Choose the Best Garden Fence

The best garden fence is whichever fence will reliably keeps the critters from your crops. When you have it in place you can love the wild things and still sleep peacefully at night.
By Barbara Pleasant
April/May 2010
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Picket fencing adds a note of country charm, but your best garden fence option may require livestock panels at least, if not chicken wire.
ILLUSTRATION: ELAYNE SEARS


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Most gardeners eventually have heated encounters with unwanted wild animals. The best and kindest solution is to keep them out with the right kind of barrier. A good farm dog can be a huge help, and repellents and scare devices work sometimes for some animals, but you can’t beat well-chosen garden fences for reliable long-term, around-the-clock protection.

Assessing Your Needs

When the primary purpose of a fence is to deter animal pests, you can't choose the best garden fence until you know what they are. The eight most prevalent wild animal pests of gardens are (in alphabetical order): deer, groundhogs (woodchucks), pocket gophers, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, and voles. Note that opossums and moles are missing from this list. Neither species directly damages garden crops, and both eat enough insects to be considered beneficial.

To help you identify which animal (or animals) is making mischief in your garden, match the evidence you see to the damage descriptions in Who’s Raiding Your Garden? Most animals leave signs of one kind or another — footprints, tooth marks, scat, or the way they dig as they forage for food. Check with your local extension service to find out which types of animals are known for damaging vegetable gardens in your area.

You can often witness damage being done by birds, squirrels, or groundhogs during daylight hours, but the night shift can be harder to track. If you can’t figure out which critters are doing the damage, station a $10 wireless motion-sensor light in your garden, and then turn off most of the lights in your house. The light might scare the animals the first few times it comes on, but after that they will accept it if doing so means getting a good meal. Have binoculars handy to get a good look at your new enemy.

Permanent Perimeter vs. Temporary Pop-Ons

Do you need to fence your whole garden, or are there only certain plantings in need of protection? If your only problem is protecting strawberries from birds and squirrels, making a  secure cover for one bed using chicken wire, row cover or both is much less work than putting up a fence. Raccoons after your sweet corn are another problem that can be handled on a small scale with a carefully positioned two-strand electric fence, with one strand 6 inches above the ground and the other 12 inches high. See Electric Fencing for a full report on your electric fencing options.

You probably need a perimeter fence if you need to exclude chickens and other domestic animals, if deer are a serious problem, or if you are battling territorial critters such as pocket gophers and groundhogs. Plastic mesh fencing can be an inexpensive option to deter deer, but be aware that rabbits will quickly gnaw through the plastic, creating openings for smaller critters. You may be able to cut some of the posts you will need from your own land if you have rot-resistant woods such as cedar, locust, mulberry, or Osage orange. In locations where appearance is important, you can build an attractive wood fence and line its base and the ground surrounding it with poultry netting (chicken wire) or hardware cloth to keep animals from digging their way in. This add-on feature is necessary if any fence is to exclude rabbits, pocket gophers, and other small animals with sharp teeth.

On many homesteads, the garden fence also controls the movement of goats, dogs, pigs, or chickens, so many folks start with a post-and-wire perimeter fence, and then add poultry netting or electric fencing to enhance the fence’s pest-deterrent properties. For the main fence, there are three economical choices:

Woven wire fencing must be forcibly stretched between sturdy posts, so the ends and corners require secure bracing. On the positive side, woven wire’s flexibility makes it resilient and easier to install on uneven terrain than other types of fencing.

Welded wire fencing is stiffer than woven wire and requires minimal stretching, so it is easier to install (and requires fewer deeply set, reinforced posts) compared to woven wire. Welded wire works best on relatively level ground. Welded wire products with smaller mesh along the lower edge (intended to keep horses from getting their hooves caught) also deter some animal pests.

Stock panels are rigid fencing panels sold in standard 16-foot lengths. They range in price from $20 (for a 34-inch-high panel) to $45 (for a 5-foot-high panel). Installation is a simple matter of attaching them to metal posts with clips — no stretching required. And they are easy to relocate if necessary.

