Ask a Question forum: Do I need to worry about animals getting into gardens? (beginner at gardening)

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Name: Jen
Bay Area, California (Zone 9b)
Apr 16, 2017 3:31 AM CST

I have decided to pick up gardening this year (after many years of "I will start this year"...the time has come). I was thinking of having a small vegetable garden, but I am a bit worried about pests. Should I be concerned? I live in the heart of a city, so animals like deer are not an issue. However, I do know that there are other animals that come and go. I've seen possums in my front and backyard, mice, a raccoon, squirrels, birds, and rabbits (some unknown neighbor's pet rabbits that keep getting loose). I also have cats that wander around the perimeter of my house (they pass through my house because they're walking along the fence).

For a few years now, I haven't really done any gardening or picked much fruit from the trees I have in the backyard. I have a persimmon tree, a jujube tree, lemon tree, kumquat, and several orange trees. The squirrels (and most likely some other animals) absolutely love the persimmon tree and will "kindly" eat the fruit for me. It hasn't been a big issue for me because I don't eat the persimmon, but I know that the persimmons and the jujube (when they drop to the ground) does attract animals.

Next, my neighbor A has a HUGE yard that is left untouched. They will mow the grass down but leaves the land untouched outside of that. I have seen mice crawl from their side of the fence to my side of the fence (under the fence, over the fence because of tree branches/vines/etc.). They also have a huge apple tree. The tree borders my house/fence. They do not eat from their apple tree and it attracts a lot of birds, squirrels, etc. When it comes time for the apples to ripen, I often find half eaten apples scattered everywhere near the tree. On the other side, next to my backyard, my other neighbor B has a huge (tall) oak tree (if that makes a difference).

So I was wondering that if I planted vegetables (i.e. tomatoes, pumpkin, eggplant, etc.), would I need fencing? If so, would I need fencing that covers the top of the garden as well (almost like a cage). I was looking into using hardware cloth, but I wasn't sure if it was the best idea. The vegetable garden would be only a few inches away from the trees in my yard and my neighbor's trees. I plan to both plant directly into the ground and into a raised garden bed. Am I just worrying too much about animals? I'd just hate to wake up one morning only to find my seeds eaten before they could grow or my vegetables bitten into. I also thought about putting in decoys like fake plastic snakes or something, but I don't know how much help it'd be.

Thank you very much!

An Overly Concerned Beginner.
Name: Elena
NYC (Zone 7a)
Daylilies Plant and/or Seed Trader Winter Sowing Hybridizer Peonies Vegetable Grower
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Apr 16, 2017 5:10 AM CST
Jen you are not over concerned! I too live in a city and face the problems you mention.

I rarely direct seed because birds eat the seeds. An easy fix is to lay row cover or mosquito netting over the ground so they can't get to the seeds but air, water & light can get in.

Squirrels will dig up seedlings & otherwise terrorize your garden. This tends to be most true for me in early Spring & late Fall when they are desperate for food. When my apple tree bears fruit they sometimes try to bury the half eaten apples in my pots & raised beds. Again, covers help. Sprays to deter animals work on cats & some others but my squirrels just ignore it.

Raccoons are only an issue for me when I plant melons. They can smell a ripening one from way off & will visit every day to steal it at peak ripeness! I thwarted this last year by growing the vines in containers with a tomato cage and stringing netting around the cage. They just couldn't get to the melons. Next time I grow them I'll do the same but leave a plant or two in a corner of the yard so they can have some too.

Cats will just poop in any turned soil but Critter Ridder or any product like that works well. Just remember to reapply after rain. And just remember they keep the mouse population in check!

Never had issues with possums ( although they liked raiding my compost). Skunks will dig up your garden looking for worms & grubs but won't intentionally harm your plants.

It may seem like I'm saying it is going to be a nightmare for you. It's not, especially compared to people who have to deal with deer and other eating machines. I've never lost all my crop to animals. These are just issues I've dealt with over the last several years. Honestly, most animals in the city will go for easy food so if you make it even slightly difficult for them they'll leave your garden alone.

Good luck! I'm sure you'll enjoy the fruits of your labor! You may even convince your neighbor to start a garden of their own!

[Last edited by bxncbx - Apr 16, 2017 5:11 AM (+)]
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Name: Ed
Central ,NJ (Zone 6b)
Cactus and Succulents Container Gardener Sempervivums Houseplants Garden Ideas: Level 1
Apr 16, 2017 5:33 AM CST
The only thing I think that may be a problem for you is the rabbits but if its only one as a pet it should not be a problem. I would go without the fence and see how it goes. The cats are good they help keep the other critters away.
Plants are like that little ray of sunshine on a rainy day.
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Seed Starter Vegetable Grower
Greenhouse Region: United States of America Region: Michigan Enjoys or suffers cold winters Butterflies Birds
Apr 16, 2017 7:54 AM CST
Welcome to NGA, Jen ( @jenjenjen ).

With the neighboring trees that you described, I'm wondering how much sunlight your garden area will get? Most vegetable garden plants need full sun to grow well, and lack of sunlight would be even more of an issue than the local animals. A 2nd issue with those large trees would be roots in the ground where you want to garden.

