No matter how fond of animals you may be, there is nothing heartwarming about the sight of some furry creature munching away on your garden's bounty. Repellents, traps, and scare devices can help discourage, or fend off, hungry wildlife. But in many cases, especially in rural areas, a fence may be the only effective way to keep marauding mammals away from your landscape plantings and food crops.
The size and type of fence to use depends largely on the kind of animal you're trying to stave off. A simple 2-foot-high chicken-wire fence will discourage rabbits, but a more formidable barrier is necessary to deal with such garden burglars as deer, raccoons, skunks, or woodchucks.
Cost and appearance are also important considerations. A solid or picket-style wooden fence is attractive but is expensive and difficult to install. Wooden fences also tend to shade the perimeter of the garden, and require regular maintenance. Wire fencing and electric fencing are less costly, but are by no means inexpensive, particularly in the case of a large area.
You may be able to forgo fencing off your entire garden or orchard by erecting barriers around only those beds or crops most vulnerable to animal pests. A fenced plot for corn and melons is a good idea where raccoons are a problem. You'll find more information about making barriers for individual plants, as well as suggestions for using traps and repellants, in the Animal Pests entry.
Chicken-Wire Garden Fence
A simple 3-foot-high chicken-wire fence and a subterranean chicken-wire barrier can protect your garden from nearly all small and medium-sized animals, including the burrowing types.
Chicken wire comes in a variety of widths and mesh sizes, and is sold in 50-foot rolls. The 1-inch mesh is best for excluding animal pests.
Building the fence: The first step in building a fence is to decide where you want it to run. Mark the corners with small stakes and measure the perimeter. You will need two lengths of 1-inch mesh chicken wire, one 3 feet wide for the fence itself, and another 1 foot (or more) wide to line an underground trench. Or purchase one length wide enough to do both.
You also need one 5-foot post for each corner, additional posts for long sections, and one post for each side of the gate(s). Steel T-posts are inexpensive, can be driven into the ground with a hammer or sledge, and come with clips for attaching the fencing. Rot-resistant wooden posts such as locust provide excellent support, but you'll need a post-hole digger to set them. Also, nailing or stapling fencing to dense wood can be difficult.
Stretch string between the small stakes to mark the fencing line. Dig a trench 6 inches deep and at least 6 inches wide along the outside of the string. Set the posts 2 feet deep along the marked fence line.
Line the trench with the 1-foot-wide chicken wire bent into the shape of an L, so that the wire covers the bottom of the trench as well as the side nearest the fence. Be sure the wire extends an inch or so above ground level, and is securely attached to the posts.
Stretch the 3-foot-wide chicken wire between the posts and attach it to them. The fencing should overlap the chicken wire lining the trench by 2 or 3 inches. Use wire to fasten the two layers together. (If you use a single, wider length of chicken wire you save this last step.) Then refill the trench with soil.
Altering the design: If woodchucks are a serious problem, make the wire-lined trench a foot or more deep and up to 3 feet wide. If you're trying to keep gophers out, dig the trench 2 feet deep and 6 inches wide, line it with 1/4-inch mesh hardware cloth, and/or fill it with coarse gravel.
Raccoons are good climbers. To foil them, extend the top part of the fence to at least 4 feet, and don't attach the topmost 1 foot of fencing to the posts. When the burglars clamber up, the loose section will flop backward and keep the raccoons from climbing over the top.
If pests continue to raid your garden despite the chicken-wire barrier, you can add a single-strand electric fence.
Most garden supply stores sell easy-to-install electric fence kits, with solar-powered or conventional plug-in battery-powered chargers, 100 feet of wire, and plastic posts. You'll find a wealth of options on the Internet for purchasing individual components designed with the home gardener in mind.
Fencing deer out of a garden requires a more sophisticated approach. A six-strand high-voltage electric fence, with the wires spaced 10 inches apart and the bottom one 8 inches off the ground, is an effective deterrent. But it is an impractical choice for many small-scale growers because of the high cost and complex installation.
Another alternative is to build a fence that is simply too high for a deer to jump over. The absolute minimum height for a jump-proof nonelectric deer fence is 8 feet. Standard woven-wire farm fencing comes 4 feet tall, so it's a common practice to stack one course on top of another to create an 8-foot fence. This method is neither inexpensive nor easy. Yet another option is weather-resistant polypropylene mesh fencing, which is sold as deer fencing and is available in kits for home garden use. Polypropylene mesh is available in several strengths: Use the highest strength if deer are a problem in your area.
Yet another option is to erect two fences, 3 feet or 4 feet high and spaced 3 feet apart, of welded-wire or snow fencing. Deer seldom jump a fence when they can see another fence or obstacle just on the other side. If you already have a fence around your garden and deer become a problem, add a 3-foot nonelectric or a 2-foot single-strand electric fence 3 feet outside the existing one.