Assessing Your Needs
When the primary purpose of a fence is to deter animal pests, you can’t choose the best garden fence until you know what they are. The eight most prevalent wild animal pests of gardens are (in alphabetical order): deer, groundhogs (woodchucks), pocket gophers, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, and voles. Note that opossums and moles are missing from this list. Neither species directly damages garden crops, and both eat enough insects to be considered beneficial. To help you identify which animal (or animals) is making mischief in your garden, match the evidence you see to the damage descriptions in Who’s Raiding Your Garden? Most animals leave signs of one kind or another — footprints, tooth marks, scat, or the way they dig as they forage for food. Check with your local extension service to find out which types of animals are known for damaging vegetable gardens in your area. You can often witness damage being done by birds, squirrels, or groundhogs during daylight hours, but the night shift can be harder to track. If you can’t figure out which critters are doing the damage, station a $10 wireless motion-sensor light in your garden, and then turn off most of the lights in your house. The light might scare the animals the first few times it comes on, but after that they will accept it if doing so means getting a good meal. Have binoculars handy to get a good look at your new enemy.
Permanent Perimeter vs. Temporary Pop-Ons
Do you need to fence your whole garden, or are there only certain plantings in need of protection? If your only problem is protecting strawberries from birds and squirrels, making a secure cover for one bed using chicken wire, row cover or both is much less work than putting up a fence. Raccoons after your sweet corn are another problem that can be handled on a small scale with a carefully positioned two-strand electric fence, with one strand 6 inches above the ground and the other 12 inches high. See Electric Fencing for a full report on your electric fencing options.
You probably need a perimeter fence if you need to exclude chickens and other domestic animals, if deer are a serious problem, or if you are battling territorial critters such as pocket gophers and groundhogs. Plastic mesh fencing can be an inexpensive option to deter deer, but be aware that rabbits will quickly gnaw through the plastic, creating openings for smaller critters. You may be able to cut some of the posts you will need from your own land if you have rot-resistant woods such as cedar, locust, mulberry, or Osage orange. In locations where appearance is important, you can build an attractive wood fence and line its base and the ground surrounding it with poultry netting (chicken wire) or hardware cloth to keep animals from digging their way in. This add-on feature is necessary if any fence is to exclude rabbits, pocket gophers, and other small animals with sharp teeth. On many homesteads, the garden fence also controls the movement of goats, dogs, pigs, or chickens, so many folks start with a post-and-wire perimeter fence, and then add poultry netting or electric fencing to enhance the fence’s pest-deterrent properties. For the main fence, there are three economical choices: Woven wire fencing must be forcibly stretched between sturdy posts, so the ends and corners require secure bracing. On the positive side, woven wire’s flexibility makes it resilient and easier to install on uneven terrain than other types of fencing. Welded wire fencing is stiffer than woven wire and requires minimal stretching, so it is easier to install (and requires fewer deeply set, reinforced posts) compared to woven wire. Welded wire works best on relatively level ground. Welded wire products with smaller mesh along the lower edge (intended to keep horses from getting their hooves caught) also deter some animal pests. Stock panels are rigid fencing panels sold in standard 16-foot lengths. They range in price from $20 (for a 34-inch-high panel) to $45 (for a 5-foot-high panel). Installation is a simple matter of attaching them to metal posts with clips — no stretching required. And they are easy to relocate if necessary.