Planning a BearWise garden
A bear would need to forage all day to find as much food as it can harvest in an hour or two in a kitchen garden. No wonder bears are attracted to the nicely organized plots of nutritious, ready-to-eat produce that are sprouting up all over as more people decide it’s time to grow some of what they eat.
A little advance planning and preparation now can help you make sure you enjoy the fruits and vegetables of your labors and keep bears away and wild.
Backyard, not back door
Plant edible gardens well away from your home and at least 50 yards from wooded areas or other cover. Cute picket fences won’t keep out bears (or raccoons, skunks or opossums). Motion-activated lighting can help alert you to critters trying to help themselves to your produce, but if you want to keep bears out of your garden, consider protecting it with an electric fence or planting it inside a sturdy enclosure.
Pick fruits and vegetables as they ripen. If you leave ripe produce overnight, you may wake up and discover a bear has picked it all for you. A foraging bear can make a real mess of your garden and may leave you a nice big pile of scat as a thank you for the tasty dinner.
Avoid Edible Landscaping
If you’re planting landscaping near your home, avoid trees that produce fruits or nuts or bushes with edible berries. Yummy landscaping can attract bears and lots of other critters, as many neighborhoods blanketed in crab apple, citrus or pear trees have discovered. In some communities that are committed to keeping bears wild and out of neighborhoods, these types of plantings are no longer allowed.
Most tree fruits ripen in stages; that means once bears discover your fruit trees, they’ll come back every night until all the fruit is gone. People pick apples, pears and plums much more carefully than bears do. Branches can be broken or stripped of leaves and fruit and valuable trees can be damaged while a bear determined to get its paws on every available calorie methodically explores every branch.
The Nose Knows
Ripe fruit gives off a sweet, intense odor even people can smell, so imagine how good it smells to a bear. Electric fencing is the most reliable way to protect prized fruit trees. If that’s not practical or permitted where you live, pick fruit just before it’s ripe and let it finish ripening inside. Be sure to gather any fallen fruit daily and don’t dump it anywhere near your orchard or home. In addition to bears, a pile of decomposing fruit will attract skunks, fox, raccoons, possums, insects and rodents.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I compost in bear country?
There’s no doubt that composting is good for the planet and compost is good for growing things. If you learn what to include and what to leave out and follow the BearWise guidelines, you can have a great compost pile that doesn’t attract critters of all sizes, including bears. Find out more >
Does deer repellent keep out bears?
There is no scientific evidence that any product or formulation meant to be sprayed on plants or scattered on the ground repels bears. In fact, research shows that many products meant to keep deer, rabbits and other critters out of your gardens have strong residual odors that can attract bears. Most manufactured products as well as most home-brews contain ingredients such as rotten eggs and other scents that smell enticing to a bear.
What about bear spray?
Bear spray has been shown to be the best way to deter an aggressive bear, but it’s not a repellent. Bear spray’s potent formula leaves an oily residue behind. A motion-activated camera documenting a field study in Great Smoky Mountains National Park showed several bears, deer, squirrels, wild turkeys and a coyote sniffing at bear spray residue.
Thanks for getting BearWise before you get growing. Please pass this along to your neighbors and everyone who gardens in your community.