8 Ways To Keep Garter Snakes Away For Good
Snakes have a way of polarizing people like no other creature. You either hate ’em or love ’em! Despite being harmless, garter snakes invoke as much distaste and fear in people as other snakes.
Many homeowners want to find ways to keep these slithery serpents out of their yards.
Some brilliant ways to keep garter snakes away for good include keeping the grass mowed, removing debris and brush piles, using snake traps, trimming plants close to your house, using mesh fencing, removing attractants, using predator decoys, and eliminating holes and cracks around your home.
Below, we’ll go over all the brilliant and easy ways to keep garter snakes away for good. We’ll also go over why snakes are in your yard in the first place!
Why Are Garter Snakes In My Yard?
Like all snakes, garters are ectotherms and must use natural sunlight to warm their bodies. They are also obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat other animals to sustain themselves.
Once they’re done hunting, garter snakes need a safe place to hide and sleep. These three basic necessities – heat, food, and shelter – attract garter snakes to your yard.
If you have anything in your yard that aids a garter snake, they will likely return. Let’s dive into the details!
Your Yard Has A Sunning Spot
Ectotherms, commonly called ‘cold-blooded’ animals, do not function like warm-blooded animals. Their metabolisms are much slower because they do not constantly have to burn energy to keep the body warm.
Instead of burning a bunch of calories to stay warm, garter snakes lay in the sun to warm up and get ready for the day.
Some of the sunbathing spots in your yard may include:
- River rocks in your landscaping
- The tops of your bushes (garters will lay their bodies across the branches to sun themselves)
- Wood chips
- Stone retaining walls
According to an article in the Journal of Urban Ecosystems, garter snakes bask when temperatures are lower when compared to other snakes. For this reason, you won’t see them basking in the sun in the middle of the day but rather early or late in the day.
There’s Food In Your Yard
Garter snakes eat a wide variety of food, from earthworms and slugs to mice and birds. They’re excellent pest control, which may be why they are in your yard.
For the most part, garter snakes are generalist predators meaning they will eat whatever they can find and fit in their mouths. Garter snakes can find plenty to eat in your yard. If you have a garden, this is an excellent place for garter snakes to find slugs, worms, and insects.
Bird feeders may attract both birds and mice, which can attract garter snakes. Garters will also eat rodents and birds. If you have a rodent problem in or around your home, it can attract garters too.
You can read more about the animals that snakes eat here.
There Are Sources Of Water In Your Yard
Ponds, streams, rivers, marshes, ditches, and swamps are all attractive to garter snakes. These pesky serpents do not require water to survive, but they are found near water more often than not.
If you have any water source on your property, it can attract garter snakes. The water source will be especially attractive if small fish, minnows, frogs, or insects live in the water source.
If your water source also has dense cover near it, such as tall grass, weeds, or rocks, you can be sure a garter snake is probably living there!
Your Yard Provides Protection
Snakes aren’t always predators. Sometimes, they fall prey to other animals. Birds of prey like hawks and eagles are common predators. Opossums, raccoons, and even the unassuming American robin will all prey on garter snakes.
If your yard has some kind of hiding place that provides garter snakes protection, they will use that cover repeatedly to avoid becoming prey.
Some places in your yard that provide garter snakes with cover include:
- Brush piles
- Old boards
- Stacks of wood
- Untrimmed bushes
- Spaces beneath buildings and porches/decks
- Tall grass
- Your house (yikes!)
We’ll review how to repel snakes from these areas a little later! Here’s a full detailed list of what attracts snakes to your yard if you’d like more info on that.
Garter Snakes Are Looking For Other Garters
You might see a garter snake in your yard, but it may not be there long. This is especially true in the spring.
Garter snakes typically mate in early spring and may be in your yard as they search for other garter snakes to breed with. Garters are not monogamous, so multiple serpents may slither around your yard as they prowl for others of their kind.
