Garden Wildlife Control:
Deer, Rabbits, Squirrels, Birds, Dogs & Cats

How can you stop animals from destroying your garden? Deer can completely mow down your favorite plants. Rabbits can be very destructive in the garden. Birds can strip all of your fruits or berries off of your plants, leaving you frustrated. But it doesn't have to be that way!

These steps can safely keep nuisance wildlife away from your valuable crops. It might take a little planning and work up front, but you'll enjoy peace of mind as you keep animals at bay. Here are my 14 tips for humane wildlife control of deer, rabbits, dogs, squirrels, cats and birds on your property.

How to Deer Proof Your Garden:

What plants are deer resistant?

It's difficult to create a complete list of plants that are truly deer repellent. Populations of deer in one region may develop preferences that differ from those of other regions. Some plants might be particularly appealing after putting out fresh tender growth. Often this occurs in the Spring when less vegetation is available for deer. In situations where pressure is very high, Deer may try to eat almost anything, if desperate enough.

Some plants are fairly deer resistant, yet you might still see a nibble taken off of them. Deer are browsing animals that sample a variety of vegetation along their path. They might take a nip of your plant, only to determine they don't like it. Some plants are poisonous, such as daffodils. As such they are rather safe in your landscape. Other plants have strong tastes or smells that tend to repel deer. These include things from the Allium genus and also aromatic herbs.

Here are my favorite deer resistant plants that I've used with success: Sweet Woodruff, Periwinkle, Bleeding Hearts, Hellebore, Daffodil, Lily of Valley, Crocosmia, Goumi, Persimmon, Comfrey, Garlic, Chives, Nodding Onions, Garlic Chives, Sage, Salvia, Oregano, Hyssop, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Thyme, Feverfew, Lovage, Painted Fern and Baptisia.

Video: Garden Pest Protection:
Deer, Rabbits, Squirrels, Birds, Dogs, Cats (Organic Control)

14 tips for wildlife control of deer, rabbits, dogs, squirrels, cats & birds in your garden!

How to repel deer with Irish Spring soap

Irish Spring soap is very strong smelling stuff! It's a great product for organic gardeners to use against nuisance wildlife. The smell is so strong and persistent that it can deter rodents and other animals that rely on smell to find their food. This includes deer. If you place the soap near sensitive plants, the scent can mask the smell of your plants, keeping deer away. It can completely overwhelm their olfactory senses, confusing them and protecting your vulnerable flowers, veggies or other plants.

Some gardeners will stick entire soap bars on a stick. Others will cut off shavings of it and place it around their plants. Personally, I like to cut a bar into quarter pieces and then pin them to the ground with landscape pins.

Using Irish Spring soap to deter deer and mice
Irish Spring soap is a cheap easy way to keep deer and rodents away from your plants.

Best homemade & commercial deer deterrents for gardens

Deer Stopper is a deer deterrent spray formulated for deer, elk and moose. It discourages them from browsing and damaging plants. It works against 'bedding down,' which can crush your vegetable or landscape plants. The spray may last up to 30 days before needing to be reapplied. If plants send out tender new growth, you may need to respray those parts. It seems to work well, but stinks for a couple days after application. Deer Stopper contains rosemary and cornmint oil along with putrescent eggs. There is also a second version, Deer Stopper II which is an alternate formulation, containing cinnamon oil, clove oil and putrescent eggs. Spraying edible plants with either of these is not advised.

If you prefer, you could also try making up your own homemade deer repellent spray. There are many recipes that mix and match a variety of foul ingredients. Common spray deterrents may include: Eggs, Garlic, Cayenne Pepper, Cinnamon Oil, Clove Oil, Rosemary Oil and Peppermint Oil. When selecting a recipe, these will be mixed in water along with various surfactants and binding agents.

Regardless of what formulation you use, proper application of spray deterrents is absolutely essential for best results. Deer are creatures of habit. As browsing animals, they roam long paths and sample various vegetation along the way. Once they try and taste a plant they like, they will remember that. Expect them to return again and again, bringing others along with them, such as their young. Similarly, once they've tasted something they don't like, they tend to remember that as well. So it's important to time your sprays applications just right. Learn what plants are vulnerable to deer browsing. And then proactively spray them. Don't wait for those first signs of damage. Once they get a taste of that plant, you'll have to work a little harder to deprogram them.

Timing is everything! Be especially wary of time periods when deer pressure will be higher. Early in the Spring, deer are hungry and there isn't much vegetation yet. This is also the time when new foals are out stretching their legs and getting the lay of the land. Don't let them get used to your property. Spray those plants as soon as young tender leaves emerge. You may need to do so again when blooms come on. During and after a period of drought, deer may once again feel pressured to browse along your property, this is another crucial time to repel them.

How to build a deer fence around the garden

Deer fences typically need to be 6 to 10 feet tall, although some sources say 12 feet is preferred. In my suburban setting, I've found this to be totally overkill! Some building codes won't even permit the building of fences beyond 6 feet tall. But that's ok. Your fence can be shorter if positioned strategically.

For one thing, you could use a solid fence which can't be seen through. This stops deer from seeing where, on the other side, they could land. I've been able to keep them out with just a 4 foot tall fence. The key is to place plants or objects in front of or behind it. This make it impractical for them to jump. Double fences may work as well.

