How to Keep Small Pets Out of Your Garden – Tips and Tricks

As a passionate gardener, I’ve fought a constant uphill battle to protect my yard and garden beds from curious neighborhood cats, dogs, squirrels, and other critters roaming for food or fun. 

Over nearly a decade of gardening, I’ve experienced the whole gamut of fauna destroying my hard work – trampled seedlings, uprooted plants, stolen veggies, and dug-up pots. 

Through plenty of trial and error, I’ve finally discovered some simple, humane techniques to deter these furry trespassers. Let me share everything I’ve learned about keeping animal intruders away, so you can avoid wasted effort and heartache in your own garden.

Fencing Should Be Your First Line of Defense

Installing secure fencing around your entire garden is absolutely critical to keeping animals out. This should be the first step you take, before anything else. Proper fencing prevents access and eliminates about 90% of pet damage. Don’t wait until after your plants are already suffering frequent attacks.

What type of fencing works best? 

A traditional wood privacy fence or galvanized wire fence does the job but can be very expensive. After going through a few flimsy temporary wire fences that fell apart, I discovered heavy-duty plastic mesh netting. This was a game-changer!

Fencing Should Be Your First Line of Defense

The netting is sold in long rolls at home improvement stores. I bought mine on Amazon.

I used a manual lawn edger to dig narrow trenches around the perimeters of all my planting beds, both in-ground and raised. By sinking the bottom edge of the netting several inches into the trenches, I prevented animals from digging underneath.

I rolled out the netting and used a staple gun to firmly fasten it to the wooden edges of my raised beds. 

For in-ground beds, I staked the netting down with landscape pins. The great thing about plastic netting is you can easily customize it. As my garden grows, I just snip a hole wherever plants need to emerge using scissors or garden clippers.

The netting keeps curious paws and noses completely out of the soil but doesn’t inhibit plant growth at all. It’s a very efficient system! I used the same netting to protect my potted plants by wrapping individual pots before setting them outside.

Installing protective netting or fencing is extremely worthwhile for avoiding trampled seedlings, stolen vegetables, and uprooted plants. While it takes effort initially, the long-term time and money savings are immense compared to replacing ravaged plants all season long.

Use Smell Repellents to Ward Off Intruders

Once you have fencing installed, it’s smart to create another line of defense with natural smell deterrents around the garden perimeter. Strong odors effectively tell animals to turn around and go elsewhere.

I’ll admit it – I’m not a huge fan of spraying harsh chemicals in my yard, even if they deter animals. Instead, I’ve found some natural smell repellents that work wonders.

Dogs and rabbits absolutely hate the pungent smell of vinegar. Fill up a spray bottle with undiluted white vinegar and thoroughly saturate the soil along the outside of your garden fence or netting. 

Also, spray vinegar around potted plants for extra protection. Reapply every few days, especially after heavy rain. The acidity irritates sensitive animal noses, warning critters to stay away.

For curious cats, citrus scents do the trick. Squirt leftover lemon, lime, or orange juice around plants. You can also thinly slice citrus peels and place them around pots or garden edges. 

Use Smell Repellents to Ward Off Intruders

The strong citrus oil released as peels decompose makes cats think twice about entering. Replenish peels every 2-3 weeks.

If you don’t have ready access to citrus fruit, try this: sprinkle Cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, or a commercial animal repellent onto the soil surrounding plants. These strong spices irritate the paws and noses of animals who try to dig or brush against plants.

Reapply repellent spices every 1-2 weeks, and immediately after rainfall. Check product labels carefully to ensure the capsaicin oils and spices won’t harm your particular vegetables or flowers. 

Companion planting with strong herbs like parsley, peppermint, and garlic also helps discourage animal intruders.

Make the Ground Uncomfortable for Tiny Paws

Leaving bare dirt exposed in your garden practically invites trouble from bored furry creatures looking for places to dig. Make your soil unpleasant for pets by covering it with sharp, uncomfortable materials. There are numerous options that work well:

  • Spread a 1-2 inch layer of pointy sticks, pinecones, wood chips, pea gravel, or crushed eggshells over the soil in garden beds. Pets dislike walking across these bumpy, uneven surfaces.
  • Cover bare dirt with plastic carpet protector spikes, available at hardware stores. The spikes lie flat when stepped on, but deter digging.
  • Place chicken wire securely on top of the soil. The metal wires are uncomfortable on paws.
  • Arrange large river rocks, pinecones, or oyster shells around the bases of plants for protection.
  • Elevate pots above ground on platforms or plant stands to prevent digging underneath.

I’ve found that pinecones, gravel, and marbles work particularly well to protect my potted plants. Always take care that sharp objects are not exposed upright where they could injure pets. 

The goal is simply to make the environment uninviting. These techniques remove the appeal for critters to dig in your garden as they’ll seek easier territory.

Make the Ground Uncomfortable for Tiny Paws

Use Devices That Emit Scary Sounds or Sprays

For areas that need extra reinforcement, motion-activated devices provide a sudden startling scare to drive away intruders. These battery or solar-powered products detect movement and emit noises or sprays to frighten interlopers. They are a more high-tech version of odor deterrents.