If activity ramps up in the spring but dies out in the summer, you probably don’t have a garter problem. You can ignore them until they settle down in the summer.
Why Are Garter Snakes Bad?
Snakes generally have a bad reputation, but the truth is most of them are harmless and do a lot of good for your yard and the environment. Here are a few things that snakes do that positively impact your home, yard, and environment:
- Pest control: snakes are excellent pest control professionals. They eat all sorts of pests, from slugs, snails, roaches, and spiders, to mice, rats, and bats. Snakes have scales, so they cannot transfer harmful agents, unlike rodents.
- Food for other animals: We mentioned before that snakes are prey for various animals. This makes them an essential part of the food web.
- Increase biodiversity: Without snakes, rodent populations would rapidly increase in certain areas. As rodent populations grow, other animals that compete for the same food sources will dwindle, decreasing the biodiversity and unbalancing the ecosystem.
Now that we know the good, how about the bad? Let’s go over why garter snakes are bad for your home and yard.
Many folks suffer from ophidiophobia – the fear of snakes. It’s natural! Heck, I even do. I got bit by a water snake in our pond when I was a kid (I actually won the fight!) Whether you had a bad experience in the past or find snakes plain ol’ creepy, there’s no reason to feel bad for fearing snakes.
According to Penn State University, about one-third of all adults have ophidiophobia. Phobias are nothing to be trifled with and can be a serious cause for concern, creating panic and anxiety.
Having garter snakes around the yard can exacerbate these fears, making it difficult for people to go outside and enjoy their yard for fear of running into snakes. Even people who don’t have an actual phobia may not be comfortable around snakes and will avoid their yards.
Garter Snakes Have Large Litters
Snakes are a bit divided when it comes to their young. Some lay eggs while others give birth to live young. Garter snakes fall in the latter category, giving birth to live snakelets. Snakelets! It’s kind of cute, right?
The not-so-cute part is that garter snakes can give birth to as many as 100 little snakelets! Typically, the bigger the snake, the more babies it can have. According to Marshall University, the average litter size is 10 to 20 baby snakes.
In their first year of life, garter snake survival rates are meager, with only around 16% making it through their first year. Even so, if a female garter has a large litter, that can meet a bunch of new snakes in your yard!
Garter Snakes Can Be Smelly
Skunks are a well-known animal for having a bad smell, but did you know snakes can ‘spray’ too? Yep, garter snakes can be smelly, just like skunks.
If a garter snake feels threatened or surprised, it will release a smelly musk to ward off the offender. The musk is oily and has a foul odor to it.
The most likely reason a garter snake would release this musk is if it were hiding under something and suddenly disturbed, such as lifting up a board with a sleeping garter under it. The musk is harmless but can leave a foul smell in your yard for a little while.
Garter Snakes Are Mostly Harmless
Besides having a fear of snakes and their large litters, garter snakes are virtually harmless. They are very fearful of people, pets, and even kids.
A garter snake’s number one defense is to run away. Well, maybe slithering away is more appropriate…
They are not likely to coil up and strike unless under particular circumstances. They can inject venom into their prey, but it is so mild that humans will have no adverse reactions if they are bitten, which is very rare.
Garter snakes are not constrictors, so there is no need to worry about them wrapping around your pet or child. The only way they would strike out is if they were cornered and had nowhere to run, er, slither.
8 best Ways To Deter Garter Snakes
Garter snakes may be wild animals, but they’re commonly found in un-wild places like suburban and urban homes, gardens, and yards. They’re one of the few species of snakes that can thrive near humans because of all the food in our yards.
When you don’t want garter snakes around, it’s time to start thinking of ways to keep them away from your yard and prevent them from returning.
Let’s dive right in!
Mow Your Lawn
Snakes love hiding in cover, and tall grass is just one of the many hiding places that garter snakes use to go after prey and avoid predators.
Keep your lawn mowed, and avoid letting the grass get above six inches. Keep up with your regular yard maintenance, including weed trimming around objects. Pay close attention to areas near water sources and ditches. These are prime locations for grass to grow out of control and attract garter snakes.
