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11 ways to protect your home and garden from wildlife

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The amount of wildlife has increased in urban and suburban areas, thanks to the past several months of reduced human mobility around the world (referred to by scientists as the “anthropause”). Observational evidence also suggests that more animals, like mountain lions and coyotes, are out and about in these areas. However, with this resurgence in wildlife, it’s natural to wonder how to protect your garden and home from animals. 

Increased wildlife presence may have negative impacts on your property. These animals can dig holes in lawns or destroy walls and air vents. Check your home insurance policy for coverage regarding damage done by animals and pests. If you're ready to take a humane stand against the wildlife in your area, read on for 11 ways to protect your home against animals – and learn how to attract beneficial wildlife to your property, too.

Jump to the infographic for a visual of common animal pests by region and the ways to protect your home and garden from them.

1. Do some digging (on your animal suspects)

The first course of action should be to do some digging and find out exactly what kinds of animals you’re dealing with. Knowing your furry foe will help you plan the best line of defense for your home and garden. Your common culprits include deer, rabbits, gophers, voles, squirrels, woodchucks, raccoons and chipmunks. 

 

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Animals target your garden for food, and they leave traces in the form of torn stems, nibbled leaves, damaged fruit and entire parts of plants cut down to the ground. Your house and other structures are also targets for shelter. Damage like torn roof shingles and ripped insulation can happen when animals create a den. Identifying who leaves what traces behind will help you preserve your farm-to-table lifestyle


Tips for wildlife identification

Sprinkling finely ground limestone around the damaged areas will help to reveal animal tracks the next day. Use the following quick tips to figure out exactly who is doing damage:

  • For deer, look for torn bark, large plants bitten off and tracks in the soil.
  • Rabbits leave uniform nibbles of plant growth, clean rips from leaves and nearby droppings the size of peas.
  • Gophers burrow and make crescent or horseshoe shaped mounds of fresh soil.
  • Voles are small but chew foliage and topple plants.
  • Squirrels and chipmunks prefer for fruits and are active in the morning and at dusk.
  • Raccoons will scatter garbage, cause lawn and garden damage and even invade and destroy structures.
  • Woodchuck traces include trampled plants and nearby burrows.

2. Use barriers

One of the easiest and most effective ways to deter wildlife from eating your garden or wandering into your home is by using barriers. Plant covers, chicken wire and netting work well to protect edible plants and ripening fruit like berries. 

Fences are the ultimate barrier and are even protected by your home insurance. They are incredibly effective if you choose the right one for the animal you’re trying to deter. 

  • Taller fences are necessary for deer, who can jump high. A fence to deter deer should be four feet tall, at minimum.
  • Protecting against rabbits requires fences that are about three feet tall. 
  • For burrowing animals like gophers and woodchucks, remember to extend your fence underground about a foot deep.

3. Defend vulnerable plants

Plants fresh from the nursery or home improvement store are especially vulnerable. They're often full of nutrients that draw animals to them. Damage from animals will affect a fledgling plant's ability to survive. Take particular care to fence off or cover these plants after introducing them to your yard or garden.

 

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4. Go for height

Go for a vertical advantage by planting in raised beds or pots. Placing your vegetation out of reach of rabbits and burrowing animals will go a long way toward preserving your garden. For extra protection, add a small barrier on top, like a fence or chicken wire, to prevent animals from hopping in.

5. Pick less appealing plants

While a lot of animals, like deer, will eat just about any plant if they are desperate, some plants are particularly less appealing to their taste buds. Plants with natural defenses are good choices for an animal-prone garden. Pick plants with pricks and thorns, poisonous-to-pests traits or strong smells.

  • Pricks and thorns offer protection for cacti, thistles and many succulents. 
  • Toxic plants such as daffodils, monkshoods (wolfs-bane), foxgloves and lilies of the valley are poisonous and can make animals sick. 
  • Strong scents from plants and herbs like mint, oregano, lavender and sage can overwhelm an animal’s senses.
  • Scents that mask good smells are useful, too. Anything in the allium family (think onions, garlic and leeks) emits a sulphuric smell that obscures the scents of other plants and repels pests.


Note: Plants that are poisonous to animal wildlife can also harm your pets. If you have outdoor animals, keep this in mind when choosing your plants.

