You don't have to use harsh chemicals or traps to dissuade creatures like rabbits, deer, and squirrels from entering and disrupting your yard.
Garden Eating Flowers in a Garden
Credit: coramueller / Getty Images

Nothing is more rewarding than watching your hard work pay off in the garden come summertime when you're busy creating beautiful arrangements for your interiors or harvesting fresh vegetables for the kitchen. But just planting your garden isn't enough—you'll need to do more than water your plants and flowers throughout the growing season to have flowers, fruit, or vegetables to cull in the months to come. The key to growing a successful garden is to repel pests and prevent small critters and animals from chewing up your hard work. Gardens play an important role in your local ecosystem, however, which means using chemicals to deter animals from your garden could lead to negative ripple effects elsewhere.

According to Lauri Kranz, author of the upcoming book A Garden Can Be Anywhere ($23.79, and one of the creative minds behind the Edible LA gardens, there are a few ways you can keep animals from eating and tromping on your plants and flowers without resorting to potentially toxic chemicals.

Identify Your Visitor

The first step towards keeping deleterious animals away from your garden is identifying your visitor. While the most obvious way to do so is to keep an eye out—if your main issue is deer, for example, you're likely to see them in action—certain creatures, like moles, are more difficult to catch in the act. Check for tunnels or mounds of dirt to identify these underground dwellers; ants leave smaller mounds in their wake. Other critters, like squirrels and chipmunks, are particularly drawn to vegetable beds (look for nibble marks on leaves and vegetation), while flying pests, including certain species of birds, leave more structural damage (they dig holes while scavenging for worms or peck away at your home's exterior and yard fixtures).

Attract Your Pest's Predator

Once you have identified your pest, try attracting their natural predators: "Owls, for example, eat mice, so having them near means fewer rodents over time," she says. Kranz shares that there are nonprofit organizations—such as the Hungry Owl Project—that can help you install nesting boxes for garden-friendly animals. You'll keep your garden safe and also provide a natural habitat for other animals in need.

Use an Organic Repellent

While spray repellents—which come in iterations specifically designed for hungry, munch-happy creatures, from rabbits to deer—can discourage unwelcome visitors from stepping into and snacking on your flower and vegetable beds, they don't typically work on their own. They are most effective when utilized in tandem with other deterrents. If you do decide to purchase a repellent, ensure the formula is organic (neem oil is often the main ingredient in these types of sprays) and won't harm your plants, soil, or the pest.

Protect Your Garden with Physical Blockers

Draping bird netting over your plants—prop it up on strategically-placed trellises or bamboo poles to keep it in place and stretch it taut—should discourage avians from flying into and disrupting your shrubs or edible plants. This material (such as Heqishun's Anti-Bird Netting ($9.99, is designed to keep birds away from younger crops and fledgling fruit-bearing trees—but if its mesh is small enough, it also can be used to prevent certain bugs or ground-bound creatures from reaching and eating leaves, too.

Add Plants Your Pest Doesn't Like

Did you know that pungent herbs and fresh garlic can actually prevent small animals and even deer from entering your garden in the first place? Kranz says you should plant herbs like oregano around your garden's perimeter to keep animals out; these companion plants can also add to the beauty of your space.

Build a Fence

If you want to protect a particularly precious variety, build a fence around your more vulnerable crops and plantings. To do so, bury a wire-mesh sheet several inches deep, bending it outward to create an apron, which deters underground excavators from digging. These structures can frustrate above-ground creatures, too; build higher to enclose your space, for example, if deer regularly visit a specific spot.

Be Realistic

Ultimately, a garden is a dynamic ecosystem, which means that, to some extent, animal intervention is to be expected. Don't forget that certain creatures snack on problematic bugs, while others (think birds) help pollinate your yard. While too many visitors can be a nuisance, especially if your prized flower and vegetable plants are being bitten down to their quicks, your garden is also these critters' natural habitat—it's their home, too! Rolling with the punches (or munches, rather) and taking noninvasive protective measures are often the best ways forward.


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