How do you garden with a snake issue?

kbaird4939June 16, 2013

Hi, all, and Happy Father's Day to any fathers,

I live in a suburb of Dallas. My suburban property backs up to an overgrown (trees and such) creek and an uncultivated field beyond. I love to garden and find it very stress-relieving. Except the snake issue. I am flat-out terrified of them--hyperventilating, faint, goose-bump terrified. I know, I know, I shouldn't have bought this house, but I loved it. It's where I am right now, so any anecdotes, tips, wisdoms, therapies are what I'm looking for.

Over the past few years I've had snakes in my garage, on my back patio, in my driveway, in my house (a weatherstripping issue, since resolved). Most of the ones I've seen have been harmless ones, though many have been large.

Couple of years ago, in early spring, my 60lb husky/shepherd mix was bitten on the face while I was standing next to her. I never saw the snake, but it was venomous. We were in a bare planting bed, with a matted cover of leaves. The dog survived. The vet believed it was a copperhead.

My next door neighbors, and the neighbors on the other side of her, have both had copperheads in the past weeks, 2 yesterday.

Because of the drought, and my fear of working near the fence in back, most everything has died that was planted along the fence line (it's beds all along the fence and the house.) Even though I wish for lush plantings there, I'm leaving it bare across the back and part-way up the sides towards the house. The house beds are lush though.

Is there anything I can do, short of ripping everything out and going back to just grass?

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kbaird, I hear you, I'm terrified of snakes as well. There's a product called SerpentGuard, don't have any idea how effective it is. You might google how to get rid of snakes, there's likely lots out there.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   June 16, 2013 at 3:04PM
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kbaird, I had the same problem at our place at the coast, we had coral snakes, rattlesnakes, and rat snakes. A rat snake fell on my back when I opened the front door. Like to scare me and my husband to death. Then the neighbor across the street, and the one that lives behind us got cats, now we do not have any problem. My dog was bit on the nose by a rattlesnake and survivied. I was told as long as they get bit in the face they will survive. Barbra

    Bookmark   June 16, 2013 at 7:29PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Barbra, that's interesting about the cats. I've heard that before and just looked it up on google:

"Yes, many animal species in the wild catch and kill snakes. Some of these species can even be trained in the art of snake extermination! Animal types that hunt and kill snakes include many species of raptors - eagles and hawks, honey badgers, and of course the notorious mongoose. King Snakes eat only other snakes. And believe it or not, common house cats and dogs catch and kill snakes too. Some species of dogs can be trained to catch and kill snakes."

I live at the edge of the woods and you'd think there would be lots of snakes, but I seldom see one except for an occasional rat snake of which I'm happy because they help with the rats that have invaded the neighborhoods, and a small garter snake or two which are also nice to have since they eat bugs.

Someone suggested that the deer kill snakes and we have lots of deer, also lots of owls and hawks. Also my two dogs are constantly patrolling the fence line. Maybe they keep them at bay. They've never cornered one though.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2013 at 9:53PM
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I'm not a fan of snakes either. Can you ride the mower through the area before going to work there? One year we had a snake take up residence in our compost bin, the Rubbermaid kind. Scared me to death more than once when I opened the lid and there it was.

Since a cat moved in on us, we haven't had snakes either, though I've never seen him with one.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2013 at 11:27PM
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mistigardens(TX 7/8)

Last July I was bitten by a copperhead. I had killed 4 the week before. 6 doses of antivenom and a horrific hospital bill later, I understand your fear. I have put out snake be gone, planted artemesia, lemon grass, lemon balm, and always run a hoe or rake thru any area I am working prior to putting my hands or feet anywhere. I have given birth to three children and nothing comes close to the pain of a copperhead bite!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 12:44AM
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I know in West Texas they buy moth balls and put them under their homes to help keep the rattlesnakes away.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 12:44AM
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carrie751(z7/8 TX)

I have roadrunners and their primary diet is snakes, so I seldom see one even though I live on acreage. I also have a cat that likes to hunt and often find where she has killed one of my garden snakes that I would welcome to eat the bugs. I am okay with that kind of snake, but still do not want them to be too close or touch me. I know sulphur will deter them, but you would have to put more out each time it got wet, so not too practical.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 8:29AM
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beacivil1(8a/8b NW Austin, Tx)

To the OP, just to ask- do you know who owns the land you back up to? Maybe investigate this to see if some of the overgrowth can be cleaned up by the owner, especially if it's contributing to your snake issue. I'm guessing there is a nice food supply for the snakes back in there.

Grass snakes and rat snakes are on the nice list for me, but copperheads and rattlers can be run over by a tractor with a shredder!! :o)

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 10:15AM
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bostedo(8a tx-bp-dfw)

Wow... never thought anything could make me grateful our worst yard nemeses (for now, anyway) are fox squirrels. One guideline driven into me for back-country camping was to avoid sneaking up on snakes, they'll generally leave if they can detect you coming... so may help to be a noisier gardener.

We took steps to encourage the return of lizards which were surprisingly absent from our mature north Texas yard when we first moved in. Green Anoles and adapted Mediterranean House Geckos are back in number, Texas Spiny Lizards returned last year, but the only snakes we've actually seen have been the small Plains Blind Snakes. However, we did once find a shedded skin for something considerably larger.... so have been making lots of noise and hoping not to regret becoming reptile friendly :-)

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 3:05PM
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plantmaven(8b/9a TX)


    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 4:08PM
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Thank you for all the answers--I really appreciate it.

I've tried mothballs, but my dogs won't leave them alone. Repellants that need to be reapplied--I know I'm scared, but I also know I won't keep up with that : ).

