Clever and destructive, raccoons are very common in the United States thanks to their ability to thrive in nearly any habitat. From heavily forested areas to city alleyways, these nocturnal creatures are known for their frequent raids on chicken coops, garbage cans, and vegetable gardens. But just what specifically is bringing them into your yard?
Raccoons are generally in your yard searching for food or shelter. Unsealed or open garbage cans, unattended pet food or bird seed, openings under porches and decks, compost piles, chicken coops, climbable trees, and produce gardens are the most common things that attract raccoons to yards.
The first step in controlling your raccoon problem is determining why they entered your yard to begin with. Let’s take an in-depth look at the eight different reasons raccoons may have come onto your property. Then, we’ll offer you specific defense strategies for each cause!
Unsealed or Open Trash Bins
If not taken care of, raccoons can cause significant damage to your property by invading your attic, digging up your yard, ruining your favorite flower beds, or knocking over trash cans.
As these creatures are very intelligent and can adapt to multiple habitats, it can be hard at first glance to determine what exactly led them to your yard.
So, let’s dive right into the “why?”!
There’s a good reason TV shows and movies depict raccoons as trash-raiding animals. A raccoon’s typical diet includes essentially anything they can get their hands on, including insects, crayfish, turtles, waterfowl, and even food scraps.
Raccoons use their powerful sense of smell to seek food when they’re hungry. Unfortunately, this food source includes bins of garbage waiting to be picked up before trash day.
Even if your bins are closed, raccoons are dexterous mammals, meaning they can use their paws to open containers, turn doorknobs, and manipulate objects.
If you’re waking up to a tipped-over garbage bin and trash scattered across your driveway or sidewalk, a group of raccoons may be to blame.
How to Fix It
Raccoons are very smart animals, meaning most of the tips you’ll find on this list feature ways to outsmart these nocturnal pests.
If you suspect your garbage bins are the source of your raccoon problem, try the following:
- Only leave your garbage bins out the morning of the trash pickup day. Though it might be convenient to move your barrels to the curb the night before, this is when raccoons are most active. If you can, keep your bins inside of your garage until pick-up day.
- If you don’t have a car garage to store your trash until pick-up day, there is no need to worry. Try using this Trash Can Lid Strap by YYST to secure your bins. The strap is fully adjustable and can fit a standard city garbage bin. Not only will this protect your bins from raccoons and other pests, but it will keep your garbage bags safe from the elements!
- Another way to keep raccoons away from your garbage is using a natural scent repellent or commercial repellent that keeps them away from the area. You can read our guide on the overall best raccoon repellents here.
- If you would rather not use a strong chemical to repel raccoons, try creating a homemade repellent made from water and cayenne pepper. Raccoons despise the smell of cayenne pepper and won’t want to dig around trash that is surrounded by the smell. You can learn more in our full list of scents that raccoons hate.
Open Containers of Unattended Pet Food or Bird Seed
If you leave out unattended pet food or bird seed, raccoons will seek your yard for their next dinner.
Similar to garbage, raccoons will eat nearly anything they can get their paws on. A bowl of leftover dog or cat food is the perfect treat for a hungry raccoon.
How to Fix It
If you enjoy feeding your pets or other wildlife like the local birds, it’s essential that you implement a routine that eliminates the possibility of unattended pet food.
- Only feed your pets at specific times of the day and clean up all leftover food immediately after. Creating a routine that you and your pet can stick to will get you into the habit of cleaning up any leftover dog or cat food that may attract raccoons into your yard.
- If you enjoy feeding the birds, only fill your bird feeder with bird seed you know will be eaten by nightfall. If any food is left over by the time the sun sets, remove the bird feeder for the night and replace it in the morning.
- If you’d rather not worry about replacing your bird feeder or bird house each morning, you can also try a raccoon baffle. These poles work as a barrier and prevent raccoons and squirrels from climbing to the top of your bird feeders. Birds will get to enjoy a lovely feast of bird seed and nuts, but raccoons will have to search elsewhere.
