Ever since the serpent tricked Adam and Eve, snakes have not been very popular with humans. Logically we understand that snakes are part of the delicate balance of our eco-system, but for some reason that doesn’t make us like them any better. Maybe it’s the way they look – no fur, never blinking – or that they seem to come out of nowhere and scare us when we’re out on a nature walk. Plus, every snake you see must be assumed to be venomous, until proven otherwise, which makes one more fearful. Regardless, for most of us, snakes are just not our favorite things. That’s probably why so many homeowners and business owners try to keep their property snake-free. If you feel the same way, you should probably take some active measures to deter the creatures or locate a good snake repellent.
To be successful at keeping the snakes away from your home and family, it’s probably best to understand these reptiles. It may not have occurred to you, for instance, that the snake chose to live near your home because it feels comfortable there. This may be an upsetting concept for you, but the snake chooses his home based on a specific set of criteria, not on a whim. There must be plenty of food and cover for the snake to pick that location. If the snake hadn’t felt comfortable in your yard, it wouldn’t have hung around. You might have seen something similar happen with your teenager and his friends. A group of teens never hangs out at the home of the vegan family with no TV – teens want plenty of junk food, video games and their own space. Your yard needs to become the equivalent of the vegan family, not the junk food family.
Although there are a number of good methods to keep snakes away from your home, the first – and best – snake repellent is to get rid of the places where snakes find cover in your yard. Without places to take cover, the snakes won’t be able to stay there, and will go elsewhere.
For a snake, good cover is vital. Because we don’t like snakes, we might refer to their cover spots as “hiding places,” but that’s not exactly true. Snakes need cover for two important reasons: to regulate their body temperature on a hot day and also to hide from predators.
Because snakes are cold blooded, or ectotherms, when it’s hot out, the snake’s body doesn’t automatically adjust to compensate for the temperature change; not like our bodies do. Therefore, the snake must move into a shady spot in order to lower its body temperature – manually, so to speak. Good cover is also needed to stay hidden from predators from the sky like hawks and owls. Since snakes are so low to the ground, their hiding places can be nearly anything that is just a few inches tall and provides some cover from above. This might include:
- A pile of firewood
- A sheet of plastic or tin
- Construction debris/scrap wood
- Cloth or newspaper
- Compost heaps
- Garden hose, electric cord or rope coiled on the ground
If you don’t want to get rid of your stack of firewood (for example) you should definitely move it as far away from the house as possible. Remember, care should be used when removing these items just in case you run into some of our leg-less friends!
Mowing and Trimming
Snakes hide in a lot of places, not just under man-made items. Nature itself can also be a big part of the problem. One of the best forms of snake repellent is to get out in the yard and mow, trim or clean up the following:
- Long grass
- Overgrown flower beds
- Ivy, Kudzu and thick ground cover
- Piles of leaves or brush
- Bushes and shrubs planted close together or grown together
Give the yard and flower beds a good “buzz cut” to let sunlight wash over large portions of the lawn and enter all the formerly dark and shadowy corners of the garden. This will definitely make a snake uncomfortable; maybe even so much that the snake leaves the premises.
Remove the Food Source
A smart snake wants a location with a good source of food and he doesn’t want to go far to get it. That means if he can find food in your yard, that’s where he’ll settle down. Depending on the size and type of snake, he’ll eat:
- Small birds
- Small snakes
If you want to get rid of the snake – and deter future snakes – you need to get rid of the food source. If you’ve already cut back the long grass and other foliage, you are on the right track. This should go a long way to reducing the number of insects in the yard, and getting rid of the creatures that live (and feed) in the long grass. But what else can you do to make your property inhospitable to these creatures – short of paving every square inch?
Some simple snake repellent methods include:
- Don’t feed the birds – Bird lovers spend a great deal of time and money trying to attract birds to their yards, so this won’t be a popular suggestion – Stop feeding the birds! Unfortunately some of the bird seed gets scattered onto the ground by the birds, which attracts mice and rats. The increase in mice and rats attracts snakes. If you don’t want snakes in your yard, you need to stop using bird seed.
- Rat Traps – If you are concerned that the number of mice and rats are still luring snakes into the area, you might consider setting some traps. If this isn’t something you want to do yourself, you shouldn’t have trouble finding a professional who can assist you with a rodent problem. Either method will give you a good result.
- Get a Dog or Cat – This isn’t a joke. Snakes are attracted to many of the same creatures that your average house cat enjoys stalking and chasing. Many small dogs (terriers especially) are known as “ratters” as well. If you adopt a dog or cat it won’t have an effect on the number of insects in your yard or the amphibians, but your new pet will probably send the local rodent population on its way.
- Spray for mosquitos – There are a number of chemicals available at your local hardware store or garden center that can be sprayed on the lawn to combat the insect problem. Cutter Backyard Bug Control Spray Concentrate for example, is made to control mosquitos, fleas and a half dozen other insects in the yard for up to 12 weeks, but also would be beneficial in reducing the total number of insects available for snake meals. Ortho’s Bug-B-Gon Max Ready-to-Spray Lawn and Garden Insect Killer takes care of an even longer list of yard insects, and less insects means fewer uninvited visitors to your yard.
- Plant marigolds – It may be an old wives tale, but many people swear that planting a border of Marigolds near the house keeps the snakes at bay. The theory is that the smell of the marigolds messes with the snake’s sense of smell. This may or may not be true for snakes (Iowa State University says “no”, the City of Elk Grove, California website says “yes”), or possibly a bit of both. We know that marigolds repel beetles, nematodes and other insects, so maybe the snake numbers decrease because the insect numbers decrease in that location.