Snakes do not have ears as humans do. Instead, they ‘hear’ vibrations. The sound of your lawnmower will also help scare snakes away and prevent them from returning.
Trim Plants Near The House
When you think of pests that sneak into our basements and attics, you probably picture bats, raccoons, squirrels, and maybe an opossum. Believe it or not, garter snakes can also make their way into our homes!
One way garter snakes creep into attics is by climbing the trees and bushes near our homes and using them as runways to the roof. From there, they will squeeze through vent openings, windows, or damaged roofing tile to get inside.
You can read more about the places snakes may be hiding in your home here.
Garters can climb brick and stucco relatively easily, so giving them the advantage of starting from a tall bush or tree isn’t a good idea! To avoid having an uninvited guest in your attic, keep all tree branches away from your home’s roof. Keep the bushes trimmed so they do not come into contact with the side of your house.
If you’re having trouble reaching the branches to prune your tree, you can purchase something like Sun Joe’s Telescoping Electric Pole Chain Saw, which can extend up to 8.7 feet!
Make A Snake Trap
One way to ensure an animal is removed from your property is by trapping it and releasing it off your property. Snake traps are not very popular, and it will be hard to find one already made.
Don’t worry; we got your back! We will walk you through how to create a snake trap step-by-step. The nice part about this snake trap is that you won’t have to touch or handle the snake at all. Just catch and release.
To make a snake trap, you will need the following supplies:
- One piece of ¼-inch hardware cloth cut 4’ x 4’
- Two pieces of ¼-inch hardware cloth cut 1’ x 4’
- Cage rings or heavy gauge wire
Lucky Farm’s Hog Ring Pliers work great for the cage rings you will use to secure the snake trap.
For the hardware cloth, you don’t need to purchase any special-treated cloth because you will probably only use the trap occasionally. Seboss’s Hardware Cloth is 48 inches by 25 feet, giving you the dimensions you need to build the trap.
Now, to put it together!
- Step 1: Bend the 4’ x 4’ piece of hardware cloth into a cylinder and fasten it with your cage rings.
- Step 2: Create a funnel with one of the 1’ x 4’ pieces of hardware cloth. Create the larger end so that it can be fastened to one side of the cylinder with the small end inside the cylinder.
- Step 3: Cut the other piece of hardware cloth so it can be fastened flat against the other open end of the cylinder. Fasten it with cage rings or heavy gauge wire.
- Step 4: Cover the cage with a towel or other material to create a ‘cover’ and place the cage somewhere that you’ve seen garter snakes slithering around.
- Step 5: Check the trap at least once every 12 hours. If a snake is caught, drive it down the road a little bit (less than a mile*) and either wait for the snake to get out on its own or unfasten the cage rings so the trap is open.
* Releasing the snake further than a mile from your house will make it difficult for the snake to find cover and food before a predator gets to it.
Keep A Tidy Yard
Everyone wants their yard to look nice, but not everyone has the time to pay attention to every little detail in their yard. We totally get it!
One way that you can keep garter snakes away for good is by cleaning up any unnecessary forms of cover. Stack wood neatly, remove debris and brush piles, remove old timber or boards, and eliminate clutter in the garden, such as tools, buckets, bricks, or other things that garters can hide under.
You can also eliminate standing water in your yard that may attract frogs and insects that attract snakes. You can do this by using sawdust or adjusting the grading in your yard.
Use Scent Deterrents
Despite many claims online, there isn’t much out there that will repel garter snakes. Things like cayenne pepper, guard vines, cowboy rope, and sulfur don’t seem to work with snakes.
There are two primary scents out there that seem to repel snakes:
- Clove oil
You can find these as essential oils and add 10-15 drops for every cup of water to a spray bottle. Spray the areas around your yard where you want to repel garter snakes.
