Animal Pests

Take action against the animals wreaking havoc on your garden.


Pocket Gophers

These thick-bodied rodents tunnel through soil, eating bulbs, tubers, roots, seeds, and woody plants. Fan- or crescent-shaped mounds of soil at tunnel entrances are signs of pocket gopher activity.

Fences and barriers: Exclude gophers from your yard with an underground fence. Bury a strip of hardware cloth so that it extends 2 feet below and 2 feet above the soil surface around your garden or around individual trees. A border of oleander plants may repel gophers.

Flooding: You can kill pocket gophers as you would moles, by flooding them out of their tunnels.


Rabbits can damage vegetables, flowers, and trees at any time of year in any setting. They also eat spring tulip shoots, tree bark, and buds and stems of woody plants.

Look, Don’t Touch

While we may wish that solving animal pest problems were as easy as posting a “Look, Don’t Touch” sign, we should heed the warning ourselves when dealing with animal pests. Wild animals are unpredictable, so keep your distance. They may bite or scratch and, in doing so, can transmit serious diseases such as rabies. Any warm-blooded animal can carry rabies, a virus that affects the nervous system. Rabies is a threat in varying degrees throughout the United States and Canada. Among common garden animal pests, raccoons and skunks are most likely to be infected. It’s best never to try to move close to or touch wild animals in your garden. And if you’re planning to catch animal pests in live traps, be sure you’ve planned a safe way to transport and release the animals before you set out the baited traps.

Fences: The best way to keep rabbits out of a garden is to erect a chicken-wire fence. Be sure the mesh is 1 inch or smaller so that young rabbits can’t get through. You’ll find instructions for constructing a chicken-wire fence in the Fencing entry.

Barriers: Erect cylinders made of ¼-inch hardware cloth around young trees or valuable plants. The cages should be 1½ to 2 feet high, or higher if you live in an area with deep snowfall, and should be sunk 2 to 3 inches below the soil surface. Position them 1 to 2 inches away from the tree trunks. Commercial tree guards are also available.

Other methods: Repellents such as those used for deer may be effective. Commercial inflatable snakes may scare rabbits from your garden.


Raccoons prefer a meal of fresh crayfish but will settle for a nighttime feast in your sweet corn patch. Signs that they have dined include broken stalks, shredded husks, scattered kernels, and gnawed cob ends.

Fences and habitat modification: A fence made of electrified netting attached to fiberglass posts will keep out raccoons, rabbits, and woodchucks. Or if you have a conventional fence, add a single strand of electric wire or polytape around the outside to prevent raccoons from climbing the fence. Try lighting the garden at night or planting squash among the corn—the prickly foliage may be enough to deter the raccoons.

Barriers: Protect small plantings by wrapping ears at top and bottom with strong tape. Loop the tape around the tip, then around the stalk, then around the base of each ear. This prevents raccoons from pulling the ears off the plants. Or try covering each ear with a paper bag secured with a rubber band.