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Too Many Snakes

I love your website and the information I receive by email is very valuable. I don’t think you have ever addressed the problem of snakes in the garden and around the house. I have more garter snakes than you can imagine! I removed all of the evergreens around my house, but they continue to show up in my flower beds and vegetable garden. They are under the siding on my house and we found snake skins around the windows when we were doing home repairs. I know they eat a lot of bugs and are part of nature’s balance but I really don’t like that I see 2 or 3 every time I walk around the house. Is there anything that I can do to drive them away? They seem to be throughout the neighborhood because everyone is complaining except the retired farmer next door – he loves them!

Typically snakes that are found in our gardens are harmless, but most people react the same way when they stumble across one – yikes! And if you have gone to all the trouble to install a water garden, semi-aquatic garter snakes can certainly reduce or eliminate any chance of enjoying any fish.

Before deciding to kill a snake in your yard or garden, consider their many benefits. Snakes are one of nature’s most efficient mouse traps; they kill and eat a variety of rodents. Some harmless snakes (king snakes, milk snakes, black racers and garter snakes) eat other snakes, including poisonous ones. Although snakes will not eliminate pests, they do help keep their numbers in check.

When people encounter a snake, they often corner it. Then the snake will hiss loudly, open its mouth in a threatening manner, coil up and strike at the individual or bluff by advancing toward the person. These behaviors are designed to scare off an intruder. They lead, however, to a common misconception that snakes charge or attack people. In most cases, a snake reacts only if it feels threatened. Usually, it crawls away if it can reach cover safely.

The habitats that attract snakes are cool, damp, dark areas where rodents and insects abound. Forests, streams, fields of tall grass and wetlands are where they search for their preferred foods also including frogs, worms, small birds and eggs, lizards, grubs and fish. One of the best means of controlling snakes without killing them is to modify the environment by removing the snake’s shelter and its food source to banish these creatures from your garden. Consider the following approaches:

  • Lawns and fields that are kept clean and closely mowed are less attractive to snakes.
  • Stack fireplace or stove wood away from your home on a rack at least 12 inches off the ground.
  • Keep shrubs and bushes trimmed at least 12 inches up from the ground.
  • Keep garbage in sealed trash cans (not bags) away from the house. If you have outside pets, make sure their food is sealed in metal containers and extra food is picked up when the animal has finished eaten.
  • Clean pond and stream banks that are abundant with debris.
  • Seal basements, attics and barn haylofts to keep out rodents, birds or bats. Check foundations for cracks and openings one-fourth inch or larger. Use caulk to seal cracks and openings around windows, doors, electrical pipes and wiring. Use one eighth inch hardware cloth or sheet metal for larger openings.
  • Some hiding places may be eliminated by packing sharp gravel around stoops and slabs since garter snakes only burrow in loose soil.
  • Gardens and flower beds with heavy mulch also attract snakes. Remove piles of leaves and rocks.

Unfortunately, there are no chemicals or other substances that have proven to be effective in repelling snakes. Snakes have many natural enemies such as raccoons, skunks, opossums, owls, hawks, ducks, geese, turkeys, and other snakes.

Several home remedies were evaluated to determine if they would repel black rat snakes. Treatments tested included gourd vines, moth balls, sulfur, cedar oil, a tacky bird repellent, lime, cayenne pepper spray, sisal rope, coal tar and creosote, liquid smoke, artificial skunk scent, and musk from a king snake. Currently, there is not enough conclusive data to recommend these repellents.

Before trying any measure to remove a snake from your garden be clear on whether or not it is poisonous. If you are unsure, proceed with caution and wait for the snake to flee.