Animal Pests

Take action against the animals wreaking havoc on your garden.


Watch out for groundhogs in the gardenFour-footed creatures can cause much more damage than insect pests in many suburban and rural gardens. They may ruin your garden or landscape overnight, eating anything from apples to zinnias. Most animal pests feed at night, making it tricky to figure out who the culprits are.

Follow these guidelines for coping with animal pests.

Identify the pests. Ask your neighbors what kinds of wildlife are common garden marauders in your neighborhood. Sit quietly looking out a window toward your garden at dawn or dusk, when animals tend to become active. Check for droppings or paw prints around your garden, and consult a wildlife guide to identify them.

Assess the damage. If it’s only cosmetic, you may decide your plants can tolerate it. If the damage threatens harvest or plant health, control is necessary. If damage to ornamental plants is limited to one plant type, consider digging it out and replacing it with plants that are less appealing to animal pests.

Take action. Combining several tactics to deter animal pests may be most effective. For a vegetable or kitchen garden, a sturdy fence is often the only effective choice. Barriers work well to protect individual plants. Homemade or commercial repellents give inconsistent results, so use them experimentally. Scare tactics such as scarecrows and models of predator animals may frighten pest animals and birds. In extreme cases, you may choose to kill the pests by flooding their underground tunnels or by trapping or shooting. It’s up to the individual to decide if the damage is severe enough to warrant these methods. If you decide to shoot or trap any animals, check first with your state Department of Environmental Resources to learn about regulations and required permits.


Deer have a taste for a wide range of garden and landscape plants. A few deer are a gentle nuisance; in areas with high deer pressure, they can be the worst garden pest you’ll ever encounter. Deer are nocturnal, but may be active at any time. In areas where they’ve acclimated to humans, you may spot them browsing in your garden even in the middle of the afternoon.

Barriers: If deer are damaging a few select trees or shrubs, encircle the plants with 4-foot-high cages made from galvanized hardware cloth, positioned several feet away from the plants.

Fences: Fencing is the most reliable way to keep deer out of a large garden or an entire home landscape, but some types are quite costly, especially if you have it installed by a professional. Here are your options for deer fencing:

 Conventional wire-mesh fences should be 8 feet high for best protection. A second, inner fence about 3 feet high will increase effectiveness because double obstacles confuse deer.

 Slanted fences constructed with electrified wire are an excellent deer barrier. Installing this type of fence is a job for a professional.

 Deer are not likely to jump a high, solid fence, such as one made of stone or wood.

 Polypropylene (plastic) mesh deer fencing is costly, but easier to install on your own than an electric fence.

 For small gardens, up to 40 feet by 60 feet, a shorter enclosure made of snow fencing or woven-wire fencing may be effective, because deer don’t like to jump into a confined space.