Multi-Critter Security

Any of these basic fences need more features before they can serve as barriers to smaller animal pests. To keep out pocket gophers, groundhogs, rabbits, and skunks, you will also need a buried barrier of poultry netting or hardware cloth that flares outward from the base of the fence. How deep the buried edge must be varies with the creature’s ability to dig. If you only need to deter rabbits, you can securely pin the flared section to the ground. Better diggers, such as groundhogs and pocket gophers, often require deeper deterrence.

If you have never handled poultry netting or hardware “cloth” (which is made of metal), allow yourself time to learn which materials best suit your needs. Buy small rolls to experiment with before choosing a fencing product for a big project. You also will need heavy gloves and wire snips strong enough to cut your fencing of choice. If you are working alone, have secure weights handy (stones, bricks, buckets of dirt) to hold the fencing to the ground as you unroll it and bend it flat.

Fencing Out Deer

We could go on for hours discussing deer deterrence, which can include many other methods in addition to fencing (such as growing catnip and daffodils in deer access paths, or hanging dirty dog blankets from trees). But when you get to the ultimate solution — an effective fence — set aside the notion you may have that height is what counts most. Height certainly helps, but it turns out that depth (as in two fences) is the critical factor. Deer are great jumpers, but their depth perception is poor. Here are two ways to create a three-dimensional fence to keep them out of your garden.

If you already have a fence that’s not keeping out deer but your kids play there so you don’t want to go electric, you could install a second fence about 3 feet inside the outer fence. The two fences — one inside the other — will deter deer from jumping in because of their limited depth perception.

Where deer pressure is severe and losses cannot be tolerated (such as new fruit orchards), you can deter deer effectively with a 3-D electric fence. You can use strand-type electric fencing if you like, but it’s even better (and cheaper) to use electrified tape because it’s easier for deer to see. You will need a minimum of three lines: Two of them form the inner fence (about 2 and 4 feet from the ground, varying slightly with the size of local deer), and the third hot line (about 3 feet from the ground) creates the outer fence, 3 feet away from the inner one. Most deer leave after getting zapped while eating grass and weeds beneath the single strand outer fence. If they attempt a jump based on the more visually prominent inner fence, their front hooves will likely connect with the outer fence before their rear hooves leave the ground — a critical detail for a successful zap. This electric fence can be integrated into a wire fence quite easily.

Not everyone likes to use electric shock to get the attention of animals, but sometimes difficult choices must be made. When you install a critter-proof fence, you can keep your food garden and local wildlife peacefully separated.


Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia. She dares any vole to make it through the new underground, hardware-cloth barrier that protects her fingerling potatoes.


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Post a comment below.

 

Janice
7/29/2014 7:43:08 AM
Getting a customized fence is a good solution. You can have it created per your needs. That keeps the cost down and the fencing is more effective. I read here 5 benefits of custom fencing your home and garden http://www.theluckhouse.com/five-benefits-of-choosing-custom-fences/

catilieth
2/19/2014 11:35:19 PM
My experience with predator lights is that they are useless. The fox dug right under the light and had a very nice chicken dinner... More than once. I have found that a picket fence works well for deer...it is a perspective thing. How I discovered this was that my Malinois, Mia, who is extremely athletic and easily jumped 6 foot fences could not figure out how to jump out of a 4 ft. picket fence. She has gone over an 8 ft. wall, but the 4 ft. picket fence had her stymied. She kept looking at it up and down and couldn't jump it. And though there are deer all around me, I'd never had deer damage in that garden. I told a friend of mine up in the NC mountains about my discovery. He had a significant deer problem. He put a picket fence around his garden and no more deer problems, even though his neighbors were all having problems.

Kelly
8/27/2013 1:43:51 AM
The temporary pop on is what really annoys the home owner when it comes to fencing. I have personally got vinyl fences installed at my home and would suggest the same for all others who are seeking such inputs for fencing.

8/5/2013 12:21:24 PM

I have to share my super-successful deer exclusion fence design here. We have a permanent 4' high perimeter fence of welded wire with wooden rails, which of course deer can jump. So we added a 4' length of 2x2 to each post. The 2x2 is hooked at the base of each post (with a hook and eye) allowing the top of the 2x2 to splay outward, where we ran a line of 22-gauge galvanized wire. This design piggybacks on the idea of a 3-D fence, that's mentioned in the article, but has the advantage of not creating a weird unmowable margin between the fences. And, of course, the added expense for the 2x2s and wire is only about $75. Hope this helps someone; we've had great luck keeping deer out this way.


