How to Protect Garden Bedding Plants from Deer and Rabbits
It is very frustrating to purchase bedding plants for your garden, spend hours planting them, and then go out the next morning to find a third or more of them eaten or bitten off. Similarly it is discouraging to lose emerging seedlings in the same way. The deer netting described below provides good protection for young bedding plants and emerging plants from deer, rabbits, and other hungry creatures. However, it must be held in place and supported in some way to allow the tender young bedding plants to grow underneath it. One version of this netting is a fairly strong, black, plastic mesh with 3/4 inch openings. This reasonably priced product is available in 7 foot wide by 100 foot long rolls online and from some home improvement stores and garden centers. Also, the furring strips recommended below are fairly inexpensive. When the plants reach the height of the netting canopy it will have to be removed, but by this time the plants will be large enough to survive occasional nibbling. This article will discuss two alternate means of support for the netting. Both alternatives use stakes made of 1 inch by 2 inch furring strips, but one approach uses top rails made of furring strips and the other uses tightly stretched string between the stakes. Wood dimensions are also not critical. You can use whatever you have on hand that is strong enough. The approach described here is best for protecting entire rows or major parts of rows. For protecting individual, moderately to widely spaced plants an alternate approach is presented in the hub How to Protect Individual Young Garden Bedding Plants From Deer and Rabbits.
Tools and material needed
The tools and materials required vary depending on the type of netting support chosen. For the railing support system, the furring strips are used full length for the top rails, For either system the furring strips are cut to length to make the stakes.
- Roll or package of Deer Netting
- 1 inch x2 inch x 8 foot furring strips
- Garden (landscape cloth) staples
- Hatchet (could use chop saw or radial arm saw)
- Scissors to cut deer netting
- Power Saw or hand saw
Railing Support System
- Drywall screws #6 1.25 inch
- Variable speed drill or power screwdriver or plain Phillips screwdriver
- Phillips screw bits
String Support System
- Carton knife or pocket knife
- Heavy twine
Top rail support approach
Two of the assemblies shown in the picture here support an 8 foot section of netting as shown in the picture by the introduction above. Driving the sharpened stakes into the ground keeps each assembly upright. Use the dimensions below to support the netting 15 inches above the ground and to protect an area about 3.5 feet wide. Adapt the dimensions as needed to meet your requirements.
Make stakes by cutting 24 inch lengths of the furring strip material and sharpen one end of each stake. A hatchet is quick for sharpening a few, but a chop saw or radial arm saw speeds up doing a lot of stakes. A sharpened 24 inch stake driven into the ground 9 inches will support the rail 15 inches above the ground. Mark the stakes 9 inches up from the sharpened end (or 15 inches down from the unsharpened end) so you can drive them to a consistent depth and keep the top rails lined up horizontally.
Fasten the rails and stakes together before putting them in the garden to simplify construction and to help in keeping adjacent assemblies aligned. Attach each stake to the rail with one screw. Let the top of the stake project just slightly above the rail and attach the stake 21 inches in from the end of the rail. The slight stake projection above the rail will permit hammering the stake into the ground without hitting the rail and the single screw will permit folding the stake up next to the rail for storage at season’s end. The furring strips split rather easily so it is best to use a fairly thin screw like a #6. It is also quicker to use a screw that can just be driven in without a pilot hole. Drywall screws work well and will last several seasons before rusting too badly. A 1 5/8 inch length drywall screw is a little long, but makes a stronger connection than a 1 1/4 inch (1 1/2 inch drywall screws do not seem to be available). Measure the length of the area to be protected and figure out how many assemblies to build. Suppose you need to protect an areas that is 20 foot long. To support the netting on both sides you will need to make 4 eight foot long assemblies, plus two 4 foot long assemblies. With the rail 15 inches above the ground and allowing about 6 inches of netting where it is fastened to the ground on each side, the width of the protected area is 3.5 feet, assuming 7 foot wide netting. Lowering the rail height would permit a wider protected area.
Set up protected area
Drive the stakes into the ground, lining up rails end to end. If you wish, cut a length of furring strip for each end of the protected area and connect the two sides together, but if the netting is pulled tight these end strips can be left off. Roll out the netting to the required length, cut, and then unfold it and lay it across the rails. The netting is rather light so it is best to work on a day that is not too windy. Fasten the netting to the ground with garden staples getting it as tight to the ground as possible. The staples are made of heavy wire and are U-shaped, about 1 inch wide and about 6 inches long. For weeding take the staples out along one side and both ends and fold the netting back. Since taking out the staples each time is time consuming, you could also potentially weight one side down with scraps of lumber or attach a cable tie or something to the staples to make them more visible and easier to pull out.
String support alternative
This technique is similar to the one above except the top rail is replaced with a tightly stretched twine and more stakes are used. The stakes are notched slightly with a knife as shown in the picture to hold the string in position. The stakes need to be driven a little deeper to support the tension of the string. Position the stakes about 3-4 feet apart. Tie the string to the corner stake and then stretch tight and wrap it twice around the first stake, repeat at the next stake and so on until you tie the string to further corner stake. Repeat for the opposite side and for the two ends. Fasten netting to ground with staples as described above.
Removing and storing
When plant size necessitates. detach and remove the netting, detach the netting. If it came on a roll, fold it lengthwise and roll it back onto the original cardboard tube. If it came in a package fold as small as possible and put back into the package or a plastic bag. Take out the support stakes and rails. Fold stakes up in line with rails. Store netting and supports for next season.
- If a convenient number of 8 foot sections is just slightly short for the area you want to protect, you can leave some space between the sections to stretch them out and then tie on short strips of wood to bridge the openings and connect the sections together.
- Have some scrap wood or other objects to weight down the free end of the netting as you unroll or unfold it. and to hold down the edge as you unfold it. The roll version is folded a couple of times lengthwise.
- Use smaller pieces of the netting to wrap tomato cages to protect young tomato plants. Tie netting to tomato cages with twine.
- The garden staples can be a little hard to see when you have to take them out. Put a bright colored cable tie (pulled very tight) around the top of each staple. This makes them easier to see and you can also grip the cable tie to pull out the staple.
- Keep in mind that this system is a deterrent, not an absolute barrier. Deer seem to leave it alone, but occasionally a determined rabbit will chew through the mesh. Usually in this event the rabbit has trouble finding its way out and has to be released by opening one end and shooing it out. Hopefully this unpleasant experience will cause it to avoid the area in the future. You can fix such a hole by cutting out a small repair piece of the mesh material and using a length of string to sort of sew it over the hole.