While companion planting, introducing beneficial insects, and attracting pest-killing birds to your vegetable garden will certainly help control garden pests, you may need to go a step or two further and install some barriers for plant protection.
Collars – no need to purchase anything special, just don’t throw away another toilet paper or paper towel cardboard roll. Collaring your young seedlings will prevent cutworms from gnawing at the stems. Make sure half your collar is buried beneath the ground.
A flat collar to protect plant roots from insect pests can be made from sandpaper or roofing tar paper or even pieces of cardboard. Cut them into 6-inch squares, use a Xacto blade to cut a hole in the center about a ½-inch in diameter, and then cut one slit from the hole to the edge of the square. As soon as you plant each seedling, carefully slip the collar around the stem and let it lie flat on the ground.
Copper – a 4 inch wide strip of copper flashing lining a garden bed will keep slugs and snails away from your plants, as it will shock them upon contact. Make sure it is buried at least an inch-and-a-half in the soil and bend about a half-inch of the top of the sheeting outward. You can order rolls of copper flashing from Ace Hardware Superstore. Just type “copper flashing” into their search box.
Fencing – the only surefire way to keep out those furry critters such as deer, groundhogs, rabbits, and raccoons…not to mention the family dog. Chain-link fence or ¾ to 1-inch weave sturdy chicken wire buried 2 feet deep and rising up to as high as 8 feet above the ground (if you have deer, as they are excellent jumpers) should take care of any burrowers and marauders; however, the only way to keep raccoons out (as they can climb) is to electrify the fence, with parallel wires placed 6 and 12 inches from the ground. Ace Hardware Superstore has electric fence wire available for purchase. Just type “electric fence” into their search box.
If fencing off your entire garden is cost prohibitive, you could build portable cages with wire mesh and wood, or simply bend and fold wire cage material to make sturdy barriers to cover such crops as lettuce and other salad greens particularly vulnerable to rabbits and deer, as well as strawberry plants that birds and squirrels would otherwise decimate before you see a single berry.
Garden fabric – this allows air to circulate around the plants and are permeable to water, but not to birds or bugs. In addition it blocks 15% or less of sunlight (depending on their thickness). Drape the fabric loosely over your rows or garden sections to allow room for plant growth, and secure along the edges with soil, stones, pieces of wood, or even large U-shaped nails if you live in a particularly windy area – just make sure you keep track of those nails. You will need to remove the fabric to assist your crops that require pollination, and of course to tend to any weeds. If you haven’t taken care to prevent weeds from growing (such as mulching), they will thrive just like your seedlings beneath that protective cover! Make sure to replace the fabric when you are done with your tasks.
Mesh – mesh is ideal for encasing cornstalks, sunflowers, tomato plants, and fruit trees, bushes, and brambles (much like some folks will protect a Christmas tree from housecats by using a huge mesh bag). Nature Hill Nursery offers such netting; click the tree below to purchase:
Old pantyhose make good smaller mesh bags for individual ears of corn or fruits, or you could cut to fit smaller pieces of the thinnest summer-weight polyester garden fabric to fashion bags from as well. Secure them with twist-ties.