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My wife and I have learned over the course of our landscaping duties that the previous owner of our home embedded chicken wire in the ground, seemingly throughout the entire backyard. It's about 2-3 inches underneath the soil.

It's everywhere we dig. We have no plans to try to extricate it; we'll just keep doing what we're doing and deal with it when we have to pierce the ground. I just want to know why.

As much as my heart tells me (usually while digging) that this is some super-slow-burn premeditated maliciousness on the behalf of the old lady we purchased the house from, the rational parts of me are pretty certain the truth is a lot less sinister.

Could it be a pest-control measure? If so, I'd guess we have a rock-solid defense against underground chickens.

Some trivia that may help:

  • The previous owner "hated trees," according to neighbors, and kept the place barren. No evidence of a garden. Just a neglected lawn.
  • The front yard didn't suffer the same fate.
  • It appears to be actual chicken wire from the size of the mesh, and it's really lightweight. Differs from the stuff gopher baskets are made out of.

My curiosity is hoping for some concrete rationale, but my rage will absolutely accept crackpot conspiracy theories.

UPDATE:

Going with Kevinsky for the firsthand account, but thank you all for your input. Probably an anti-critter measure. Will update if I ever hit the secret underground lab, though.

  • Trust me, wildlife on the transition zones are learning to live albeit invisibly in suburban and urban environments. Do you have 'green ways' or set aside 'natural areas'? I'll put money down you also have cougar, bear, bobcat, fisher and bunnies galore. Start looking a tracks! Fun to learn and it is the next best thing to actually seeing them in the act. We all need to learn to live in harmony with wildlife and insects and plants. To try to control or eradicate any life form is just silly and could cause even larger problems! Especially since we are taking over these animals' habitats! – stormy Sep 13 '16 at 0:32
  • Bunny tracks are obvious; two large 2-3" long oblong prints along side tiny footprints in the center close together. Squirrel aren't a big deal until you've got fruits, nuts and/or they have no other food sources. Possums eat anything but love human trash. Skunk the same. Deer print are two anvils together that where they separate points the direction they are travelling. Wild pigs have print that looks amazingly like a big heavy staple sometimes with heel plugs. And those are tough to actually see although print is everywhere. Cat print is ROUND with no claw marks, just pad print. – stormy Sep 13 '16 at 0:38
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    Giant Faraday cage to keep EM fields out of secret second basement lab? – Wayfaring Stranger Sep 13 '16 at 12:59
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    @WayfaringStranger That's it! I didn't dig deep enough! – 8bitartist Sep 13 '16 at 16:44
  • Undergound chickens....LOL – Tim Nevins Dec 4 '18 at 21:29
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I had an idea that planting lots of crocus in the back yard lawn would look beautiful in spring. The local squirrels and chipmunks agreed that this was a wonderful idea and as soon as I planted a bulb they were digging it up behind me.

I was putting sod down in an area of the backyard so I got the idea of a permanent solution. After removing the dead grass I planted the bulbs there, put chicken wire down, then put sod down. It worked but I'm sure the next homeowner, like you, wondered why.

  • Before our efforts, there wasn't much to indicate the last owner had anything to protect, but this sounds like a believable rationale. Maybe she put sod down over the wire with the intention of doing more in the yard, and then just never got around to it. – 8bitartist Sep 13 '16 at 16:44
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My guess is for moles and other critters. If it is true your neighbor wanted no mounds, trees, or other deformities in her lawn, she may have been preventing critters from digging into the yard. So she buried chicken wire to keep moles, rabbits, etc from digging into the lawn.

It's hard to determine her rationale. On the other hand she was maybe misguided and thought chicken wire would prevent tree growth... That does seem rather silly though. Judging by what other neighbors have said I would guess it was to maintain conformity of the yard.

  • That sounds totally plausible. You're right, of course, it's all speculation at this point. I don't think I'll ever run into her again. RE: chicken wire as tree repellent, we've discovered enough silliness in the house during our renovations that I would totally believe some spillover of the silliness into the yard. :) – 8bitartist Sep 13 '16 at 0:03
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Were they dog owners? It appears to be some sort of old wives tale that they would stop digging if chicken wire were laid down.

Another application possibility appears to indicate they can keep gophers from digging up the ground.

For both possibilities, there are enough internet sites out there advising one to bury this all over the place. It is not my place to say so, but while your yard is still young, you should have that vile thing out.

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    That's a good question -- I don't think they had a dog, but I did see what you're talking about when I first started searching for answers (put it under the mulch to prevent dogs from digging holes in the beds, etc). I'm in 100% agreement about the stuff -- it's awful. Laziness, sadly, will probably prevent me from doing a full purge; just spot treatments when we do planting. – 8bitartist Sep 12 '16 at 23:48
  • I know what you are saying. And if only you had known before you bought the place, you could have forced them to be rid of it, or at least give you a cut in the price. If you JUST bought the place, this may still be possible, assuming they failed to disclose it. – Srihari Yamanoor Sep 12 '16 at 23:51
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    Yeah, it would have been awesome to use to our advantage in advance (as it is, we paid more than appraisal -- SF Bay Area). We've owned it since March, but only got to working on the back yard (and the buried wire) a couple weeks ago. Was just planting yesterday, so it's fresh in my mind. – 8bitartist Sep 12 '16 at 23:55
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    Truth! It is brutal out there. We gave up twice before. This was the eighth home we put an offer on in this wave of attempts. Beaten repeatedly by ridiculous offers or all-cash bids. Keep the faith! It'll happen! Thank you for the kind wishes. – 8bitartist Sep 13 '16 at 0:11
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    8bitartist...wait just a bit. Do you know whether there is a bunny problem? Otherwise that fencing does no harm whatsoever to a garden. If you do have bunnies, raccoons, possums...forget worrying about moles and voles...you'll be glad to have that buried fencing! I have to giggle about the brutality you guys must be experiencing...sorry! Always remember a yard could be infinitely worse! Such as buried plastic for 'weeds'!! Top soil and mulch full of pesticide residue that inhibits all growth of anything. Have you gone out at night? Do you have dogs? – stormy Sep 13 '16 at 0:27
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Maybe it was because of cats pooping in the garden. My neighbour has recently bought 5 cats... yes 5! And they are female attracting other stray cats. I went to the pet store to ask for some advice about how I can prevent them from pooping in my garden and he suggested chicken wire. Apparently they don't like the feel of the stuff on their paws.

  • I believe it! There are a lot of strays in our neighborhood, so that's totally plausible. In the end (maybe I should update the post) we did discover a fairly serious gopher situation in the areas where I had removed the chicken wire. It's annoying, but not as annoying as hitting metal whenever I go to dig. – 8bitartist Jun 10 at 22:55

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