Porch and Deck Openings
Since raccoons can thrive in nearly any habitat, they have no problem building a den anywhere that shelters them. Porches and decks are a great place for raccoons to set up a nest, as they are typically safe from the elements and provide them a sense of security, especially during nesting season.
If you discover a family of raccoons underneath your porch or deck, it’s important to first assess whether there is a female raccoon with newborn kits. If so, contact a pest control company as they will remove the raccoons humanely without causing harm to their kits.
If there are no newborn raccoons in sight, but you still suspect raccoons are using your porch or deck as a den, there are a few different ways you can get them out safely.
How to Fix It
Once you’ve determined that raccoons are indeed taking up space under your home, what can you do to not only safely remove them but also prevent future raccoons from moving in?
- Start by modifying your yard to make it unattractive to raccoons. Since food allures raccoons secure all trash bins and compost piles. If you have wood piles or building materials, keep them off the ground if possible. By removing sources of food and other forms of shelter like wood piles, raccoons won’t be as inclined to set up camp underneath your porch or deck.
- Use light as a scare tactic. Since raccoons are nocturnal creatures, they are not a big fan of bright lights. Try placing a Solar Powered Predator Deterrent Light near the raccoons’ den. They may become uncomfortable from the sudden light source and quietly leave your yard.
- To prevent raccoons from moving back in, install a metal mesh barrier around your deck or porch. Dig at least 6 inches underground to ensure raccoons won’t simply dig it up over time.
Unsecured Compost Piles
Composing is a wonderful way to give back to the planet, but you need to be careful about how you store your compost.
As we mentioned, raccoons love any type of garbage, including a compost mix created with food scraps. If your compost is not fully sealed, raccoons can use their dexterous paws to open the bin and destroy your composting efforts.
How to Fix It
The strategies to deter raccoons from your compost bin are like the ones used for keeping them out of your garbage.
- Look for a compost bin that markets itself as pest-proof, such as the D.F. Omer Garden Composter Bin. These bins keep rodents out by allowing room for multiple padlocks.
- Cover all food scraps with at least 8 inches of leaves, branches, twigs, or other organic matter. This will help hide the scent of your dinner leftovers, decreasing your chances of a raccoon break-in. If they can’t smell what you’re hiding in your compost piles, they won’t know where to look.
Unsecured Chicken Coops
Raccoons are a major threat if you have a chicken coop in your backyard. Without the right safety measure in place, they can easily break in and harm your poultry.
Thankfully, there are some steps you can take to raccoon-proof your chicken coop to keep your fowl safe.
How to Fix It:
First, fully inspect your chicken coop to determine every way a raccoon could enter. This will help you decide what safety measures to put into place. The overall goal here is to outsmart even the smartest raccoons.
- If raccoons are penetrating the chicken wire surrounding your coop, it might be time to look into something sturdier. Try installing a stronger wire such as hardware cloth fencing. Raccoons cannot get through this durable barrier, keeping your chickens safe from harm.
- Since raccoons are intelligent enough to unlock gate latches with their dexterous paws, install a padlock onto your chicken coop door. This will fully secure the main entrance to your chicken coop and you’ll be able to rest easy knowing your chickens are safe.
Raccoons will also commonly den in hollowed-out trees. These are great hide-outs for raccoons as they are above ground and provide them a place to rest safely in the daylight hours. They may also sit on branches high above the ground to search for prey.
If you have multiple trees in your backyard, we have a few tips for stopping these pesky creatures from climbing them.
How to Fix It
Take a moment to observe where the trees in your backyard stand, especially trees near your roof.
Raccoons can use long tree branches to reach your chimney, which is something you want to avoid at all costs. Chimneys are a perfect place for a raccoon to hide out during nesting season. They may also attempt to access your attic if there are any structural defects they can break through.
