I get a lot of questions from those outside the city limits who worry about snakes in the garden. In order to control any pest you need to make the habitat unfriendly for that pest and increase biological or natural controls. If you’ve recently moved from the city to the country and are afraid of snakes, it’s best to get used to it and appreciate that we still have something around to eat vermin. Although only four types of poisonous snakes live in the U.S., they all live in Central Texas, so controlling them around the house is impossible without some help from Mother Nature and some common sense practices.
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The most important thing to do is a keep weeds and debris out of the garden where snakes can hide. A fairly large snake can hide under a small pile of dead weeds. Forget about foundation planting if you live in the country. Foundation planting is planting hedges and plants close to the house under the eaves. That practice became popular years ago to hide the crawl space around houses that were built on piers. However, thick bushes around your doors and windows attracts termites, snakes, and who knows what else. You have to have a clear area around your house to control wildlife that wants to move in with you. If you have a crawl space under your house or mobile home, cover it with skirting made for mobile homes, plywood or some other solid material. Don’t forget to leave some openings for air circulation so moisture won’t build up under the structure and create rot or decay. You can cover the back of the openings with fiberglass screen.
Knowing your snakes is important. You should be able to tell the difference between a poisonous snake and harmless one within half a second from your peripheral vision. Better yet, a quarter of a second. That’s in case you have a toddler or pet heading right toward one, or you find one in your bathroom at night. So, get a good book on Texas snakes with lots of color pictures. They are easy to find at most bookstores, online, or at a library.
When it comes to natural control, remember that most snakes are your friends, and unless you’re raising chickens or small mammals, a King Snake in the garden will control all other snakes. Besides, it’s fun to watch your city slicker friends scream in terror when the big King Snake that lives in your garden comes around during a bar-b-q. A good form of biological control is setting up poles where big birds, or raptors, that feed on snakes, can perch and hunt in the evening or early morning. A raptor pole should be 10-14 feet high with a sturdy crossbar 3 feet long at the top. Position your raptor pole so the owl or hawk can have a clear view of the area where you want to control snakes, gophers, or rabbits. They work surprisingly well.
If you can safely leave a dead tree at the edge of your yard, birds of prey will perch on that too. If provided a good perch for hunting, the raptors will return every spring to patrol your garden. I walked outside about 3 in the morning one night and a huge barred owl, our most common large owl, swooped down and grabbed a copperhead snake not 5 feet from where I was standing. I’m not sure what startled me most, the huge owl or the copperhead, but it was a testament to how well big birds control snakes and other pests. Don’t kill snakes you see in the wild for the fun of it. Most reptiles and amphibians are having a hard time holding their own right now.
More gardening info and book, plant, and seed sources at: http://www.biglump.com