Regardless of where you live, you will encounter some type of wildlife. Unless you garden on a roof top or balcony, there is a very good chance you may run into a snake. Snakes are either venomous or non-venomous. Some snakes are more aggressive than others but for the most part if they are left alone, they will not bother you. In fact, some snakes like the black racer and garter snakes are quite beneficial in the garden and around the house because they prey on mice that would otherwise cause problems in your house.
We live in beautiful Ontario, Canada which is home to 15 species of snakes. They are the: Eastern fox, Eastern Massassauga, Northern ring neck, Northern red-bellied, Northern brown, Eastern garter, Eastern ribbon, smooth green, Eastern hognose, milk, Northern water, black rat, queen, Buttler's garter (threatened), and blue racer (found only on Peelee Island). The only venomous snake is the Mississauga rattlesnake, a norther species we have encountered on several occasions when camping in the Bruce Peninsula area. In our little corner of Ontario, the most common snakes a home garden would encounter is the garter and milk snake. If near the water, Northern water snakes are fairly common. Here is a short video of the snakes in Ontario.
I recently wrote about our encounter with a garter snake. A garter snake is rather harmless . While a garter snake is not usually aggressive, it can be temperamental. Garter snakes feed on mice, toads, insects, earth worms and other snakes. In our particular case, there is a small tract of farmland behind our property that has been a haven for mice so we have had that problem. Excessive rains causing flooding in May and June basically drove the mice closer to our house which is on higher ground. That meant their predator, the garter snake came with them. The snake population has increased if the decreased sound of crickets is any indication. A garter snake hanging out around the gardens is not a problem for us but I don't want it in the house. Seeing where it fled to under the siding of course gave me immediate flashes of the snake getting into the attic or main part of the house.
Snakes can and do get into the house, generally through the very same gaps that let their prey (eg. mice) into the house. Some snakes like the black rat snake are good climbers and have been known to get into attics via overhanging tree branches. Snakes are legally protected in Ontario under the Species at Risk Act and Endangered Species Act so cannot be killed, harmed, harassed or captured (removed from the wild and that includes your yard). They can be removed from your home or outbuildings and released back into the wild. It is also illegal to destroy a snake's natural habitat but you can remove woodpiles and brush from your property to make it less favourable as a habitat for snakes. Signs of snakes around or in the house are: actual sightings, scat (usually white), shedded skin and if indoors you may notice a reptile odour. There are several things you can do to encourage a snake to stay out of your house.
- Seal all cracks and crevices in your home. Pay particular attention to points of entry for utility services. Snakes are nocturnal so if possible seal any hole you suspect a snake is getting into the house at after dark when it is more likely to be out hunting.
- Secure windows and doors. Snakes, rodents and other pests can enter the house through opened screened doors and windows. The snake in question was about 2 feet from our front screen door so had I opened it as it was scurrying away from my husband, it could easily have slipped right past me into the house! Open patio doors are prime entry points for a variety of pests that can enter the house in a blink of an eye. Keep screen doors and windows in good repair not only the screening material but also ensure there are no gaps where snakes or their prey could get in. Replace the weatherstripping to be sure.
- Deterrents - Powdered sulfur and mothballs have both been shown effective at deterring snakes. Remove woodpiles or place them as far as possible from the house. Remove heavy brush. Keep grass cut and trimmed. Remove or cut back heavy vegetation growth around the foundation of your house. Trim tree branches overhanging your house especially if you live in an area with snakes prone to climbing. Remove any standing water. Birdbaths should be up off the ground so as to not encourage snakes. Snakes like wood mulch. Replace with stone or remove entirely.
- Barriers - Some barriers are effective against snakes. In general, snakes can't climb stairs because of the 90 degree angle so it is less likely a snake will get onto your raised deck or in raised garden beds. Some fences (eg. solid, fine mesh) may keep snakes out.
- Introduce a predator - Cats and hawks are both snake predators. If your neighbours have cats and you have snakes or mice, chances are very good their cats will be frequenting your yard providing they are mousers. Don't discourage the cats. They will soon drive away both snakes and mice! If there are no neighbourhood cats, you can always get a cat. I recommend a farm cat as there is a higher chance it will be a mouser but no guarantee. With a bit of effort you can attract birds of prey like a Sharp Shinned Hawk that will frequent your yard if you feed the smaller song birds. While they are after birds they also prey on mice, voles, baby rabbits and snakes without harming your gardens or becoming pests. So they can be quite beneficial at pest control.
- Eliminate it's prey. Mice will attract snakes. Discourage mice by removing their food source (eg. bird seed) and habitat (eg. wood piles, brush). This will encourage mice to move onto greener pastures. Get rid of mice by using a pest control service, trapping or scatter rodent bait around your property to kill them off.