Gophers in the Garden
If there are several other holes nearby, some with fresh dirt outside of them that look finely filtered — that’s a gopher! You know this by the “kickback” soil they leave behind as they are digging the holes. Gophers are the most common and persistent garden and farm pests; they cause damage by gnawing on roots, bulbs, and seeds. They are particularly damaging in orchards, where they can cause extensive damage if left unchecked.
Moles in the Garden
Mounds without any sign of a hole, accompanied by raised tunnels, indicate moles or voles. These are very common in lawns. You can see the raised depression of the tunnel underground. Moles are carnivorous and usually won’t cause garden damage. They can even be beneficial by eating the grubs of pest insects and worms. Moles do leave mounds in lawns that damage grass and turf, but raking them out as soon as you find them can minimize this problem.
Voles in the Garden
Voles are the likely cause of tunnels you see on the surface of the ground, in the grass, or amongst dense, weedy vegetation. Voles feed on the surface, gnawing on plant stems and the woody trunks of young trees.
Rats in the Garden
Irregularly shaped holes accompanied by half-eaten produce from the garden (like tomatoes) is typically the work of a rat! Rats dig out freshly planted seeds, gnaw on fresh produce, and can be very damaging to baby seedlings as they can destroy a whole greenhouse — trust us! It’s happened to us.
Ground Squirrel Holes
Finally, large tunnel entrances that are level with the ground suggest ground squirrels. Ground squirrels tend to go into the ground at an angle versus gophers that go straight down into the ground to connect with a tunnel.
Ground squirrels usually wait for crops to mature and then try to beat you to the harvest. They also make a mess of garden areas by digging tunnels.
Once you have identified which animal or animals are causing damage, you’re on the path to learning how to keep animals out of the garden. Now you can manage them.
How to Keep Animals out of the Garden
The first line of a good defense is a fence or barrier. Be thankful if you live in areas where you don’t have deer. Deer can be extremely difficult to fence out. If you do have deer, you have to build a tall fence of at least 8 feet and secure the lower edge by staking it, or even better, burying it.
If you do not have deer, a simple 3-4 foot fence can be efficient and helpful at keeping out rabbits, neighborhood dogs, and more.
For small areas or raised garden beds, you can bury gopher wire under your beds to ensure they can’t steal your produce.
You can also protect individual plants, perennials such as rose bushes and citrus, and even trees from gophers and moles by planting them in wire baskets. Make your own baskets or buy ready-made ones. In larger areas, fencing for gophers and other small animals becomes extremely labor-intensive, while other management techniques are more efficient.
Annoy or Scare Them Away
Some gardeners succeed in frightening or annoying pests until they go away, using one of the sonic or ultrasonic devices on the market. We never had a lot of success with this method. To save money from being wasted, research and start with the least expensive ones and work up to the high-tech models if you’re getting good results. When dealing with bird pests, reflective strips of bright plastic effectively scare birds away if placed in an area where the wind will move them.
Net Them Out
Bird damage is often hard to control in a large area, but row covers or bird netting works well in a garden bed or even in rows in a field. Row covers are very light, sheer fabrics that breathe, allow moisture to enter and leave, and help to retain heat. They also protect young plants from insect damage. They are particularly helpful for protection from cabbage loopers if used at the correct time.
Attract Natural Predators
The common barn owl can help with gopher, squirrel and vole control. This incredible, silent night hunter has a diet that consists mainly of gophers, field mice, and voles; owls can eat up to 1,000 prey a season. We depend on our sweet cats Moana and Napali to control pests on our farm. These rescue cats catch hundreds of mice each year! When we first took over the farm, it had been vacant for a year and overrun with rabbits. Our cats took pleasure in helping to manage their populations. Thanks to these furry felines, we rarely have to use any other method of pest control! Our friends have also had success with their dogs keeping gophers, squirrels, and other rodents away — once they moved the garden right outside of their dog door. But first, they had to create a fence around the garden to keep the dogs out.
In many cases, like that of gophers, trapping is the only way to manage pest issues. Gophers are territorial and typically have a particular area where they live. If you can trap and keep them out of your garden, they should not pose any more threat to your precious produce.