PHYLLIS SAUER
2/6/2013 7:36:31 PM
I've found the NiteGuard predator lights sold by northern tool to be quite effective also. They repel most of the night predators. I haven't had any problems with racoons or deer in the garden, skunks bothering the catfood, or owls bothering my guineas since I put them up. You may still need a fence for anything that is not nocturnal though. They have a red led light that flashes all night long and a small solar strip on the top that charges during the day, and sell for $20 each. They recommend one facing each direction, at the eye level of whatever you are trying to repel.

Bernie Tucker
2/22/2012 7:28:06 PM
Photos with your articles would be nice. For instance, actual photos of different fence types would really make this article more useful. Just a suggestion

Laurie Lohrer_2
6/20/2010 8:49:41 PM
In Central Montana we have lots of deer crossing just next to the vegetable gardens every day. We used 4' high chicken wire and steel posts around the gardens. The local feed store advised us to use a single electric wire at (deer) nose height (about 5" above the chicken wire), and to twist small strips of aluminum foil with peanut butter on the electric wire, spaced along the fence line. The deer goes for the peanut butter and won't bother the fence or garden after that. It worked like a charm. Sometimes there are 15 deer right next to the garden fence, but it's never been breached by them or other critters. We used a solar fence charger for both gardens and it's been flawless.

Steve_84
6/20/2010 5:33:20 AM
I live in Michigan, and there are quite a few people groups in my area that live the old way, Mennonites, Amish, Ect. When it comes to keeping large animals out of their garden area, this is what they told me to do. Take a piece of fishing line, about 20 pound test, and string it about six or seven inches off the ground, all the way around the garden. Don't put any flags on it, just leave it plain. Put a stake about every six feet. I have tried this, and believe me, it works. In an area where I could keep the deer out of, I can now plant anything I want with no worry. The only problem with this is...remembering where the line is myself.

Willnot Answer
6/18/2010 5:09:05 PM
I have been growing gardens for years and fighting pests from squirrels to rabbits and deer. I have FINALLY found a fence that somehow works....I don't know why but it does. I took 8' 4X4's and put the 2' into the ground. I ripped 2X8X20 that I had laying around in half and screwed one section along the top of each post. I ran 3' chicken wire (buried to keep the rabbits out)and where the top of the chicken wire fell I screwed the other half of the board. and secured the chicken wire. I just left the area in between the two empty. Believe it or not the fence works GREAT! I don't know if it's the two "tiers" that prevent them from jumping it or not but they don't. It was a very inexpensive fence and it doesn't look bad at all. I have talked a few friends into trying it as well and they tell me the same story...It WORKS! BTW....I have NEVER found ANY plant that'll keep a hungry deer out of the peas...

earth_mommy
6/18/2010 8:07:06 AM
We are on our second incarnation of our summer garden. Our first was almost mature and starting to produce and was looking fabulous. One day a month or so ago I went out to water the garden and it was completely gone, save one zucchini and a few tomato plants. I mean completely gone. Not even roots still in the ground. No holes where they had been dug up, no scratches in the ground, no scat anywhere. We are assuming nija squirrels. So we put chicken wire OVER the top of the welded wire fencing. I now have to crawl through the garden, but it is now starting to look like a garden again. But harvest is behind schedule for canning.

Barbara Pleasant_3
3/26/2010 9:45:31 AM
It is possible that you will ONLY have problems early in the season, in which case covering plants with rowcover might give you the protection you need. On the fence, the tall fence needs to go inside the shorter one, not the other way around. Deer-scaping with non-preferred plants can help discourage deer when it is done along their usual travel corridors. In addition to using plants that deer don't like to eat, thickets of brambles can work as green fences to block off deer access points. Hope these tips help.

Sarah_39
3/24/2010 9:36:41 AM
"The two fences — one inside the other — will deter deer from jumping in because of their limited depth perception." Why is that? Can I put up a 7' mesh fence around the perimeter of my garden, 3' out from the chicken wire/cattle panel fence I'm using currently? I like the chicken wire or cattle panels because I let my plants vine up them. The deer were only a serious problem last year (my first year) as the plants were sprouting. Does catnip, daffodils, columbine really work?








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