How can I keep predators out of my small container pond?
February 12, 2011 11:33 AM   Subscribe

How can I keep predators out of my small container pond?

Last spring, I created a backyard container pond out of a half-barrel for the purpose of growing some aquatic and marginal plants, like water lilies and mini-cattails. Rather than directly planting the barrel, I put the plants in individual pots and then submerged them, so that I could take them out and easily clean the barrel if necessary. A picture of this set-up can be seen here. After a while, I noticed that on some mornings, I would find the pots knocked over, and the plants floating around the barrel, partially destroyed. Once, I found a plant halfway across my yard, chewed down to its roots.

I suspected thirsty/bored raccoons-- although I never caught them in the act, I had seen them in our yard before. I live in the city, so the only other potential suspects were our neighbor's outdoor cats, and that seemed unlikely, because there were no fish in the pond, and I doubted they'd be interested in chewing up plants.

After I had replanted the pots half a dozen times, and the plants had been reduced to pathetic shadows of their former selves, I resorted to covering the pond with a plastic tarp at night, and while that was effective, it was extremely high-maintenance. If I forgot for even one night, there would be damage in the morning, without fail. And if I left it on too long once morning came, the plants would bake.

Anyway, the main point is this: I'd like to try creating a container pond again this year, but I feel like that's pointless if it's going to get constantly destroyed. Does this sound like raccoons? If so, how can I protect my pond, preferably in a way that doesn't involve constant monitoring, doesn't defeat the aesthetic purpose of the pond, and isn't prohibitively expensive?
posted by aldebaran to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
Can you attach hardware cloth across the top?
posted by dilettante at 11:36 AM on February 12, 2011

It probably is raccoons. When you find one way to distract or scare raccoons, they overcome the fear or outsmart it. One way would be surrounding it with plastic mesh or chicken wire that they can't climb up - it will fall over because of their weight, although, they might outsmart that. You could put it around the pond at night so that the mesh doesn't interfere with the aesthetic during the day.

I have a ground squirrel that I keep trying to outsmart and discourage and so far no luck :-P
posted by Calzephyr at 11:42 AM on February 12, 2011

Dilettante -- As some of the plants are tall reeds, they'll stick out a couple feet above the water (if they ever get a chance to grow that tall, that is!), so I don't know how well that would work. I suppose I could cut holes in the hardware cloth around the places the plants stick out, and that would at least protect the pots from being overturned. Maybe the raccoons wouldn't be interested in eating the reeds if they can't get to the wet, tasty roots of the plants. So that's an idea. Not too aesthetically pleasing, though.
posted by aldebaran at 11:50 AM on February 12, 2011

Agreed, raccoons are probably the perps here. Raccoons are clever, dextrous and determined and the only successful raccoon strategy I've ever seen is to negotiate an agreement with them: basically, give them what they want in an easier format and they'll leave your other stuff alone.

My Mom reached d├ętente with the backyard raccoons, who were digging through the garbage cans, after she realized they were only interested in meat scraps. They flung the rest of the garbage all over to get at the good stuff, so she just put the meat scraps on a little tray on the ground for them, and after they got the idea that ALL the good stuff was on the tray they left the garbage cans alone.

So my suggestion is to set up a drinking fountain/washing station for the raccoons that's more convenient for them than your pond - you'll have to figure out what that means to a raccoon - and they'll probably leave your pond alone after that.
posted by Quietgal at 11:56 AM on February 12, 2011

Quietgal has it - after a terrible devastation wrought on our backyard container pond (four of our five goldfish were slaughtered. It was awful) I figured out that leaving them their own open drinking area at least kept them out of the plants in the pond (tho we haven't tempted them with more outdoor fish - the survivor lives in a very swank aquarium indoors now). This also works to keep them out of the EarthBox we have on our deck, which they kept digging up to get to the water reservoir. They want water, preferably fresh, and they like some of the plants, so I'm thinking of leaving some duckweed for them in the backyard raccoon waterer.
posted by annathea at 12:29 PM on February 12, 2011

I had good luck with a motion controlled sprinkler
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:07 PM on February 12, 2011

That pond is so small you can run an electric current through the water and shock the little bastards into leaving it alone. Don't kill them but make them reluctant to stick their hands in there again. It won't take much, livestock tank heaters often short out and mildly shock the animals and they will utterly refuse to go near the tank until it's fixed. I'm talking you can barely feel it if you stick your own hand in there mild levels of current. Providing an alternate drinking area will help reinforce the message that the pond is not for raccoons.
posted by fshgrl at 3:08 PM on February 12, 2011

Several friends with young children use galvanized steel concrete rebar grid (IIRC about 2 inch mesh) to keep their kids out of their ponds. Cut to shape (and painted if you like) it needn't look too ugly.

That said, it can be a bit of a bitch to lift off and replace for cleaning purposes if your plants have grown through or around it.

Combine the grid with alternate feeding/watering, and you'd probably have something that would work okay.
posted by Ahab at 6:18 PM on February 12, 2011

A few ounces of Bitter Apple mixed in the water should do your plants no harm, and keep the fuzzy bandits away.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:15 AM on February 13, 2011

Thanks everyone! Your suggestions have really helped. I can't believe I didn't think of some of these. I'm probably going to go with a combination attack-- leave out an alternate water source, bitter apple in the pond water, and possibly an inoffensive-looking grate/grid of some sort as a physical barrier if the first two aren't sufficient on their own.
posted by aldebaran at 11:44 PM on February 17, 2011

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