keeping snakes in their place

So you want to keep snakes out of your yard?  The first thing to understand is that there are no magic or absolute solutions.  There are no poisons or repellants that work, though some new “break through” is occasionally advertized.  Horsehair ropes and trails of mothballs have consistently tested negative, and pest control operators have no answers.  So what can you do?

The initial step is “mind adjustment.”  You live in the deep South and there will probably always be snakes in your life!  Accept that fact (at the same level of acceptability as hurricanes and the flu!).  Most people go through life never seeing a venomous snake, but the fear seems to be constant.  There are, at most, six species of venomous snakes in our area:  eastern diamondback rattler, canebrake (=timber) rattler, pigmy snake (the first and last named don’t even occur south of Lake Pontchartrain).  If you learn to recognize them on sight (the way you do a bluejay, crow, and cardinal), then when you see a snake, you might not know what it is, but you’ll know if it’s venomous or not.  Cypress Swamp Tours has a poster that illustrates the venomous snakes and tells you how to avoid snakebite and what to do if an accident occurs.

Dogs and cats are effective snake predators, but don’t leave pet food out for long - it attracts and mice (=snake food).  An exotic (if not weird) solution would be to get a mongoose or secretary bird!

Snakes are rarely abundant in any one location, so if you remove critters encountered to a distant location or (shudder!) kill them, you will quickly diminish the problem.

An additional approach is to begin to snake-proof your property.  For the house, seal every opening.  Check the clearance of door bottoms, weep holes, openings where pipes enter, cracks, spaces under eaves, etc.  If you have a raised wooden home, sealing will be very difficult.  Don’t neglect storerooms and sheds.

 The yard will prove most difficult, but not impossible.  Snakes may live on your property or simply travel through.  Snakes live where there is good habitat, including both hiding places and food. To delete the hiding places, remove all debris such as piles of boards, tin, sticks, and leaves; keep the vegetation cut back; no flat boats on the ground; avoid piles of bricks or stones; etc.  But still be cautious.  Snakes make a habit of finding creative hiding places!

 By removing hiding places for snakes, many hiding places for rats and mice are also removed, thus eliminating snake’s food.  A pest control agent can help here by eliminating rodents that live inside.

Can you keep snakes from entering your yard?  The answer is “yes” if you have a fence that can be sealed, but you should be well aware that this can be a very expensive endeavor.  Patrolling or migrating snakes typically crawl along until they encounter a wall.  If the wall is high enough (usually two feet or more), the snake follows the base of the wall and may enter any hole encountered.  It follows that the best way to snake-proof your yard is to construct a snake-proof wall.

The most expensive way is to build a concrete chainwall around your property that extends six inches or so below the surface.  Above the chainwall, a fence sealed flush with its surface should extend up at least three-four feet.  If you already have a wooden fence and the boards are very close together, a good solution is to snake-proof the bottom.  A relatively inexpensive way to do that is to use quarter inch hardware cloth.  Cut strips wide enough to overlap the bottom of the fence so it can be tacked securely and extend down into a narrow trench six inches deep.  Pack the soil tightly in the trench around the hardware cloth.  Check all corners to be sure the fence is now well sealed.  Gates will be the most difficult to seal.

Limbs overhanging your fence from another yard may serve as an entryway and trimming them should be considered.

A final word about snakes’ climbing capabilities.  Many snakes climb by looping over objects and the above described design may virtually eliminate their entry.  Others, however, can crawl up vertical surfaces if they are rough, such as the trunk of a tree or a brick wall (including the side of a house).  This can be overcome on fences by placing a foot-wide ledge made of wood or metal flashing along the outer side at the top.  This structure makes the snakes lean out away from the wall and it will lose its grip and fall.

Good luck with your efforts, but don’t forget - the best thing you can do for yourself and family is to teach everyone to respect snakes and to be on the lookout for them.  The chances of your encountering a venomous species is remote, but possible enough to always by careful!