Deer proof chain link fence bolstered by tree plantings
This 4 foot chain link fence acts as a deer fence with the help of trees plants inside of it.

How to Rabbit Proof Your Garden:

How to protect vegetables from rabbits

Elevated garden planters can keep rabbits out of reach, protecting sensitive crops like lettuce. These could take the form of raised beds or even legged planters. By keeping them 24 to 30 inches off of the ground, your plants can safely grow, out of reach of rabbits. And as a gardener, you'll find it easy to manage these crops as you don't need to bend down to access them.

If your crops are growing near ground level, a second option is to protect them with a wire cloche or some sort of hardware screen. The entire bed could be covered with a wire screen box lid to keep out rabbits, groundhogs or other pesky critters.

Rabbit proof lettuce in an elevated bed and spinach protected by wire mesh covering
An elevated bed keeps this lettuce away from rabbits, while the spinach is protected by a metal hardware cloth cage.

How to build a rabbit fence for gardens

The best solution is to completely exclude rabbits from your garden. Chicken wire can be used to keep them out. But it doesn't last as long as a quality hardware cloth. Galvanized wire mesh holds up for a long time. A mesh size of 1" or smaller works great. You need an impassible barrier at least 24" tall, or up to 36" for jackrabbits. Be sure to fold a 6" lip outward onto the ground to stop them from digging under the fence.

I've had good success by attaching hardware cloth to the lower portion of my existing chain link fence. You can modify existing fences, including picket fences, converting them into rabbit proof barriers. The key is to seal up any holes or gaps with hardware cloth. This includes the gates. making sure that animals can't undermine them. If you don't already have a fence, T posts or U posts are easy to install as fence posts. Just connect them with hardware cloth and the rabbits won't be able to get through.

How to protect trees from rabbits

Rabbits have been known to eat the bark off of the base of trees. Such damage can result in severe injury or even tree death. Some people try to protect the trees with white spiral tree guards around the trunks. Animals can still chew through plastic though. And the spiral guards are tricky to resize as the tree grows. That's why I prefer to wrap wire mesh around the tree trunk instead. This will stop rabbits or other rodents from gnawing on the bark and girdling the plant.

INSTALLATION: Wrap the trunk with 1/2" (or smaller) hardware cloth, shaped into a cylinder. For sizing, determine your typical Winter snow depth and add 18". This will be the height of your barrier. Then measure the circumference at a 2" distance away from the tree trunk. You can add 6" as overlap expansion for future growth. This is how wide you need to cut the wire screen. When putting it in place, try to bury the hardware cloth a couple inches into the ground. Or else you can pin it to the ground with landscape pins.

How to Keep Birds out of the Garden:

How to protect strawberries from birds

As soon as they see that plump, bright red berry, the birds are quick to swoop in and take a nip. You can try various gimmicks that supposedly scare birds away, but don't expect stellar results. People have tried shiny reflective materials, rubber snakes and fake owls. Birds are smart though and might see right through it.

Other strategies include overwhelming the birds with more than they would want. Do you want ten strawberry plants? Try planting 30 instead. This will account for bird losses while ensuring that you still get a decent harvest. Try spreading the plants out all over your landscape. I prefer the "edible landscaping" approach where strawberries are tucked alongside all sorts of other plants including my herbs and ornamentals. You could even include secondary distraction crops. Often my birds are busy munching on goumi berries or honeyberries, keeping them distracted from my precious strawberry crop.

What's the best bird netting?

Using netting is the best way to keep birds off of your fruits and berries. A maximum 3/4" mesh size will ensure even small birds can't get through. You don't need to spend a lot on bird netting. But the netting must be suspended several inches above the plants. This is to stop birds from perching on the net and reaching inside with their beaks. If you're simply draping netting over top of the plants, then you'll need a tighter mesh so the birds can't reach inside. For this application, it needs to be 1/4" or smaller.

There are three general approaches to netting: 1) As mentioned, you can just toss a fine mesh net directly over your plants. This is useful for crops that are either scattered about your property or ones with a short ripening window. 2) If you have all of your fruits and berries in a centralized location, you can build some permanent infrastructure for keeping out birds. It might be a small cage for a single plant, or even a very large cage that allows you to freely walk inside. For systems like this, consider a heavy duty plastic mesh, or galvanized wire screen, which would keep out rodents and other mammals. 3) As a third option, you could use stakes to create a tent. Be sure the netting is tightly anchored to the ground to stop birds from crawling underneath. This system can be left in place for a couple months, as needed. But then it could be broken down during the remainder of the season. This option is nice for small urban lots that focus on edible landscaping designs (like mine!)

Blueberries & strawberries protected by bird proof netting elevated with garden stakes
This berry patch is protected from birds by netting that is supported above plants by garden stakes.

Fruit trees and berries that birds don't eat

WHITE / YELLOW / GREEN FRUITS: Birds are drawn to deep colors telling them a fruit or berry is ripe. Blueberries, red cherries & blackberries are all bird magnets. Some cultivars may trick birds into leaving them alone. Pink blueberries, white pineberries, yellow cherries, golden raspberries & hardy kiwis may survive, unnoticed. Including such varieties in your garden can increase the odds that your harvest won't get stolen away!

← Carpenter Bees Tips & Tricks →