Motion-activated sprinklers attach to your hose or outdoor faucet. When an animal crosses the sensor beam, the sprinkler instantly fires a shocking jet of water. After being squirted once or twice, most critters will avoid that area. 

Just be sure to test sprinklers first so your own pets don’t get unnecessarily soaked!

For a non-water option, install a motion-activated ultrasonic noise repeller. These devices emit a high-frequency tone upon sensing movement that’s inaudible to humans but frightens pests. 

The sudden loud sound startles animals without harming them. Search online for “motion-activated dog repeller” to find lots of products.

I use battery-powered ultrasonic repellers sensibly around my yard to reinforce vulnerable areas. They work well placed along garden fences, around trees, and near potted plants. 

The random scolding noises warn interlopers to steer clear. Just be aware that their effective range is only 20-30 feet. Place numerous units to cover a large area.

Chat Gently But Firmly With Neighbors

If neighborhood cats and dogs continue sneaking into your yard despite protective measures, it’s appropriate to speak directly with your neighbors. I always approach these conversations gently – you’ll gain more cooperation with honey than vinegar.

Mention you’ve noticed their pets wandering onto your property lately, causing damage. Provide photographic evidence if needed. Emphasize you understand they aren’t doing it out of ill intent. 

Chat Gently But Firmly With Neighbors

However, ask if the owner would consider keeping their pets leashed, inside, or within their own fenced yard to prevent repeat intrusions.

Suggest harmless deterrents like scattering orange peels or planting rosemary by their fences. Recommend they install runner lines for pets to satisfy playful energy. When initiating this dialogue, remain friendly and non-confrontational. 

You want to maintain positive relations. Present it as a mutual challenge affecting the whole community that needs resolution.

With empathy, patience, and repeated communication, you can collaborate to find an animal containment solution satisfactory for all involved. Don’t give up if your kindly requests are initially dismissed – be politely persistent.

Vigilance is Key in This Ongoing Battle of Wits

Living alongside nature means contending with wildlife attracted to your garden. Don’t become discouraged when your defenses are inevitably breached. Consistent vigilance and adaptation are crucial for long-term success.

Monitor netting and fences frequently for holes, gaps, or weaknesses animals could exploit. Check whether repellent smells are wearing off or becoming less potent after rain. 

Refresh them before they lose effectiveness. Verify electronic devices have sufficient charge and working sensors to activate upon movement.

The most critical moment is when first installing new plants or seeds. Immediately protect them with fencing, unpleasant ground cover, and repellents before tender shoots emerge. Don’t give pests an opportunity.

Finally, observe where animals penetrate your garden and their routes of entry. Make note of vulnerabilities so you can bolster defenses in problem areas each season. With time, consistency, and diligence you can outsmart those furry bandits.

Frequently Asked Questions About Deterring Small Pets from Gardens

Q: How can I keep neighborhood cats from using my garden as a litter box?

A: Sprinkle cayenne, coffee grounds, citrus peels, pipe tobacco, or commercial cat repellent onto areas cats frequent. Place chicken wire, large rocks, or wooden boards over the soil to make it uncomfortable to dig and bury waste. Install motion-activated sprinklers to startle cats away.

Q: Are ultrasonic repellers or electronic “pest away” spike strips effective?

A: Not usually. In my experience, these devices that claim to emit pulses rarely work consistently or reliably in the garden. Smell and touch repellents, fencing, and motion-activated sprinklers are far more effective for deterring digging animals.

Q: Is it ok to use mothballs or ammonia to repel animals?

A: No, mothballs and ammonia are toxic chemicals and can be harmful to pets, children, and plants. Stick with natural repellents like hot peppers, vinegar, and citrus smells which work well without endangering health.

Q: My neighbor’s dog keeps trampling my garden when it escapes their yard. What should I do?

A: First, document the damage occurring and gently speak with your neighbor about the issue. If the dog continues trespassing, consider small garden fences, spraying vinegar around the perimeter, or involving a mediator like an HOA or landlord. As a last resort, local law may allow you to sue for damages.

Q: How can I stop squirrels from eating my vegetables?

A: Use fencing with very small mesh openings that exclude squirrels but allow plants to grow. Apply natural repellent sprays made with hot pepper sauce or garlic around vulnerable plants. Wrapping aluminum foil around supports of garden structures may also deter squirrels.

Q: Are coffee grounds an effective animal repellent?

A: Used coffee grounds can help mask certain appealing garden smells and make soil slightly more acidic. However, they don’t tend to work well as stand-alone deterrents. Combine used grounds with spicy hot pepper powder or Cayenne sprinkled on top for added effectiveness. Reapply the mixture after rain.

Final Words

I hope these tips culled from my many years of experience can help you avoid the headache and heartbreak of your plants falling prey to animal intruders. 

If you have any other clever tricks for safe, humane pest deterrence, share them in the comments! I’m happy to learn new methods. 

Let’s work together to keep our gardens protected. Our yards provide far too much joy to surrender them without a fight.

Murphy Bernier

Murphy Bernier

Murphy Bernier is a New-York based freelance writer, professional blogger and certified dog trainer. She networks shelter pets to help them find homes and volunteers for rescue groups as she is passionate about dog rescue and adoption. From a very early age, she developed extensive animal handling skills from her dad, and that’s where her love for animals started.

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