Monday, September 10th, 2012...6:18 pm

Snakes in the garden

Face to face with a garter snake by Dendroica cerulea

While  dead heading Queen Anne’s Lace/Daicus carota plants- a weed that I have loved since childhood so that I allow it to flower in my garden beds- a woman walking by stopped to talk about my garden. Then she asked me about snakes. She was visiting from out of state and her host said that there were snakes living on my property because of the stream.  I have written about this stream that dissects my property and have talked about the wildlife that is on my property because of the water.  Yes, I assured her, there were snakes on my property. But they were all beneficial snakes. Yes, all snakes bite if they feel attacked. But the snakes that live near me are non-aggressive creatures- they do NOT ever attack people and will never bite unless stepped on, picked up or forced into a corner or threatened with imminent injury. Even then, all snakes would much rather get away than risk a fight. And the snakes that live near me are not very poisonous, dangerous ones.

My childhood lore contains two snake stories.  One that my mother told me frequently, because it so unnerved her, happened when I was a little tot- before I walked. My parents took me into the field where they were hoeing the tomato plants and put me on a blanket.  They looked up in time to see a snake that had just started slithering onto the blanket where I was lying on my tummy. My parents told me how they quickly ran and grabbed me as I was leaning forward to grab the snake.

The other snake story in my life happened a few years later when I was playing at my friend’s house. I always ran around barefoot. One day as I was running a snake slithered under the arch of my foot just as I was about to step down. The snake slithered quickly into a grove of Black Jetbead shrubs /Rhodotypos scandens, but I felt the tickle of its skin on my skin.

I do not know all the snakes that live on my property. My neighbor told me that black water snakes live in the stream and that one household on our street found a few in the basement. I have never seen any black water snakes. One day, when I first moved into my house, I saw what looked like a grayish/white snake curled up on my lawn as I was mowing the lawn. My daughter was a toddler at the time, so I called the local police where one of  the policeman was an amateur herpetologist. He removed the snake with a stick and threw it down the side of my hill near the stream. He said it was harmless. One day my middle son went into the fuse box to check something, let out a death curdling shriek and ran upstairs as white as a ghost. He had seen a snake in the fuse box. I think it may have been an Eastern milk snake.

But the snakes I have mainly seen on my property- and I have seen a lot of them- are the Eastern Garter snake/Thamnophis sirtalis. I am happy to have them because they eat insects like crickets and grasshoppers, slugs and the white-footed mouse which is the carrier of  the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi. The  deer tick feeds on the white-footed mouse, which serves as the primary reservoir for B. burgdorferi and if we get bitten by this tick, we can get Lyme disease. I hope my garter snakes eat all those white-footed mice. I am saddened that these garter snakes will also eat the toads and peepers that live on my property, too.

If I had small children, perhaps I would not be so happy to see any snakes. And TheGardenLady readers may not be as happy about having snakes in their yard as ThisGardenLady is.

Are there effective ways of getting rid of snakes? Most products use naphthalene which is what moth balls are. And moth balls are cheaper to buy than any product for getting rid of snakes. However naphthalene is said to be carcinogenic, so it is not recommended for use.

There are some eco- safe snake repellents on the market. One is from the maker of Liquid Fence called Snake Repellent and the company  says that snakes hate it. It comes in both spray and granular form. It has had mixed reviews on and because the active ingredients are mint oil, thyme oil and rotten eggs,  one blogger does not feel that the ingredients are effective.

I am writing about garter snakes because immediately after I spoke to that lady about snakes, there was a garter snake slithering away in front of me as I walked back to the house.

If TheGardenLady readers have a method of getting rid of their unwanted snakes that is effective, would you let other readers know your methods?

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1 Comment

  • I haven’t seen a snake of any kind in 30 years. If I did, and it was non-poisonous, I’d be so happy! I’d like a full compliment of critters in my garden.

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