by Jill Potvin Schoff
Are you planning a garden and wish to incorporate the best fencing into your design? Or do you have unidentified visitors wreaking havoc in your existing garden? We’ve scoured the web for the best garden fencing ideas to keep out garden pests. From elaborate fortresses to simple fishing line, we’ve uncovered the most effective solutions for each of the major garden threats: deer, rabbits, groundhogs and gophers. Read on to learn more about the pests invading your garden and the most tried-and-true methods of keeping them out!
Garden Pest Identification
Which type of fence will work best for your garden will depend on what you are trying to keep out. So you’ll need to start by identifying the threat. Here are some of the most common garden pests that can be fenced out. If you’re new to gardening in your area, ask local gardeners or plant nurseries which pests are prevalent in your neighborhood.
Deer: Deer are most active at night, though you will often see them at dawn and dusk as well. They usually tear at plants and leave behind rough, shredded or uprooted vegetation. They can reach much higher than other common pests, so damage more than two feet off the ground is a strong indicator. To learn more about deer identification and habits:
- What Deer Damage Looks Like
(Fine Gardening) – Discusses how to identify deer damage, with lots of examples.
- Reducing Deer Damage at Home and on the Farm (Clemson University Extension) – An in-depth discussion of deer damage, exploring all types of control measures.
Rabbits: Rabbits have sharp incisors, so leaves and stems will be neatly clipped off at a 45-degree angle. They particularly like to nibble on new growth and tender young plants. Damage reaches up to 2.5 feet above the ground and is worst in the spring and early summer. They are most active at dawn and dusk. They often leave small round brownish-green droppings. Here are some resources for identifying and understanding rabbit behavior:
- Our Family’s Square Foot Garden
– A video with good shots of what rabbit damage looks like in the garden.
- Cottontail Rabbits (PennState University Extension) – An in-depth discussion of rabbit control strategies.
Groundhogs / Woodchucks: Groundhogs, also called woodchucks, like to snack on vegetables and you’ll often find cucumbers or beans left lying around with bites taken out of them. They also love to eat the tops off carrots. They are active during the day, particularly in the early morning. They will have a burrow nearby with a large hole and a pile of dirt next to it.
- Protect Your Garden From Woodchuck Damage (VegetableGardener.com) – A good overview of woodchucks and how to identify their burrows and garden damage.
Gophers: Gophers are active both day and night and typically eat your root vegetables. They also like to eat the roots of flowers, shrubs and trees. They will come above ground to eat tender vegetation. You will see evidence of tunnels.
- Gopher ID 101
– Discusses how to identify a gopher hole and how it differs from moles and voles.
- Pocket Gophers (Utah State University) – A good overview of gophers and their control measures.
Best Fence Solutions
Now that you’ve identified which pest(s) you want to defend against, it’s time to look at your fencing options and decide which solution (or combination of solutions) might work best for your garden.
Some garden fencing options are expensive and complicated, some are cheap, and a few are just plain ugly, but effective. We’ve summarized each of the options to make them easy to choose from, with links to the source where you can find much more detailed information.
Best Garden Fencing for White-Tailed Deer
Deer can jump up to 8 feet high. They can step over fences as tall as 3 feet and are perfectly willing to crawl under fences as well. They can take down flimsy fences by leaning on them or running through them. Here are a couple videos that show their skills:
- Deer Jump 12-Point Whitetail
– Great video of just how high – and effortlessly – a deer can jump.
- The Deer Fence
– Deer caught on night camera crawling under a fence.
Fencing solutions are usually 8 feet tall, electrified, or use a double-fence system (two fences spaced 3 feet apart). Deer will not jump into an area that they can’t see or where there does not appear to be a safe landing spot. They avoid areas where it looks like they might get trapped. Remember that the success of the fence depends on the desperation of the deer — if the local deer population is high and food is scarce, they will try much harder to enter your garden. Some great examples of deer-proof fencing designs:
- Innovative Deer Fence
(Michigan Land Use Institute) – This Michigan blueberry farm uses an 8-foot fence that slants outward at a 45-degree angle. Seven strands of wire are set every 12 inches and a combination of metal and wooden poles are used. Some strands are electrified.