- Plant insect repellent plants – Marigolds aren’t the only plants that produce natural insect repellent or cause certain insects to leave the area. Here’s just a short list of plants that you can use to discourage insects from hanging out on your property:
- Catnip – repels roaches, Japanese Beetles, aphids, and mosquitoes
- Garlic – fends off certain moths and snails, Japanese beetles and carrot flies
- Mint – deters ants, mosquitoes and fleas
- Rosemary – repels mosquitoes and carrot flies
- Lavender – deters moths and fleas
- Sage – repels carrot flies, bean beetles and some moths
- Petunias – fend off leafhoppers, aphids, tomato worms, beetles and more
- Lemongrass – deters mosquitoes
- Basil – repels mosquitoes and flies
- Wormwood/Mugwort – fends off a lot of different insects including mosquitoes, but it’s VERY invasive so best to only use it in planters, not in the ground.
Remove the Water Source
Snakes need water to survive, just like the rest of us. If you remove the water source, you should be able to drive the snake away. However, for something as small (and short) as a snake, it’s not too easy to determine its water source. Plus, if it’s been a rainy year, the snake probably won’t need a true water source (a water hole, so to speak), because water will collect in a lot of places that are available to the snake. However in a dry year, the snake may have to depend on an actual puddle or other water source at ground level. Now that is something more specific that you can locate and remove. This type of water source could be a large puddle, a low spot in the yard where water gathers after a rain, a decorative pond, even a bird bath. Of course, it’s possible that snakes aren’t using the pond; but if other creatures gather to drink at the pond, snakes may show up there anyway, just to find food.
Close the Gaps
Another important – and proactive – form of snake repellent is to seal up any gaps on the perimeter of your home or out buildings. Since snakes are ectotherms, they might decide to enter your garage because it’s warm in the winter, or your crawl space because it’s cool in summer. Regardless, the best way to keep them out is to seal up all the gaps in your foundation and walls, within 3 feet of the ground, just to be safe. You might want to also make sure that all of your doors and screen doors fit tightly in the door jambs and that the screens are fully mended. It’s pretty simple really, if you don’t want snakes to enter your barn, shed, garage, carport or house, you need to take steps to close up any and all gaps or holes where a snake could get inside.
Other Snake Repellent Options
If snakes are still an issue on your property even after you’ve removed their sources of food and water and cleaned up the yard, you may need to look at some other options for snake repellent.
Chemicals – Your local hardware store or garden center can show you a number of different products made to repel snakes. Some are liquid, some are powder, some are effective and some are not. It actually depends on the product and the snake. It helps to know a bit about the type of snake you are trying to deter and then research the product before you make your purchase. Remember to also follow the directions very carefully. Many of these chemical snake repellents are dangerous and could pose a threat to your family, pets or the environment if not applied properly.
Snake Fence – Believe it or not, it’s possible to build a fence that will keep out snakes. This is usually a last resort option because of the complexity of the project. It’s also not very good looking. To build a snake fence you will need hardware cloth (1/4 inch mesh) for your fence material. It should be about 3 feet tall and buried in the ground from 12 to 18 inches deep. The fence should be angled out from bottom to top at about a 20 degree angle so that snakes can’t climb into your yard.
Mongoose Urine – Yes, that’s what it says, Mongoose Urine. Supposedly if a snake smells the urine of a Mongoose (or musk from a King snake) it will leave the area. These two items aren’t something you can just buy at the hardware store however. Only snake removal specialists have access to Mongoose Urine and King snake Musk. Supposedly these work quite well as snake repellents. In the case of the King Snake it makes perfect sense since King Snakes are a North American snake that eats other snakes. The snake in your yard should be packing his bags right now. However, a person has to wonder why a North American snake would have any inherent fear of a Mongoose?
What doesn’t work?
There are a lot of snake repellent home remedies and old wives tales, unfortunately, most don’t actually work. Some of them include:
- Moth balls – It’s possible (although inconclusive, at best) that moth balls have some effect on deterring snakes or rodents or insects when sprinkled on the ground around a home. However, since it’s illegal to use moth balls for any purpose except to deter moths, it probably doesn’t matter that this method is un-proven. It’s also important to note that moth balls are dangerous to children and pets, as well as to the environment.
- Plastic Owl – Snakes are smart enough to realize that the “owl” sitting on the fence hasn’t moved in days, and therefore probably isn’t a real owl. If the plastic owl ever fooled any snake, it probably didn’t last for very long.
- Salt on the garage floor – A salt barrier at the entrance to your garage would have to be fairly wide and thick to deter a snake (enough to cause irritation) and would still have to be re-applied often to remain effective. It’s possible it might work, but in general, salt is probably not a very effective barrier to snakes.
- Lime sprinkled in the yard – Snakes aren’t put off by lime at all, but your dog and cat might be – it bothers their feet.
- Sprinkling diesel or kerosene around the yard – This won’t prevent snakes, however it is a fire hazard as well as being bad for the environment.
- Rope around the perimeter – This is probably intended to make the snake think that the rope is another, bigger snake. The flaw in that plan is that snakes can smell and they know a rope is not a snake.
Although there are a number of snake repellent systems available at this time, the most reliable fall into two main headings: remove the source of food and remove cover. Once the snake has lost all his places to hide and his next meal is nowhere in sight, he will look for a new place to live. Remove the snake’s habitat and get back your own peace of mind.