Berkeleyan gives tips on keeping plants safe from critters

From Ohlone Park in Berkeley: This squirrel had just found a nut in a tree and buried it shortly afterwards. Photo: Derrick Coetzee

This squirrel, in Ohlone Park, had just found a nut in a tree — shown here in its mouth — and buried it shortly afterwards. Photo: Derrick Coetzee

[Editor’s Note: Several local neighborhood groups have been buzzing recently about problems around their homes related to wildlife. One local resident, Phil Price, offered these tips based on experiences he and his wife, Juliet Lamont, have had in North Berkeley.]

By Phil Price

A few people in recent weeks have mentioned deer depredations and other issues with birds and wildlife causing problems with landscaping. My wife and I have a lot of experience with these issues.

About 15 years ago we removed all of the ivy, Himalayan blackberry and Algerian ivy that made up the understory of our backyard, and replaced it all with native plants. 


We used to have a rather comical problem of squirrels burying acorns in the flower pots and planter boxes on our deck. Eventually the plants in the pots would die from having their roots constantly disturbed, but the squirrels wouldn’t stop and we would eventually end up with a planter box with no plants, containing hundreds of acorns covered with a thin layer of soil.

Our solution was to get rid of most of the planter boxes.  Sometimes you have to face reality. We do have a box that we replant when needed, and a few others that have particularly hardy plants that have now established such impenetrable root systems that the squirrels leave them alone, so you can win if it’s worth it to you.

Deer in Berkeley. Photo: Yael Moses

Deer in Berkeley. Photo: Yael Moses


All native plants are to some extent deer resistant, or they would have gone extinct a long time ago, but we quickly discovered that “deer resistant” doesn’t go as far as one might hope. The main lesson is that you have to keep deer away from your new plants for at least two years. Three is better.

In our case that meant putting deer fence around our entire yard and leaving it there for a couple of years. We started with lightweight plastic mesh fencing sold as “deer fence” at a local hardware store, but it was pretty much useless; determined deer could simply push on it until it tore, and it turns out our deer were determined.

So we switched to a thicker plastic, also sold as deer fence, and it works quite well. The top of the fence should be at least 6 feet off the ground, and you have to stake the bottom too so the deer can’t nose under it. I use a mix of steel stakes with a metal plate on the bottom (more expensive) and plastic ones that are much lighter, cheaper and easier to work with but a lot less stable, usually alternating between these.

I use plastic cable ties to attach the fence to the stake. Buy a lot more cable ties than you think you need.  You can start by putting up the steel posts pretty far apart, then go back later and add plastic ones in between as needed.

The fencing is kind of a pain to work with, it’s always getting snagged on overhead branches or trying to roll up on itself in odd ways as you struggle to unroll it, and it can scratch up your arms pretty good, too. Just be patient, and you will find little hard-to-describe tricks so that it gradually gets easier.

The main message, though, is that even if you plant deer-resistant plants, you do need to keep the deer out for a couple of years. Most of the plants are not appealing to adult deer, but the young ones haven’t yet figured out what is or isn’t good and they will sample everything. Once the plant is a few years old it can tolerate that, but if the plant is new then one sample can be enough to kill it.

Read many more stories about animals in Berkeley via Berkeleyside’s past coverage.

Berkeley’s wild turkeys: is there anywhere they won’t go? (10.17.13)
Sick red fox seen in Berkeley hills near Tilden (08.12.13)
In a Berkeley park, a bluebird displays unusual behavior (08.05.13)
Rattlesnake sightings prompt call for caution (08.02.13)
Flock of wild turkey poults takes a stroll in Berkeley (07.16.13)
Authorities searching for deer shot by arrow in Berkeley (11.01.12)
Deer fawns make themselves at home on Berkeley street (06.18.12)
Deer charging people, dogs in the Berkeley hills (06.05.12)
Exotic Muntjac deer loose, in danger, in César Chávez Park (11.03.11)
Deer in Berkeley: Up close, both dead and alive (06.08.10)
Berkeleyans advised: Please don’t feed the wildlife (05.21.10)
Deer attacks Berkeley woman and her dogs (05.07.10)

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • Barbara

    Good suggestions. I would suggest eight feet in height if you have any slope to your property. The fencing really works well although I do miss seeing the lovely creatures. However I love my roses.

  • Keep my name out of this!

    I was drawn in by the headline, disappointed with the article.

    Easter fox squirrels (often called red squirrels) are out of control here, burying
    acorns in all my plantings. The article has but one suggestion: give up. I use
    mesh to cover tender plants and seedbeds, which pretty much means all
    vegetables. I suspect I will have to add mesh at the base of every pot, too. At
    one time, they made their nest in our attic and chewed through the drywall.
    Exclusion by metal solved that, too.

    Knowing that these interlopers have out-competed the native grey squirrels led
    me to wonder if I couldn’t fight back like a classic human — kill them,
    somehow. I mean, it’s OK to trap rats. Pam Pierce answered that here:

    In short, squirrels are considered game so you’d have to go through hoops to do
    it legally. But, as you can imagine, there are those who trap and kill them in
    town. Relocating is illegal and dumb.

    Joe Eaton wrote a column years ago for the Daily Planet (sorry, I can’t find
    it) in which he explained the advantages of the red interlopers over the grey natives:
    less fear of us, reds breed twice a year vs. once for the greys and, !surprise!,
    reds will eat meat, giving them access to high quality roadkill and trash that
    we provide.

  • emraguso

    You’re right that this was mostly focused on deer. Thanks for adding your two cents.

  • Keep my name out of this!

    In effect, the headline was overly broad.