Here are a few things you can do to prevent raccoons from climbing your trees:
- Install barriers around your trees. Tree guards made from wire mesh are great for protecting your trees as raccoons won’t be able to latch on with their claws.
- Trim your tree branches or hire a professional to do it for you. If raccoons are climbing trees close to your home, ensure that they cannot reach your roof by trimming any long branches.
Fruit and Vegetable Gardens
A major attraction for hungry raccoons is your backyard fruit and vegetable gardens. Unfortunately, raccoons can cause serious damage to your hard gardening efforts if proper precautions are not in place.
If you enjoy gardening as a hobby, pay special attention to how you protect your crops from these pesky mammals.
There is no reason to stop gardening if you see raccoons around your yard, but you will want to do everything you can to stop them from destroying your crops.
How to Fix It
- Make your garden unattractive to raccoons and other pests by using a peppermint spray. Raccoons have a powerful sense of smell and typically dislike the smell of peppermint. Try spritzing some Rodent Sheriff Peppermint Spray around your garden each night to repel not only raccoons, but mice, rats, and other rodents.
- Set up motion-detected sprinklers. Any raccoon who approaches your garden will be surprised by a sudden blast of cold water and will usually scurry away.
- If you live in a rural community where raccoons are not used to the loud sounds of traffic and sirens, try placing a radio near your garden or flower bed. Raccoons typically hate loud, sudden sounds and may be scared off by a noisy radio.
Grubs in Your Soil
Raccoons enjoy snacking on grubs, a common larva of Japanese beetles. These small, white insects are commonly found in soil and feed on organic matter and grass roots before growing into adult beetles.
Unfortunately for both you and these small insects, raccoons will dig holes in your lawn if they sense grubs living in the soil.
If you notice raccoons are frequently digging around in your backyard, you might have a grub problem to take care of.
How to Fix It
- The most effective way to eliminate grubs from your backyard is by applying a season-long grub eliminator during the springtime. During early spring, grubs will come out of winter hibernation and begin eating your grass roots. Raccoons can sense these tiny creatures and will do everything they can to reach them. By eliminating these grubs early, raccoons won’t have any reason to dig up your lawn in search of their next meal.
- Make your lawn inhospitable to grubs by keeping your grass dry for a few weeks. Though this method might not be for everyone, it works well for eliminating grubs as you’re taking away their primary source of moisture. Try going a few weeks without watering your grass and observe whether your raccoon problem has gone away. Raccoons are less likely to stick around for long if one of their favorite food sources has disappeared!
Not only will eliminating backyard grubs keep the raccoons away, but your lawn will also be much healthier when you don’t have these wormlike insects eating away at your grass roots!
Putting it All Together
With their clever tactics and dexterous limbs, raccoons are a major nuisance for many homeowners. Thankfully, you can use a few different tactics to create an inhospitable environment for these nocturnal bandits.
Raccoons are attracted to all food sources, including trash, grubs, leftover pet food, chickens, and compost piles.
Your goal should be to eliminate and/or protect these food sources, as raccoons will have nothing to gain from hanging around your property if they cannot sniff out their next meal.
Once you’ve determined what exactly is attracting these creatures to your yard, you can make the necessary changes to get rid of your raccoon problem for good.
Bromley, P. T., Lochmiller, R. L., & Chapman, D. L. (1984). Raccoon biology and management.
Clark, K. D. (1994). Managing Raccoons, Skunks, and Opossums in Urban Settings . Vertebrate Pest Conference Proceedings Collection.
Curtis, P. D., & Sullivan, K. L. (2001). Raccoons. Wildlife damage management fact sheet series. Cornell Cooperative Extension, Ithaca, NY.
Riley, D. G. (1989). Controlling raccoon damage in urban areas. In Ninth Great Plains Wildlife Damage Control Workshop Proceedings. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report (Vol. 171, pp. 85-86).
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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