- How to Build an Inexpensive Deer Fence
(Jennifer’s Garden) – This 7-foot fence won’t last more than a few years, but it does have the advantage of being cheap and relatively easy to install. It uses a combination of metal electrical conduit and bird netting.
- Gallagher Food Plot Protector Fence
(Agway) – A simple electric double-fence design, using fiberglass posts with polywire and polytape. The inner fence has two polywire strands set at 10 and 24 inches. The outer fence has one polytape strand set at 18 inches.
- How to Keep Deer Out of Your Garden
– This is just about the cheapest fence you can make, using fishing line, tin cans and plastic buckets. Best used for seasonal gardens where the deer population is not high.
- Feral Pigs and Deer Controlled with Mega Fence
(Georgia Peanut Commission) – A more sophisticated double-fence design with one high-tensile electric fence with strands at 18, 36, and 54 inches, and a second electric fence three feet away from the first fence (on outside) with one wire 18 inches above the ground. High-tensile fences are more work to install, but should last up to 20 years.
- A Deer-Proof Vegetable Garden Plan (Hubpages) – This plan relies on a 4-foot plastic mesh fence, along with tightly spaced raised beds. The idea being that the raised beds serve the same purpose as a double fence — the deer sees it as a broad jump with no clear place to land. Would probably be enhanced by using lots of vertical structures to support plants in the raised beds as well.
- Building Our Vegetable Garden Fence (Country Basket) – Nice photo essay of fence and garden gate construction, featuring 18 inches of chicken wire, then 4 feet of wire mesh, topped by two strands of electric wire. Using a combination of materials is a good way to build a tall fence without too much cost.
- To Get In, the Deer Have to Knock (New York Times) – This beautiful and elaborate garden structure features raised beds fully enclosed by tall walls and even netting over the top.
- Deer-Proof Electric Fence (Fine Gardening) – A simple electric fence with one strand set at 30 inches, using polytape treated with an odor-based deer repellent.
- A Better Deer Fence (Permaculture Activist) – This clever design is sort of like a double fence, but the inner “fence” is simply a line of poles with wires at the top connecting it to the outer fence.
- Deer Fencing (Notes from Windward) – An inexpensive way to extend the height of a fence is baling twine. Simply extend your fence poles higher and string baling twine in strands 12 inches apart.
- How to Build a Wood Privacy Fence (Buildipedia) – A six-foot privacy fence also makes an effective deer barrier, as deer do not like to jump into an area they can’t see. The drawbacks are high cost and the shade it can throw on your garden.
- Construct a Chicken Moat (Mother Earth News) – Wondering what to do with the space in between fences if you use a double-fence system? Consider using it as a chicken moat!
- Houzz.com – Browse photos of attractive deer-proof fences from top landscape architects.
- TheDeerFence.com – Browse photos of deer fences and gates built by this custom fence company in New York.
Best Garden Fencing for Rabbits
Rabbits can jump as high as 3 feet, but luckily they rarely seem inclined to do so. They can squeeze through any opening bigger than their head. They will crawl under gaps in the bottom of a fence, but will not burrow deeply. See them in action here:
- Rabbit Eating Garden Plants
– Nice footage showing how fast a bunny eats plants.
- One Rabbit Escapes from Cage
– Cute video of a rabbit easily digging under chicken wire and escaping.
- Danish Rabbit Hopping Championships 2010
– Believe it or not, there is a rabbit hopping championship and it is impressive!
Fencing for rabbits does not need to be tall (2 feet is generally sufficient), but it needs to be tough (to prevent them from gnawing through it) and have no gaps larger than 1 inch. The fence needs to be set a few inches into the ground or bent out at a 90-degree angle at the bottom to prevent them from burrowing under.
