Raccoons: The Garden Thieves

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There are few animal pests that cause me to curse out loud.  Mice?  Nope.  Rabbits?  Nope.  Deer?  I may think about it, but nope.  It’s Procyon lotor.  And for those of you who are not up on your Latin, it is the common raccoon.  Some of you may know it as a ringtail or simply coon.

These nocturnal beasts are well-known in the gardening world.  They raid bird feeders, strip grapevines of their fruit, demolish a sweet corn patch in a single evening, and snack on a variety vegetables and fruits that you had hoped to harvest for yourself.   Do they raid your garden in broad daylight, when you might have a chance to scare them away?  Usually not.  They generally wait for the cover of darkness to forage for food.   While they are common in rural settings, raccoons have made their way into cities, living in urban forests (or your large Cottonwood in the backyard).  And with no natural predators in an urban setting, they are becoming quite the pest.

aftermath of raccoons in a protected strawberry bed

aftermath of raccoons in a protected strawberry bed

If you are uncertain that raccoons are visiting your garden at night, there are clues.

Clue number one: are there small holes in your lawn?  And by hole, the grass has been stripped away, leaving just bare dirt and a hole approximately 2″ across and 1″ – 2″ deep.  Similar holes may be dug in your mulch.

Clue number two: if you are growing sweet corn, stalks will be bent over and the ears will have a few bites taken out of them.

Clue number three: if you have raspberries, canes will be pushed over when the fruit is ripe.

Clue number four: bird feeders will be emptied at night.

Clue number five: paw prints that display longer, slender ‘fingers’.  Raccoon prints are very distinctive and are not similar to dog, cat, or squirrel.

Clue number six: hearing growls, chatters, hisses, or snarls.  The growls, hisses, and snarls usually are emitted when they perceive a threat, such as a dog or a strange raccoon.

Club number seven: are there broken branches on small trees that are close to the ground? This can often indicate a raccoon has climbed the tree in search of fruit, but they are too heavy for small branches to support.  (We have lost three cherry trees this way).

raccoon damage to cherry tree

raccoon damage to cherry tree

While there are many suggestions across the internet on how to best deal with raccoons, there are just a few truly effective methods.  And to best provide the best possible information, these methods have been tested out by yours truly.

 Methods that Did Not Work

  1. Place a radio in the garden and leave it turned on all night.  Sorry, the raccoons that visited us didn’t seem to mind rock and roll.
  2. Hanging streamers and/or placing pinwheels around the garden.  Again, this did not work… at all.  It just dressed up the produce buffet the raccoons saw in front of them.
  3. Growing a taller variety of sweet corn.  This failed as well.  A determined raccoon will still knock over the stalk or if sturdy enough, climb it to reach the ears of corn.
  4. Placing human hair around the yard.  Nope.  This didn’t work either.
  5. Setting up a light in your garden at night.  Our raccoons didn’t mind this at all.  They just bellied up to the produce.

Effective Ways to Keep Raccoons out of Your Garden

  1. Live traps – yes, they work and they are humane.  This allows you to relocate the raccoon in a different area.
  2. Electric fencing (or electric wires at the bottom of the fence placed at 5″ and 10″ above the ground).  Raccoons can easily climb fencing, but if electrified, the shock will startle the raccoon and they will leave.
  3. Have a dog in the yard.  Raccoons will opt for a garden that is not protected by man’s best friend.  NOTE: a barking dog in the house is not an effective deterrent.  For best results, keep the dog outside.
  4. Harvest produce as soon as it is ready.  True, you may lose some to the raccoons, but at least you eliminated tasty treats from subsequent night raids.
nocturnal raiding raccoons

nocturnal raiding raccoons

NOTE: for those living in an urban environment, check your municipal code to see if live trapping is allowed.  If you are a renter, check with your landlord.

So while you may have to contend with raccoons in your garden, you have options.  But above all else… harvest as soon as you can so you and your family can enjoy the fruits of your labor.  Your persistence may cause these wayward creatures to seek out other gardens for a quick meal.

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12 responses »

  1. And never, never use fish emulsion or blood meal fertilizer on your plants if you want them to remain planted.

  2. We have had signs of raccoons…. little “hand” paw prints…. thankfully they seem to be gone now that neighbors have done work to their yard and pool. Thank you for posting this. 🙂

  3. Wow, can’t believe what the little, er, buggers did to your strawberries! Dang! Good luck trapping them; I’ve heard people have to haul them quite a distance away for live trapping to be successful.

    • Little buggers wasn’t exactly the phrase that went through my mind when I saw what they did to our strawberry cage…. and the cherry tree. Right now, we have momma and her 4 kits.

  4. It must be terribly frustrating to have a garden continually raided and I feel so fortunate to not have such pests here…I read of these, deer… and in Australia possums and I know how annoyed and frustrated we would get!

    • Raccoons are a frustrating garden pest. They never eat something entirely… just a few bites and then they move on to the piece of produce. We try to keep our garden harvested as things ripen as this is our best ‘defense’. Some evenings, we hear them in the garden and try to scare them away with some success. And in an urban setting, they have no natural predators and communities ban using firearms inside city limits. But each year, we still manage to get a harvest in spite of them. 🙂

      • It would drive me nutty!! Bad enough the local cats that constantly dig up seeds so we have to cover the lot in netting. Something eating our fruit, well, I am just thankful we have no such problems.

      • It drives us nutty as well. But we try to ‘encourage’ the raccoons to go elsewhere and have been experimenting with different methods of deterring them.

  5. I know we have raccoons in our area because I have heard them at night, but have yet to actually see one. When we plant our garden, we will probably be using an electric fence – not just for raccoons, but for other critters as well. I have heard of the failed deterrents you mentioned and was wondering if they would work – now I know they don’t. Thanks for the advice.

    • Growing up on a farm, I have dealt with raccoons for decades. And in our urban setting, they are still an issue. I just wanted to pass along what we have had success with as well as what didn’t work. (I also spent time sitting on the patio at night waiting to get a photo of the raccoons since they are primarily nocturnal). Our current garden raiders are a momma and four kits. Good luck!

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