The lush growth of your flower and vegetable gardens attract wildlife to your yard. Your carefully cultivated plants are an exotic delicatessen, free for animals' eating enjoyment. Although you can take precautions to discourage the animals from eating your flowers and vegetables, you may still end up sharing some of your harvest when food is scarce for the wildlife.
Fence Them Out
A fence discourages marauding critters from decimating a garden patch. Even though a deer can leap over an 8- to 10-foot obstacle, a 6-foot-tall fence often discourages its incursions into a garden. Cyclone welded wire and black propylene deer fencing are effective barriers when used in combination with other animal-discouraging techniques. Solid fencing, such as a board or reed fence, hides a garden from view.
Also add a row of rabbit wire fencing to the bottom of your fence to prevent rabbits from squeezing through its holes. Peg the bottom of the rabbit fence to the ground or bury it several inches of it underground. Fill all low spots with large rocks or boards. Rabbits naturally dig under fences, but deer also can crawl under a fence to reach a garden's gourmet delights.
If gophers are a problem, consider lining planting holes with wire mesh baskets. The mesh prevents gophers from burrowing under flower and vegetable plants and eating the tender roots.
Scare Them Away
Deer, rabbits and other animals that eat plants are nervous creatures, always watching for potential predators. Take advantage of their skittish natures by adding items such as motion-activated sprinklers to your gardens. Also, metallic, shiny ribbons or small wind socks tied to the top of fencing randomly flutter in wind, making deer nervous enough to discourage them from leaping into the garden.
Although predator urine and other smelly solutions discourage deer and rabbits, a yapping dog is also an effective deterrent -- if it doesn't dig holes in the gardens or disturb neighbors. Cats are also efficient predators, catching gophers and other rodents that snack on plants.
Hide the Goodies
Use row covers to protect tender seedlings from both cool weather and wildlife. When the weather warms, trade the row covers for tulle or other lightweight fabrics that hide plants without blocking air circulation to them.
Avoid attracting wildlife to your gardens by removing nearby vegetation, dead grass and brush piles, which provide hiding and nesting places. Enclose and cover your compost pile. Burying scraps in it is not effective; deer dig up a compost pile to reach peelings and other vegetable scraps. Manage the insect population in lawns near your gardens by using beneficial nematodes and Bacillus thuringiensis galleriae. Insect larvae, including beetle grubs, attract moles and skunks.
Plant Items Less Attractive to Them
Select that brighten a garden but are the last choices on deer's, rabbits' or other wildlife's menu. The less tasty or deer-resistant flowering plants that are perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, depending on the variety, include:
- Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), perennial in USDA zones 3 through 9.
- Daffodil (Narcissus spp.), USDA zones 4 through 8.
- Russian oregano (Origanum vulgare subsp. gracile), USDA zones 4 through 8.
- Red-hot poker (Kniphofia uvaria), USDA zones 5 through 9.
- 'Winnifred Gilman' Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii 'Winnifred Gilman'), USDA zones 8 through 9.
Vegetable choices less attractive to animals vary with the wildlife's taste buds. Among the vegetables that deer and rabbits generally avoid are corn (Zea mays), garlic (Allium sativum), potato (Solanum tuberosum) and squash (Cucurbita spp.). While most garden vegetables are grown as annuals, garlic is a bulb plant that is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9.