- How to Install a Rabbit-Proof Fence
(Howcast) – This quick and easy fence uses metal poles and vinyl-coated chicken wire, with the bottom of the fence buried 3 inches deep. The coated chicken wire is a good choice, since bare metal disintegrates quickly when buried.
- Rabbit Fencing
(eHowPets) – In this video, chicken wire is added to the bottom of an existing fence to add rabbit protection.
- How to Protect the Vegetable Garden (Heirloom Gardener) – This gardener created 5×8 screens to fit around her raised beds, after rabbits overcame two earlier fencing efforts.
- How to Build an Anti-Rabbit Fence and Coldbox Frame (Tiny Prairie Farm) – This raised bed fence has has a wooden frame around the top of the fence so that it can support plastic and double as a cold frame in the spring and fall.
- Rock Solid Raised Bed (Handpicked Nation) – A raised bed made of stone block (or wood) at least 24 inches tall is also an effective barrier against rabbits.
- The Art of the Electric Garden Fence (Mother Earth News) – Electric polywire or electric netting can also prevent rabbit intrusion. One wire strung 3-4 inches off the ground is usually sufficient. If you use netting, be sure to keep it electrified or they will chew through it.
Best Garden Fencing for Groundhogs / Woodchucks
Groundhogs are tough because they can both climb high and dig quite deep. They are also good at squeezing into small spaces (especially the babies). Check out these two videos to see them close-up:
- Woodchuck Eating Tree Leaves
– This footage shows how quickly a groundhog devours leaves.
- Groundhog Climbing 12 Foot Fence
– This is why simply having a tall fence doesn’t work with groundhogs.
Fencing for groundhogs needs to be at least 3 feet high. Ideally the top foot of the fence should be loose so that it wobbles if groundhogs try to climb over it. Alternatively, you could have an electrified wire at the top. The fencing also needs to extend outwards 1-2 feet at a 90-degree angle at the bottom, preferably buried a few inches in the ground, to prevent them from burrowing under. The fencing material needs to be tough (to prevent them from gnawing through it) and have no gaps larger than two inches.
- C-Fence To Protect Garden
(Completely Nourished) – This simple fence consists of 4 feet of chicken wire, with the top foot loose and bent outwards and the bottom foot bent outwards 90 degrees at the bottom (thus forming a “C” shape).
- Groundhogs: Living With Wildlife (Mass Audubon) – Instead of bending the bottom of the fence, this system shows one flat 3-foot wide piece of chicken wire lying flat on the ground, with the fence built on top of it. The vertical fence would need to be secured to the horizontal fence at regular intervals to be effective.
- Dealing with Woodchuck Damage (University of New Hampshire) – This in-depth discussion of groundhog control strategies recommends an electric fence with strands at 4 and 8 inches off the ground.
Best Garden Fencing for Gophers
Gophers usually approach from below ground, through a series of tunnels, but they can approach above ground as well. They are capable of climbing over short fences or ducking under or through them.
- Gopher In the Garden
– You won’t often see your gopher nemesis, but this video caught him in action.
- An Evaluation of Fencing to Exclude Pocket Gophers (University of Nebraska) – This study indicates that even 2 feet may be too shallow a depth for burying the fence. Some studies report seeing them burrow over 6 feet down!
Raised beds lined with hardware cloth are the best solution. Without raised beds, fencing should be at least 1 foot high, and extend into the ground at least 2 feet. Mesh should have holes no larger than 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Always choose galvanized or coated fencing for buried applications or add two coats of rust-proof paint to untreated metal. Be sure to check the integrity of the wire each year.
- Living With Wildlife: Pocket Gophers (Washington Fish & Wildlife) – This publication suggests burying 1/2-inch mesh hardware cloth at least 24 inches in the ground and bending the bottom 6 inches outwards at a 90-degree angle.
- How to Gopher Proof Your Raised Bed Garden
(Growing Your Greens) – This video recommends 1/2-inch galvanized hardware cloth to line your raised beds.