Assuming you do have enough sun, you might want to consider using raised beds with covers to keep birds and animals out; there are some examples here: http://www.improvementscatalog...

but you could construct something yourself fairly easily as well.

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Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
Apr 16, 2017 10:08 AM CST
I lived in the country for 30 years and never worried about anything but deer. The rest of the critters found plenty to eat elsewhere in my yard.

I have been in the city for the last 5 years and haven't had problems with anything. I too would worry more about having enough sunshine and being able to dig a hole to even plant anything.

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

[Last edited by DaisyI - Apr 16, 2017 10:09 AM (+)]
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Name: Elaine
Sarasota, Fl
The one constant in life is change
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Apr 16, 2017 1:53 PM CST
I agree I wouldn't plan to put your veggie plot anywhere near the trees, unless you are planning to entirely plant your vegetables in large containers. Even with a raised bed, the tree roots will steal all the water and fertilizer you apply, and your vegetables will starve and not produce. (and the trees will grow bigger, thicker, make more shade) Lack of sun is also a big issue. Choose a place close to your back door for good access, and also a place that gets as much sun as possible.

As far as the critters go, I also think that the bunny from the neighbor's might be your biggest worry. The neighbor that does nothing but mow his yard is supplying a wonderful habitat for wildlife. You are supplying fruit for them to eat especially if you don't pick up the fallen fruit. It would be a very good idea for you to get in the habit of picking up, if you do plant your garden anywhere near those trees. That way the animals won't be so attracted to your yard. Or maybe get rid of any fruit tree or trees that you don't like to make way for growing vegetables that you will eat.

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: stone
near Macon Georgia (USA) (Zone 8a)
Plant Identifier Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Apr 17, 2017 7:40 AM CST
At my house, those nasty possums and raccoons dig up baby seedlings.... They aren't deliberately targeting those.... They are after my garden help.... The earth worms.
They also destroy the fruit trees... They can completely strip a pear tree in a couple days... And persimmons? Pawpaws? Forget it.

You can bait a trap with cat food and trap these pests. , but it's illegal to take them anywhere.... Pretty much need to have a plan for them... Like cook for dinner, or bury them or something.

If you figure out a way to fence possums and raccoons out of the garden, we'd all like to hear about it.... At my last garden, I couldn't even figure out how to fence out armadillo.... Pretty sure them things were climbing the fence!
Name: Abbey
Eastern New York State (Zone 6a)
Bookworm Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Garden Photography Garden Art Birds Region: New York
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Apr 19, 2017 12:34 PM CST
Hi Jen, I almost went this route this year, it's my first year on a new property, not a city property, but I've had a city garden and I get why you're worried. I almost bought one of these for my present property, so many of the houses I saw while house hunting had them because of deer, rabbits, raccoons, and so on (a lot of people don't realize how many animals that have always been identified with rural areas are very active in cities, especially thanks to overdevelopment and sprawl), but I want to see what happens this first year before I buy one -- might work for you, especially if you want to enjoy gardening without it becoming a full-time job, or you becoming like Bill Murray in Caddyshack! Other people make these as well and they come in different sizes and prices:
"Every now and then I leave the book on the seat and go and have a refreshing potter among my flower beds from which I return greatly benefited, and with a more just conception of what is worth bothering about, and what is not." The Solitary Summer -- Elizabeth von Arnim
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Seed Starter Vegetable Grower
Greenhouse Region: United States of America Region: Michigan Enjoys or suffers cold winters Butterflies Birds
Apr 19, 2017 4:36 PM CST
You can also sometimes find the chainlink wire "dog kennels" for sale very cheaply or even to give away, from people who no longer are using them, and repurpose them for a small-garden enclosure (or, covered with plastic, a small greenhouse).
“Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight." ~ Albert Schweitzer / - A Universe of Communities[/I] / Share your recipes: Favorite Recipes A-Z cubit
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Name: greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
My dogs love me; some people don't.
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Apr 19, 2017 4:43 PM CST
Probably best to just go ahead and start a garden and find out if any type of wildlife shows up. You can make adjustments as you learn who your wild neighbors are.

When I lived in Connecticut I had a beautiful vegetable garden and one spring something was snipping off my seedings. It was not cutworms. I sat and watched one day - it was birds. They flew down and without landing they would grab a beakfull of plant and swoop away.

Good luck with your garden. Crossing Fingers!
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~"Leaf of Faith"
Name: tarev
San Joaquin County, CA (Zone 9b)
Always count your blessings in life
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Apr 20, 2017 12:08 PM CST
Hi Jen, our garden visitors will be our constant lookout. In my area, we don't get much wildlife, mostly stray cats (one adopted us recently Big Grin ). I did see a racoon but he was on the other side of the fence thankfully, or the opposum, some lizards, and the most annoying snails and slugs that munches on new growth. Hummingbirds and other birds hang around too, the other birds do make annoying droppings. During the warmer days, the mantids are out as well as the nasty grasshoppers. Big or small, each can make their own mark and damage, but such is nature. Even the ants can be persistent too at times. I know you said you are planting vegetables, apart from the digging animals which may munch on their roots and bulbs, the insects that can attack them will be a regular battle, like aphids, grasshoppers, spider mites.

There will be always some garden challenges, just have to be very observant and apply necessary control measures as needed.

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