How to Keep Animals Out of Your Garden Without Losing Your Mind

Does your garden need guarding? Stop deer, rabbits, and groundhogs from invading your landscape—the safe and humane way—and start enjoying it again.

Gardening is a rewarding hobby that can help reduce stress and anxiety while providing you with exercise and healthy produce. Yet stress and anxiety can go in the opposite direction when you discover that furry visitors are using your garden as an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Don't stress about it! There are tried-and-true tactics for keeping deer, rabbits, squirrels, and other animals from spoiling your harvest. Follow these tips on how to keep animals out of your garden safely and humanely.

Know Your Culprit

A rabbit nibbles on a vegetable's leaf
Critters like rabbits are just as likely to cause havoc in your garden as insects are. Apelavi/Shutterstock

Before you try any method, find out what types of animals are trespassing in your garden. Common culprits include deer, rabbits, and groundhogs, and don't overlook cats and dogs. Once you've identified the illicit muncher, research its habits and food preferences to best determine the most effective strategy.

Make It Less Attractive

Cleaning and Planting Fall Garden
Juliette Wade/Getty Images

For some animals, your garden is prime breeding and feasting grounds. Keeping it clean discourages squirrels, skunks, moles, raccoons, and others from checking into your garden and setting up shop. Try these tidying tactics to make your garden less appealing to critters:

  • Eliminate brush piles and tall weeds or grass.
  • If you have an open compost pile, cover it with a tarp or fence it in.
  • Seal off or block access to any crawl space where small animals can fit.
  • If you keep a bird feeder in the garden, clean up the excess birdseed that falls from it or move it away from the garden.

Put Up Fences

Vegetable Garden Fence
Vegetable Garden Fence. Marie Iannotti

Blocking access to your garden with fences is one of the most effective ways to deter animals, provided your barrier is the right size and style for blocking the culprits:

  • A fence between two and four feet tall deters small animals such as rabbits and groundhogs.
  • To prevent burrowing animals from digging under your fence, install fencing at least 10 inches deep.
  • To keep deer away, your fence needs to be between four and eight feet tall. For the animal's safety, avoid installing fences with sharp points.

Raise Up Your Plantings

raised garden bed with legs

TG23 / Getty Images

Using elevated planters or raised beds with a bottom can help keep burrowing animals away from your garden.

Protect Your Plants With Netting

Strawberry netting

Johner Images/Getty Images

Crows and songbirds love to feast on ripening berries, so add some protection from above. Place netting over small berry shrubs or strawberry plants a week or two before the fruit ripens.

Use a Repellent

Man Is Spraying Clean Water, Liquid Fertilizer On Plants In Flower Store Or Home Garden.home Garden.
Ekaterina Fedulyeva / EyeEm / Getty Images

Choosing the correct type of repellent—a strong or unpleasant smell that keeps animals away—depends on the critter you are trying to deter. There are a variety of commercial repellents and natural home remedies that deter animals, but you need to pick the right one for the job.

For example, ordinary bar soap is a well-known deer repellent, and hanging a few bars near the edge of your yard could keep deer out of your garden. Human hair is also known to deter deer, as well as coffee grounds, mint essential oils, citrus, and sweaty laundry (ugh!). You can also spray vegetables with hot sauce to keep animals from feasting on them.

Employ Deterrents

Keeping BIrds Out of the Garden
Scare birds away from your berry bushes by handing old CDs from posts or branches. Photo: © Marie Iannotti

A repellent acts as a deterrent, but here we're talking about an object that scares away animals, making them sense danger in the area. Visual deterrents can take the form of a plastic owl or snake, scarecrow, aluminum pie plate, or CD that moves in the wind.

Some animals are smart enough to figure out that your deterrent poses no real danger, and they may come back. To outsmart them, use several different deterrents and rotate them.

Make Some Noise

feng shui of wind chimes
If you love wind chimes, use them as cures in your feng shui applications. Just be sure to find their best use according to feng shui guidelines and get ready to enjoy good feng shui in your home or garden!. Nick Koudis/Getty Images

Making noise can help keep some animals from raiding your yard. Install wind chimes or even play a radio near the plants that are most at risk.

For underground pests, consider a solar-powered sonic unit that periodically emits an ultrasonic frequency that moles and other critters find quite unpleasant. 

Choose Plants Wisely

Deer and doe eating bush with small red berries

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

There are some plants that animals just cannot resist. Deer, in particular, love hostas, arborvitae, and azaleas, while rabbits are attracted to your leafy greens. Inspect your yard and neighborhood to see what's been spared, talk to your garden center's staff, and consult your local extension service for lists of less-tempting plants.

There are herbs—namely mint, dill, chives, and rosemary—that deer find offensive, as well as flowers like zinnias, marigolds, and verbena. If you like chili peppers, plant them prolifically and strategically because deer hate them. While often effective, keep in mind that advantageous plant selection isn't foolproof because, when conditions warrant, animals may become hungry enough to eat any plant.

Protect New Plants

Garden cloche

pcturner71/Getty Images

Even if your garden plants aren't appetizing enough to eat, they can suffer damage when a critter walks on them or brushes up against them. New plants are particularly vulnerable to animals roaming around your garden, so protect them with row covers, cloches, or netting until they're bigger and sturdier.

Offer Alternative Food Sources

Chipmunk seeds

Davy3 Photo/Getty Images

Put out something that's even more enticing for the critters in question (such as birdseed for birds, chipmunks, or squirrels)—and place it away from your garden so you aren't attracting more animals to your plants.

Work With Nature

Un zorro cachorro toma sol en un jardín amigable para la vida silvestre.
Un zorro cachorro toma sol en el jardín. Martin Pickard/Getty Images

The reality is, no landscape is 100 percent animal-proof. The best way to avoid frustration is to target the specific animal causing the most damage. Once taken care of, use additional methods to keep other trespassers out.

Considering the persistent force of Mother Nature, it's reasonable—and perhaps essential to your mental health—to anticipate some loss of your landscape to birds and animals. Think of it as supporting your local ecosystem. In the end, the best course of action is to plant extra to ensure there's plenty for you to enjoy, too.

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