Fencing Your Garden - May 4, 2011
Jeff Schalau, Associate Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County
Fences are useful to gardeners. They may function to keep animals either contained or excluded, define garden spaces, create or maintain privacy, decrease noise, or simply be decorative. Ideally, a fence will serve multiple functions. They can be constructed from stone, block, brick, chain link, wire, wood, plastic, wrought iron, or live vegetation. Regardless, some thought should be given to your fencing goals before you begin setting posts or hanging gates.
Garden fences often serve to protect areas from animal trampling and herbivory (eating plants). Knowing the species of wildlife present in your area is critical to building an effective barrier. Even so, if your garden is the only patch of green for miles, then that animals will often find a way into the sturdiest of fences.
Deer can be difficult to exclude with conventional fences and there are several “deer-proof” designs. Cottontail rabbits can be excluded with a two-foot tall poultry wire fence that is stretched tight to the ground and preferably buried at least two inches. Jackrabbit exclusion requires a three-foot tall fence buried at least six inches below ground. Javelina can be excluded using woven wire instead of poultry wire. Cattle require a standard ranch-type fence that will withstand rubbing and pushing. Elk are the toughest to exclude. Twelve-foot wire fences are often used, but aggressive bull elk can tear down almost any wire fence. Woodrats and rock squirrels can climb and must be completely caged out where their populations are high.
Wood fences are usually more attractive than wire fences, but require some maintenance (i.e. paint, repair, etc.). Concrete block, brick, or stone are the most permanent types of fence but also the most expensive in terms of time and materials. Masonry fences are also the most efficient at reducing noise and wind. Both wood and masonry fences can create privacy, but they also exclude light that would otherwise support plant growth. In addition, masonry fences retain and reradiate heat. This quality can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your needs. In some situations, wood and masonry fences will also trap cold air, which flows downslope on cold nights and can cause frost injury to fruit crops and tender ornamentals.
Wire fences offer many functional amenities and can be modified to make them more attractive and/or less noticeable. Cyclone or chain link fences are very common. This is because they last a long time, require little maintenance, and are very functional. Gates are welded and all parts are weather resistant. Different colored vinyl coatings are also available to help the fence blend in to its surroundings. Privacy slats are also available. Woven wire is also a durable fencing material and is available in a variety of heights, patterns, and hole sizes to meet your functional and aesthetic needs. Welded wire is similar to woven wire, but is usually less durable. Both woven and welded wires are best suited to level ground because they are not flexible. Chain link is slightly more flexible for use on uneven terrain. Wire fences also allow air, water, and light to pass through. Wrought iron or welded metal fences are sturdy, but usually require some knowledge, equipment, or outside assistance. They are often combined with masonry pilasters. Live vegetation is mostly decorative, can create privacy, and function as a windbreak, but will not exclude most animals.
Many times, a combination of fencing materials can be used to meet both aesthetic and functional needs. For instance, a wood or masonry fence could be used in highly visible areas where appearance is more critical and wire fence could be used on less visible areas where function is the primary concern. Likewise, a wooden, wire, or wrought iron fence could use poultry wire at the base to exclude rabbits.
Size and location of gates should also be considered. Once a fence is built, you will need to walk around it if you don't have gates conveniently located. Gate width may restrict accessibility to vehicles or equipment. It is a good idea to consider all of the factors discussed above before designing and building a fence around your garden.
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Last Updated: April 25, 2011
Content Questions/CApril 25, 2011g.arizona.edu