AMES, Iowa — Warm spring weather brings out many critters, including some that homeowners may not like to see in their yards — snakes. While there is no 100-percent effective snake deterrent, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Wildlife Specialist Rebecca Christoffel offers some tips on making a home landscape as “snake-free” as possible.
“Garter snakes are harmless and will not hurt people, but encountering one unexpectedly can definitely startle and scare you,” Christoffel said. “The best way to deal with snakes is to make your property less attractive to them.”
Actions that homeowners can take to keep their property less attractive to snakes include:
- Do not feed birds from April to October.Birds do not need supplemental food at this time and that food draws in rodents and other small critters, which can draw in snakes. From about Nov. 1 until April 1, snakes will be hibernating and homeowners don't have to worry about encountering any in the yard.
- Keep the lawn mown short. By keeping the lawn very short, snakes are at an increased risk of being picked off by a hawk. Snakes do not like to put themselves in such situations and will generally avoid such areas, thus keeping them away from the property.
- Keep landscaping design as simple as possible. Avoid rock walls and similar features that draw small animals that snakes like to eat into the area. Also avoid “ponds” and similar features that attract frogs, or that hold small fish that garter snakes like to eat. Keep plantings to a minimum, particularly around buildings, as these provide shelter for both snakes and the prey items they eat.
- Keep the property free of wood piles, debris, etc. Snakes can use these to avoid hawks and other predators and to control their body temperatures.
- Have rubber seals on the bottom of any garage doors. This will help keep snakes out of those buildings.
- Check the foundations of buildings and structures. Snakes will often use people’s basements or old cisterns as places to hibernate, and snakes have a tendency to be faithful to those sites. Do repairs between May 1 and Oct. 1 so snakes are out and active and not trapped underneath.
“These practices should reduce the attractiveness of a property to garter snakes,” Christoffel said.
Christoffel said snakes eat worms, slugs, bugs and other small animals such as frogs or fish. Snakes don't do any damage to buildings because they don't dig their own holes, instead using holes other animals have made.
“An alternative solution is to learn to accept having the snakes around and appreciating the valuable ecosystem services they provide,” Christoffel added. “Snakes are excellent rodent and insect control.”
If a snake is found in an undesirable place, like a garage or shed, Christoffel said a broom and a trash barrel can easily be used to remove it. Lay the trash barrel on its side, and with a broom (soft plastic bristles or straw), “sweep” the snake into the garbage barrel, gently forcing it down to the bottom of the barrel. The barrel, and snake, can then be taken to another area of the property and the snake released out of harm's way.