- How to Build a Gopher Cage (Tasty Landscape) – For protecting individual trees or perennial plants, cages can be built out of hardware cloth.
- How to Gopher-Proof an Existing Raised Bed (Northcoast Gardening) – A good tutorial on adding a lining of hardware cloth to an existing raised bed.
- My Critter-Proof Raised Bed Garden Beds (DoItYourself.com) – This design is pricey, but the combination of raised beds and tall fences provides complete protection. Hardware cloth in the beds and landscape fabric in the walkways prohibit burrowing visitors
Fencing costs vary greatly depending on the materials used and the length and height of the fence needed. You will need to calculate the cost of the posts, fencing material, fasteners for securing the fence to the posts, tools that may be needed for digging the holes and stretching the fence, electric charger (if needed), as well as the time and manpower required to install the fence.
The initial cost must be weighed against the life expectancy of the fence, the amount of maintenance required to keep it in good condition, and whether there are ongoing costs (such as electricity). Another factor influencing the cost is the terrain — rocky, hilly or swampy terrain will increase installation time and cost. Below are some resources for calculating cost. Most of them are focused on keeping livestock in, rather than pests out, but fencing types for both goals are generally the same:
- Fencing Materials for Livestock Systems (Virginia Cooperative Extension) – An excellent overview of fencing, with detailed comparisons of the cost and longevity of various types of fence posts and fence materials. Compares woven wire, barbed wire, board fences, high-tensile wire, polywire, and polyribbon.
- Estimated Livestock Fencing Cost for the Small-Farm Owner (University of Florida) – Compares cost of barbed wire, woven wire, and electrified polywire.
- Fencing Out Wildlife (USDA Forest Service) – Compares the cost of materials and labor for electric polyrope, plastic mesh and high-tensile electric fences.
Fencing Installation & Maintenance
Before selecting a fencing solution, it is important to understand the requirements for its installation and maintenance. The following resources should help you with the basics of good fencing:
- Guide to How to Build a Fence (Mother Earth News) – Excellent general advice on fence building.
- How to Build Long-Lasting Gates (Mother Earth News) – Be sure that your garden gate is not your weakest link.
- The Art of Electric Garden Fence (Mother Earth News) – All you need to know about electric fences.
Fences are a lot of work, so it makes sense to help them last as long as possible. There are two things that will destroy your garden fence faster than anything else: moisture and weeds. Any part of your fence that touches the ground should be treated in some way. Metal should either be galvanized, coated with vinyl or polyester, or sprayed with two coats of rust-proof paint. Wood should be rot-resistant or pressure-treated. If you are growing edible crops, be sure whatever materials will come in direct contact with the soil of your garden beds is nontoxic.
- Building Raised Beds for Planting (EcologyCenter.org) – Good information on types of raised bed materials, their durability, nontoxic level, and environmental impact.
Have a weed-management strategy for your fence line. If it’s an electric fence, weeds can short out your fence. If it’s not an electric fence, weeds will hold moisture and climb your fence, quickening its deterioration. Weeds also provide shelter for critters approaching your fence. If you plan on using a weed trimmer, be sure the fencing material is strong enough to stand up to it — trimmers will tear plastic netting and get tangled in wire mesh. A better idea may be to line the area to either side of your fence with gravel or mulch or even corrugated sheet metal — anything that will keep the area weed-free. This has the added bonus of making visual inspections of your fence easy.
- Ideas to Get Rid of Weeds Along Fence Row (GardenWeb) — Lot of ideas for weed suppression from this gardening forum.
Did we miss any terrific garden fencing designs that we should have included here? If so, leave a comment with a link so we can check it out.
Have you tried any of these fences and seen success or failure? Let us know.
Author Jill Potvin Schoff learned gardening from her mother and grandmother in the green mountains of Vermont. She continues her adventures in gardening in Connecticut and specializes in writing on eco-friendly topics.