6. Remove hiding spots

Reduce the opportunity for animals to make a den by removing possible hiding spots. Some yard clean up to clear away brush piles or remove hollow stumps can do the trick. Maintaining your house is also necessary. Block off crevices and close open vents or passages that lead to the attic or underneath the house or deck. Keep outdoor sheds or detached garages secured at all times. Regular upkeep of your property will keep your home and garden functional and safe.

 

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7. Employ a harmless fear tactic

Use this innocent fear tactic to protect your home and garden: the time-honored scarecrow. A fearsome (or friendly) scarecrow in your garden can ward off uninvited animal guests. It might not be the most effective at scaring away animals, but it counts as fun garden decor!

8. Train your dog to chase

This is technically another fear tactic, but man’s best friend deserves their own category. Many dogs have been historically bred to chase and find animal pests such as rodents. Take advantage of these instincts and train your dog to chase away animals without harming them. Larger animals like racoons may attack your pet, so be sure to bring your pet inside if you’re having trouble with raccoons.

9. Don’t leave food out

Leaving food out will attract wildlife to your property. Pet food, unsecured garbage, fallen fruit and even bird feeders are low-effort food sources that entice critters like raccoons and squirrels. Bring pet food and bird feeders inside at night and take care to secure food items that stay outside.

 

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10. Cover compost

Compost is another appealing food source for wildlife. It’s very convenient to compost in your yard, but you should take precautions to avoid unwanted animals. Make sure you use a sturdy compost bin that can lock or close securely to prevent critters wreaking havoc on your slowly decomposing fertilizer.

11. Try natural repellants

Finally, you could try using a natural substance like cayenne pepper to repel any unwanted furry friends. Cayenne pepper is a natural and cost-effective repellent. Capsaicin is a chemical in cayenne pepper, and it’s so irritating to animals that the EPA lists it as a naturally occurring biochemical pesticide. You can make it into a repellant spray or sprinkle it on any affected areas of your garden to keep your plants safe. 

Beware of spicing up your garden if you have pets — cayenne has the same irritating effect on cats and dogs as it will squirrels and other pests.

How to attract good wildlife to your property

Although unwanted wildlife can be a nuisance, there are animals that can help your home and garden flourish.

 

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Entice bees and butterflies with your garden

Pollinators like bees and butterflies are essential for flowering plants and agriculture, because they facilitate the natural process of fertilization. And, they need protection from chemical or natural pesticides because their population health is already in decline

Tip: To attract pollinators, plant a diverse array of colored flowers and herbs. Bees are particularly drawn to blues, yellows and whites, and butterflies like reds, yellows and purples. Think about sunflowers, coneflowers, bee balm, zinnias and asters for your yard or garden.

Maintain the natural order with birds

While birds can be pesky if they get to ripe fruit before you, they do have some vital functions in the natural world. Birds are important to plant life because they help pollinate and scatter seeds. 
They represent a crucial level in the food chain as both predator and prey and are a key species in sustaining entire ecosystems. 

Tip: Vibrant, warm colors like red, orange and white attract birds. Additionally, bird feeders add extra appeal as an easily accessible food source. 

Cultivate your own worms

Earthworms are a productive component of healthy soil. They aerate the soil and improve its water drainage. Worms’ abilities to aid decomposition also quickly turn compost into nutrient-rich fertilizer. 

Tip: Create a good environment for worms by keeping soil moist and filled with organic matter. Worms also prefer a pH above 4.5 (add garden limestone to raise the soil’s pH and make it less acidic). Use soil strips to test its pH or try this at-home chemistry experiment.

 

The resurgence of wildlife during the pandemic is great for the environment. However, more wildlife around may mean damage to your garden – or even a rogue raccoon in your home! If you’re experiencing run-ins with wildlife, know that damage by larger animals like raccoons and deer is generally covered by your home insurance policy. Damage from squirrels and other small rodents is usually not covered. 

It’s okay to not fully be one with nature and want to set boundaries for yourself and your home. Protect your property from animal damage by taking some of the preventative measures outlined in this post. In doing so, remember that we do share this earth with other living beings, and we should be mindful of the effects our actions have on their home as well.

 

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