10 ways to keep critters out of your vegetable garden

Story by Rodney Wilson

Kentucky is home to numerous gardeners, which makes total sense when you consider the state’s deep agricultural heritage – we were born to get dirt under our fingernails. The Commonwealth also plays host to a rich tapestry of wildlife, from deer to raccoons to, yes, all those stately horses behind black fencing, and that (well, not the horses so much) can be a vexing problem for the gardener toiling toward a bountiful harvest. You know that once a garden has caught the attention of a hungry beast, whether it is a robber squirrel or raccoon operating in the dead of night, you have a fight ahead of you. 

To help in the struggle, we’ve compiled 10 tools to help gardeners in the ongoing battle against wildlife creatures in search of a free meal.  

Clean it up
The most effective way to keep critters out of your garden is provide an open invitation. Fallen tomatoes, apples, walnuts, and bean seeds say, “Welcome, come on in” to a hungry squirrel, so keep your garden clean to keep varmints out.

Physical barriers
The most effective way to prevent herbivores from snagging your garden treats is to install a physical barrier. It’s the most commonly utilized method – because it works. You can build an intricate, ornate fence that adds to the aesthetics of your plot or simply cover your beds with chicken wire – it just needs to prevent access to your edibles. For fragile seedlings, place inverted milk jugs or bottomless paper cups over the tender shoots.

Critter problem? A physical barrier – such as a fence – is the most effective way to keep raiders out. Photo by Deb Nystrom (CC BY 2.0).

Scare them off
We’re all familiar with the reliable old scarecrow in the cornfield, and for good reason – critters are suspicious and tend to steer clear of humans and other creatures that could pose a threat. You could go all out and craft a human figure from sticks and shirts, but going the easy route with a plastic predator bird is also effective.

Garden bandits like your edibles, but they don’t like you (it’s not personal). So imply omnipresence by using a scarecrow stand-in. Photo by Wonderlane (CC BY 2.0).

Repel them with scent
You can send critters packing by using odors to frighten them away. Commercial predator urine, dog fur, or even a stinky old t-shirt should adequately offend the olfactory sense of most pests. For deer, think of smells that you don’t care for – sulfur smells, such as egg products or blood meal, are particularly effective. To avoid immunity, rotate the repellents you use every now and then. 

Use the pantry
Urban gardeners are all-too familiar with that infamous garden bandit, the raccoon. These masked critters rummage through vegetable gardens like an all-you-can-eat buffet. In order to save some of the corn for yourself, start in your pantry. A mixture of smashed-up garlic and chili powder spread throughout the garden will let raccoons know they are not welcome. Some gardeners scatter blood meal around corn plants to keep those opposable thumbs off their stalks.  

A cup of tea does the garden good
Making some “tea” for your garden is an effective way to keep out lurking possums. Steep a handful of wood chips in hot water for about an hour to make the perfect cup of repellent. Add a few drops of dish soap to the tea, strain and pour into a squirt bottle and apply the liquid to young plant leaves. 

Sometimes our worst garden enemies are our best friends. To keep dogs out of the vegetable garden, create some type of obstacle. Driving a few short stakes around the perimeter usually does the trick. If you grow ornamentals as well, the next time you trim your rose bushes save the thorny branches to place around the edges of your garden.

Rise and shine
Most gardeners enjoy visits from cardinals and goldfinches. However, if you want to eat your blueberries before the birds do, you have two choices. You can get up before the birds to harvest your sweet fruits or bring some dazzling shine to the berry patch – ribbons, balloons, or old CDs tied to branches will keep most birds away.

Aluminum pie plates hanging in the garden clang and bang in the wind and spin and glimmer in the sun. Photo by Cindy Shapton.

Bury fencing for burrowers
The frustration caused by burrowing critters can cause a gardener have second thoughts about this whole “growing food in the dirt” thing. Burrowers require a little more work to keep out, but it is possible. Dig down at least 6 inches and bury the fence around your beds. The deeper you bury the fencing, the more your garden will be protected. 

Plant some undesirables
A line of rhubarb is gorgeous, but, because the leaves are poisonous, most animals steer clear of it. Placing plants critters don’t like around the vegetable garden is an effective way to protect your valuable harvest. In addition to rhubarb, many herbivores will turn away upon encountering garlic, asparagus, oregano, marigolds (Tagetes spp.), and rosemary.

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