I do try to be noisy when I go out back to work-hitting the stepping stones with a rake, weed-eating before mowing. I use a reel mower, which may be loud enough, but I'm not sure. I really worry about my dogs. I saw and heard the pain she was feeling after she was bitten; she was screaming at the vet's.

I have heard about cats and snakes. This development has had various stray/outdoor cats over the years, and there's been one lately in and around my yard.

I do know who owns the land, they own most of the remaining agricultural land left in this area. I'm not sure how I would approach them about it, something to think about.

One thing I didn't tell you all in my OP was my next-door neighbor (also on the creek) had let her back yard grow for I don't know how long. Months and months. Only the immediate neighbors could see it unless you peek through the fence. With my snake problem, and the neighbor on her other side having the same, another neighbor arranged to take care of it all for a price. He found 2 copperheads and some other harmless snakes. He killed one but the other escaped. I really really hope that was the reason for this year's increase in sightings.

Thanks for the suggestions and sympathy!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 7:01PM
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bostedo, how do you encourage your lizards? I was just thinking today that there don't seem to be as many around my garden as usual this year, and I'm crazy about them. I keep an organic garden and usually don't even use any organic pesticides - just let the critters take care of the critters...

But finding a copperhead in my yard would certainly freak me out.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 9:41PM
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bostedo(8a tx-bp-dfw)

kbaird4939: Another option to check out is having your back and possibly side fences "snakeproofed" (if feasible for the type of fence) or a snake barrier installed. Won't totally eliminate the risk, so will still need to be cautious, but will decrease the probably of one finding it's way into the yard - especially if they're mostly coming in from the back. I imagine there are several fence contractors in your area that have had to deal with this. Cabela's Snake Fence Barrier is an example of the other free standing type.

julia42: Two main things we did to attract green anoles were: 1) trim trees to open some sunny spots along the south facing walls and fences and 2) place small piles of stone or brick in those sunny spots. They love these safe hot places and seemed to settle in within a year. Not as sure how the other lizards use these, but they appear to also have some attraction to the shelter space. Other factors of their return we've had little or nothing to do with are the ample supply of bugs (especially ants which are apparently an important food source for some hatchlings) and the beneficial changes in pesticide chemicals/treatments made since the time of the original home owners.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 1:07AM
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Thanks for the idea. I actually just had my fence replaced in Dec. I had the contractor run a horizontal board along the bottom as close to the ground as possible, but there are still some gaps. I'll look into this.


    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 8:16AM
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sulfur pellets can be effective

    Bookmark   June 20, 2013 at 9:15PM
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I saw a cute video of a rabbit attacking a rattlesnake, but then the rabbits would eat your garden.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2013 at 10:18AM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Wally, I saw that surprising video too and just now found it on youtube.

Here is a link that might be useful: One minute vdeo of rabbit attacking poisonous snake ...

    Bookmark   June 24, 2013 at 10:54AM
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snake away products are made from the same stuff as mothballs. They will not repel snakes, make your house stink and you call the poison center for advise and we tell you to take them out from under your house. Do NOT put 8 boxes of them in your attic either!

Carry a hoe. Very simple. Use it to beat around the bushes, flower beds and the snakes will run off. I have a friend who has 6-8` rattlesnakes breeding in her driveway and always a few copperheads around the property. She gardens all the time and has never been bit. She lives in the middle of nowhere near San Antonio. Snake central.

Snakes eat rats. Rats carry disease. Enough said.

Copperhead bites swell a lot and hurt a lot. Crofab (the anitvenom) is rarely if ever needed though we can`t convince some people of that. The antidote was NOT formulated using copperhead venom so it`s only partially effective. The bites can swell for weeks afterward, especially if it`s a leg and you get up and walk around.

Coral snakes, they inject with venom in their BACK fangs, what this means is they have to grab on, start chewing and get those back fangs into you. So they have to hang on for more than just a few seconds. Envenomation is very, very rare. The anti-venom is no longe made in the US, there are some bottles from Mexico available in the US and a few that the expiration date was changed. I think the closest vials are in Florida. Talk about expensive, not only is the anti-venom out of the world but you have to have it flown to you.

Coral snakes are also the most timid snake in Texas and are usually found in pairs. It is a neurotoxin.

Your hospital bill was so much because the cost of cro-fab is several thousand PER vial, that is then marked up by the hospital. Not having access to your records I could not tell you if it was warranted in this instance. If you get bit by a snake in some parts of Texas they give crofab as soon as you walk in the door, there are some pretty toxic snakes here but our copperheads are not nearly as toxic.

You may send any and all snakes to Galveston and I will be happy to have them in my backyard. Anything that eats rats if OK in my book. With 3 brothers I have no fear of snakes. I think the few snakes that were here all drowned in Ike.

Finally, get some chickens or even better guineas. They will chase out any snakes. Guineas don`t even need a coop, they will sleep up in your trees. Good watchdogs too.
Tally HO!

    Bookmark   June 25, 2013 at 4:50PM
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Well said beach plant! I'm against using poisons. They tend to end up killing animals they aren't intended for. If a poisoned snake is writhing around dying and an owl nabs it, the poison will kill the owl. Happens quite often when people use d con to kill mice and rats.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2013 at 2:08PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Sowngrow, agreed. That goes for insecticides too. People see something wrong with a plant and without even seeing an insect sprinkle something like Seven dust all over it which is lethal to bees (including the bee larvae when they bring it back to the hive on their feet) and other beneficial insects as well.. Unfortunately, we sometimes think that because it's sold it's safe, but that is far from the truth.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2013 at 4:10PM
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