Protecting Your Garden from Wildlife
by Sheldon Owen, Wildlife Specialist, WVU Extension Service
Growing a flower or vegetable garden can be satisfying and rewarding. But when intrusive wildlife claim a garden as dinner, the only thing left to grow is frustration.
FencesFencing is the most efficient and cost-effective method of excluding unwanted wildlife from small gardens. The seriousness of the wildlife problem and the amount of money a gardener is willing to spend will determine the fence design and materials.
White-tailed deer are the most commonly reported cause of
garden damage. In areas where deer populations or deer damage are low, a single-wire electric fence 30 inches off the ground can deter deer from a garden. To make the single-strand electric fence more effective, smear peanut butter on 3×4 inch flags of foil and attach these to the fence at regular intervals of 3 to 4 feet along the fence. The peanut butter will attract deer to the fence, the deer will touch the flags with their nose or mouth, and the shock will provide adverse conditioning. Replacing the foil flags and peanut butter with strips of cloth soaked with an odor-based deer repellent is another alternative.
Rabbits can also cause significant damage to gardens. Consider using woven wire, poultry wire, or hardware cloth with a mesh opening no larger than 1 inch for rabbits. The fence should extend at least 2 feet above ground. If you add the single-wire electric fence (peanut butter or repellent) above the lower mesh fence, you will effectively exclude both deer and rabbits, saving your garden all for yourself.
Wildlife repellents are a deterrent that have been used with questionable effectiveness. Several chemical repellents discourage wildlife browsing but can be expensive and must be reapplied after rain events and onto new growth. Repellents fall into two categories: scent and taste. Scent repellents use an offensive smell to discourage wildlife from entering an area. The most common scent repellents are rotten egg- and blood meal-based products. Taste repellents employ an offensive taste to discourage wildlife from browsing on plants. Wildlife must feed on the treated plants to experience the bad taste. The most common taste repellents are capsaicin- based (a chemical found in hot peppers).
A possible scent-based repellent for summer use is Milorganite. Milorganite is a fertilizer (5-2-0) manufactured from treated sewage sludge (biosolids) from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District. In addition to providing nutrients, this fertilizer has been found to repel deer from gardens and crops during the summer months. Milorganite is an organic fertilizer, which means it is manufactured from living material, but it is not certified for use in organic farm production.
Readers are cautioned that some pest control recommendations may be inappropriate in West Virginia, and county Extension personnel should be consulted before control measures are undertaken.
- Fundamentals of Deer Management (PDF)
- High-Tensile Fence - Do's and Don'ts (PDF)
- Identification of Deer Damage (PDF)
- Integrated Pest Management for Mice (Cornell)