How to Keep Pets and Pests Out of the Garden

Take your pick. Both pets and pests love gardens. The biggest problem is keeping them out. Let’s take pets first.  As we know, Mel’s Mix is not only loose and friable, but also stays that way because you don’t walk on your soil and pack it down like you do in a single row garden. Next, every time you harvest from each square foot you add a handful of homemade blended compost and mix and stir it in with a hand trowel. This continues throughout the entire year and your soil will never become hard and compacted.


Square Foot Gardening Cats - Photo Credit - Shawn Finch

Cats love Square Foot Gardening…a little too much!

The problem: cats love Mel’s Mix. They actually think I designed the formula for them to be a new litter box. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your cat or the neighbor’s – no one wants a cat using their SFG for a litter box. Cats, being different from dogs, cannot be trained or motivated to stay out of the garden.  Dogs will understand that they can sniff but not scratch.

If your cat insists on using the garden you will have to find a way to keep them out. There is a very simple way – build a chicken wire cage that will last for ten years and place it right over your box. It should be as tall as your plants grow. You can lift it on and off when you are working in your garden. Watering can easily be done through the wire. After a while, the cage will become weathered and almost inconspicuous as the plants grow. For details on construction see page 70 of the ALL NEW SFG book.

There’s an added advantage in the winter time. If you leave your cages on the beds, every time it snows you will see a pretty pattern caused by the chicken wire shape. Another clever idea is for Christmas decoration. I’ve known people to cover their cage with an old colored cover sheet and even put a bow on it so it looks like a Christmas present. You’d be surprised at the activities and comments you’ll get. Why, you could even photograph it and make that your Christmas card!

Dogs and Rabbits

Square Foot Gardening Dogs - Photo Credit - Shawn Finch

Shawn Finch’s dogs in her garden!

A reader of mine, Shawn M. Finch runs the blog Riley and James and also contributes to other websites with her experiences as a veterinarian.  She wrote a wonderful post about Dog Friendly Gardening that I think all of you should take a look at if you have the chance.  I will defer to her as the expert in this area.  Here is one of the best tidbits from her article:

Keep the compost pile as inaccessible as possible, and try not to put anything in it that would tempt the dogs to eat from it, such as meat or eggs.  Any plant-based or paper material can generally be composted.  Do not add any dog waste to the compost pile.  Since you get your pet routinely tested and prophylactically treated for intestinal parasites (right?), there is a minimal risk, but still a concern, as many parasites are transmissible to other pets and people.  Keep it clean, people.

Another good tip:

Make sure the plants you are planting – including the leaves – are non-toxic.  Vegetables toxic to dogs include garliconions and chives.  Grapes are toxic as are tomato plant leaves.  Check the ASPCA website for potential toxicity of the plants (including ornamental plants) that you have in your garden or would like to plant.

Thank you Shawn for talking about SFG in all of your endeavors – I sure do appreciate it and I think that all of the people that read this will as well.  It’s great that you have found a way to garden with all of the pets that you have!  All photos belong to Shawn Finch.

Now rabbits are a different thing. They are not only hungry but inquisitive. Luckily the same cat cage will keep your harvest safe and out of reach from the voracious rabbit.

Birds, Voles, Insects

Birds also love gardens, mostly to eat the seeds you just planted. The nice thing about the cage is that if you use one inch chicken wire, it will keep out all but the very smallest of birds. Luckily for pollination, the bees and small butterflies and go right through the chicken wire. The entire cage can be removed after the seeds have sprouted and grown beyond the seedling stage.

Underground pests, moles and voles and gophers will easily tunnel underneath and come up in your garden. The voles are looking for earthworms and will disrupt the root area while moles and gophers are looking more for your plants to eat. Easy solution. When you first build your boxes, staple or tack down something called hardware cloth that is available in every hardware store. It comes 4 feet wide by any length. This could go underneath the weed fabric that you always lay down first before filling your box with Mel’s Mix. Hopefully those measures will discourage most of the garden pests.

The other major pest would be the smaller insects that lay eggs and turn into caterpillars and plant eating worms. It’s hard to keep them out but we have found that using the SFG method of planting only one crop in each square foot prevents them.  You would have one cabbage plant over there, one over here and another one in another box. This is called selective separation and would not attract the parent to land and lay their eggs in just one plant if they could go next door to your neighbor’s single row garden and have twenty five cabbages all in a single row just like a landing strip. That selective separation also protects you from adjacent transfer and contamination of any type of disease that may start up in one section of plants.


The only other pests perhaps could be the kids who might play ball near the boxes. Soccer and volleyballs can do a lot of damage in just one or two bounces. So consider that in locating your new garden. The cages will certainly help from any bouncing balls and also the wooden boarders will also prevent and encourage a lot of bicycles or feet going into the garden accidentally. By the way that chicken wire cage is also very handy in early spring and late fall. Because it can be covered with clear plastic for early warming up and then a sheet and blanket in the fall for keeping it warm on cold nights. In some parts of the country, that same cage, covered with plastic becomes a winter greenhouse. And a lot of cool weather crops can be grown and harvested all winter long.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to be featured on my blog, I would absolutely love to hear from you.  I love seeing Square Foot Gardens and unique applications of the method, so send pictures my way to!