If you don’t want to make your own, you can read about the best sprays to repel garter snakes here.
Seal Up Your Home
Garter snakes do not necessarily want to be in your home, but they may enter it by accident while searching for food or shelter. Sealing up your home will prevent garters from entering your home and eliminate yet another source of protection.
Check these areas around your home and make sure they are sealed up tight:
- Places where electrical or plumbing exits the house – use caulking, sealant, or mesh wire to seal these holes.
- Dryer vents – Your dryer vent should have a vent flap that closes when the dryer is not running. Make sure this flap is working correctly and not stuck open. Seal any cracks or holes around the vent.
- Broken screens, windows, roofing tiles, or siding.
- Cracks in the foundation leading inside the home.
- Large openings under doorways.
When your house is sealed up nice and tight, it will prevent snakes from getting in and deter other pests like mice, raccoons, squirrels, ants, and other pesky critters!
Adjust Your Landscaping
We all know that keeping your lawn manicured and your landscaping pristine takes a lot of work. This option will require some time, so it’s not the best option if you’re looking to repel garter snakes quickly.
Garter snakes avoid certain things in the yard that they find uncomfortable or hard to slither over. Sharp rocks and objects are great examples.
If you have the time, replacing smooth stone or river rocks with lava rocks or sharp gravel can help keep garter snakes away from your landscaping. Since stones are one of their favorite sunbathing locations, this will help deter them from spending time in your yard.
Use A Predator Decoy
Garter snakes can be active day or night, so they’re always on the lookout for both owls and hawks. Predator decoys trick the garter snake into believing a predator is nearby.
There are plenty of options online, but it’s important to note that decoys only work if they are moved around often so that the garter snake doesn’t get used to its presence. If they become habituated to the presence of the decoy, they will no longer fear it.
One way to avoid habituation is using a decoy that moves instead of one that stands still. Our two favorite recommendations include the following:
- CTREE’s Owl Decoy – This owl decoy requires no batteries. Its head moves naturally with the wind once you install the included wind fin.
- Yomyray’s Birds Repeller Flying Kite – this product is a hawk-shaped kite that you install in your yard. As long as there is enough wind, the kite will act like a low-flying hawk and scare off any garter snakes.
That’s All For Now!
Lions and tigers and bears? Forget about them! How about snakes – oh my! Having garter snakes in the yard can be challenging. You may have a fear of them or be worried that they will harm your pets.
The good news is that garter snakes are harmless. That said, we don’t always want them slithering around our yards, gardens, and houses.
To recap, the eight brilliant ways to keep garter snakes away for good include:
- Mowing the lawn
- Trim the plants near your house
- Make a snake trap
- Keep a tidy hard
- Use scent deterrents
- Seal up your home
- Adjust your landscaping
- Use a predator decoy
If you can’t get rid of your garter snake problem, you can always reach out to a professional! Our nationwide pest control finder can get you in contact with a local professional near you!
Angilletta Jr, M. J., Niewiarowski, P. H., & Navas, C. A. (2002, August). The evolution of thermal physiology in ectotherms. Journal of Thermal Biology, 27(4), 249-268.
Britt, E. J., Hicks, J. W., & Bennett, A. F. (2006, August 15). The energetic consequences of dietary specialization in populations of the garter snake, Thamnophis elegans. Journal of Experimental Biology, 209(16), 3164-3169.
Burger, J., Jeitner, C., Jensen, H. et al. Habitat use in basking Northern water (Nerodia sipedon) and Eastern garter (Thamnophis sirtalis) snakes in urban New Jersey. Urban Ecosystems 7, 17–27 (2004).
Yahaya Musah, Daniel K. Attuquayefio, Abigail N. A. Pobee & Lars H. Holbech (2022) Ophidiophobia, myth generation, and human perceptions: Implications for snake conservation in a typical savanna community of northern Ghana, Human Dimensions of Wildlife, 27:4, 321-42, DOI: 10.1080/10871209.2021.1952357