Animals and Wildlife in Your Garden (And What to Do About Them)

Animals and Wildlife in Your Garden (And What to Do About Them)

By Michael Jenkins

As spring moves into summer, many of us are seeing a lot more activity in our gardens—and not just from the plants! Birds, insects, and animals of various kinds may be putting on an appearance in your outdoor garden spaces. This can be quite a surprise for new gardeners; flowers, fruits, and vegetables all attract more creatures than grass! We’ve gotten a lot of questions from folks asking about animals in their gardens, what impact wildlife have on gardens, and what (if anything) they should do about it. It’s a lot to tackle, but let’s dig in!

Let’s start with a caveat: most wild animals found in gardens are just trying to go about their lives, and they mean no harm to you or your garden. You don’t need to worry about them, be afraid of them, or take drastic measures to protect your garden from them. Just like our gardens, they’re part of the natural world around us and should be treated as such. There are some exceptions—if you live in a rural or semi-rural area and see bears, coyotes, or other predators you may wish to take additional precautions—but most garden critters are harmless to humans.  We have written about mice and rats in their own blog, as they do raise some special concerns, so please review that if you have time. We’ve likewise talked about bird-friendly gardening already, so for this blog we’ll be focused  on our four-legged friends.

Raccoons (Procyon lotor) are a common backyard animal across North America, and even parts of South America and the Caribbean. Intelligent animals with agile paws, Raccoons are famous for getting into garbage cans in search of food, which has led many folks to nickname them “trash pandas”. Raccoons are generally not a danger to humans, but they may get aggressive with pets if they feel threatened. They’re also not generally an issue for most garden plants, but you may want to deter them from coming into your yard or garden space. The best way to do this is to keep your trash tightly covered and to keep your compost heap as secure as possible and well away from your house if you can. If you see raccoons or they start to cause issues, your local animal control or animal rescue may be able to help.

Possums (Didelphis virginiana and related species) are another common backyard animal in North America, where they are the continent’s only marsupial. Among other things this means they raise their young in a pouch on their stomachs! While possums may look a little scary—they are often mistaken for large rats by people who aren’t familiar with them—they are absolutely harmless to both humans and pets. They may, however, pose an issue for backyard chickens, so keep your flock locked up tight. Possums will likely leave your garden plants alone, and are helpful garden creatures to have around—they eat ticks and other insects, slugs and other garden pests, and even small rodents like mice! They cannot contract or transmit rabies, so if you see them in your garden have no worries! 

Deer (Odocoileus spp.) are quite common in some parts of North America’s suburbs and small towns, and may even find their way into larger cities from time to time if circumstances are right. These are beautiful animals, harmless to humans and pets, and quite fun to observe in the wild—but they can wreck havoc and do a lot of damage to a garden! Strong fences are the best way to keep deer away, and you can also plant things that deter them—marigolds, lavender, mint, and garlic are good choices. Planting these around the perimeter of your yard or garden can help keep deer away. Some people use human urine to deter deer, but we’ll leave that experiment up to you! 

Squirrels (Sciurus spp) are alternately adorable and infuriating as garden animals. They are native to most of the North America, and found in cities, suburbs and rural areas across the continent. They have a real knack for getting into garden spaces, and will eat many common garden plants—particularly fruits and veggies. While there are a number of ways to get keep squirrels away from your plants, we recommend a combination of planting things that deter them from exploring your garden—garlic, onions, chives, mint, hyacinths, geraniums, and marigolds, to name a few—and then making good use of row covers and gardening netting over your plants. These physical barriers can help protect your veggie plants from squirrels, birds, and other creatures looking for a snack. They’re accessible and easy to install, so give them a try! Squirrels are fun animals and quite persistent, so learning to live with them may be a garden necessity.

Frogs and Toads come in almost too many species to name, but most of the ones found in North America are harmless as long as you don’t try to eat them—they may be toxic to humans or pets if ingested—and they have a number of benefits in the garden. They eat bugs, slugs, and other things that try to eat your plants, and they are—we think—just adorable, delightful creatures to have around. You can help by allowing some thick shrubs and shady spaces for them to live in! Just make sure not to bother them, and to keep curious pets away.

Our gardens are part of the natural world, so having wildlife in them is a sign that your  space is healthy and thriving. By learning to live with the animals in and around our gardens, we can better appreciate the wildlife around us while maintaining a health, happy, and safe garden. Observing garden animals is just fun as well, so let us know what critters you find in your garden this season!

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