Keeping squirrels from digging up my garden
February 28, 2011 8:33 AM   Subscribe

Squirrel Wars: Can I lay down a layer of chicken wire or hardware cloth directly on top of my raised beds to keep the squirrels from digging up my plants, and then let my veggies grow through the wire all season?

My backyard is squirrel central and I am anticipating full-out battle with these noxious vermin. They dig everywhere in the yard already, so I'm assuming they'll dig up my vegetable beds too. Instead of constructing a sort of lid or cage to keep them out, I was thinking about putting down a layer of chicken wire directly on the soil and letting the plants grow through that. Does this sound doable? (I do realize that this won't stop the horrible beasts from eating my veggies, but I will address that front of the war later on in the summer.)
posted by yarly to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My neighbor encased his whole garden in a chicken wire enclosure/fence about 4 feet high - it worked to keep the squirrels and deer mostly away. We have a lot of other attractions in the neighborhood though, so I don't know if that would work too well if the squirrels are really motivated (although to be honest I have decided that if a squirrel is really motivated absolutely nothing can stop it). It also looked kind of bad.
posted by mrs. taters at 8:47 AM on February 28, 2011

That sounds like a really good solution to prevent digging. My mom does similar things to her flower beds to keep her kitties from pooping there.
In my yard, squirrels don't dig so much as they eat my tomatoes, so this wouldn't help. But I'll assume you know your squirrels.
posted by aimedwander at 8:47 AM on February 28, 2011

Yes, I did this with my potted tomatoes and herbs and it worked fine.
posted by something something at 8:49 AM on February 28, 2011

I did this when I had a lot of squirrel issues (large trees close to the beds). Just remember to take it up at the end of the year so it doesn't rust into a bunch of sharp pointy bits over the winter.
posted by catlet at 9:12 AM on February 28, 2011

The place where I live allows dogs and as the owners thereof allowed them to run run rampant over the flower beds, I put in 24'' bamboo stakes, the green kind sold at hardware stores, in rows with the sticks about 2" inches apart to discourage the dogs. It worked.

I did the same thing with the 9" or so bamboo skewers used for kebabs in the larger flower pots to discourage the squirrels--with the pointy end in the ground, of course. It kept the squirrels out of the flower pots. Whereas, before I did so, the squirrels would dig up all my starts and seedlings because the soil was so friendly to squirrels intent on burying nuts. The squirrels could have easily dislodged the sticks, had they tried--but the appearance of the sticks seemed to discourage them from trying. So, you might think of a porcupine punji stick barrier like that. I found it more aesthetically pleasing than putting down chicken wire.
posted by y2karl at 9:36 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you are going to allow plants to grow up through the hardware cloth, here are a few tips:

Use a mesh larger than 1/4" - that's too small for plant stalks to develop properly.

Stake the mesh down real well or attach it firmly to the bed sides with staples or bent-over nails. If it moves or slides around, it will guillotine all your plants the first time you step or lean on it.

I usually cut holes big enough in the mesh around established plants so every little movement of the screen doesn't gouge the stem bases and damage the plants.
posted by Aquaman at 9:41 AM on February 28, 2011

I would add this -- if you live in a city, consider getting your soil tested for lead. I know folks who bought a house a block off Broadway on Capitol Hill. They had their soil tested and found that the lead levels were four times the legal threshold. This was the result of several decades of car exhaust from the days when lead was put in gasoline. I tell this story to anyone who wants to grow vegetables in our beds -- between that and the contamination from decades of rich in e.coli (and other pathogens) cat and dog poop, the soil in the beds is not the best bet for growing food. I suggest, that to be on the safe side, they grow their vegetables in large pots with soil they bought.
posted by y2karl at 9:42 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your Cooperative Extension Service can test your soil. (We had high lead, removed the soil, replaced w/ new soil & compost.) They will also have lots of great info for gardeners. The Extension Service is terrific - your tax dollars at work.
posted by theora55 at 9:45 AM on February 28, 2011

Don't use chicken wire (the twisted kind with large hexagonal holes) -- use hardware cloth (the welded kind with square 1/4" mesh). Use tin snips to cut a hole for the seedlings. Make sure to check periodically to see if you need to cut more away as the plants grow.

I've done this to protect my plants from my chickens, and it works just fine. The squirrel-proofing is just a bonus.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:19 AM on February 28, 2011

I used hardware cloth squares around bulbs and it works wells. I just cut a hole large enough for the stem and left the pointy edges up. Put wood chips on top and it isn't noticeable.
posted by JJ86 at 1:11 PM on February 28, 2011

Thanks for the input! I'm glad to hear that others have had success with this mode of anti-squirrel fortification. I'm also intrigued by the bamboo skewer fence idea. It reminds me of Ngo Quyen defeating the Chinese in the Battle of the Bach Dang River in 938 AD, when he hid wooden pikes in the river to skewer the Hans' boats.
posted by yarly at 8:13 AM on March 1, 2011

Well, it is more of a psychological barrier than a barrier--a dog could go through it and a squirrel could learn to pull up the sticks.

They love cultivated soil. It's so easy to dig a big hole and drop in a peanut.

But an array of sticks performs the same function as those thorn cattle corrals used by the Masai to keep the lions out. It just looks like too much work.
posted by y2karl at 1:44 PM on March 1, 2011

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