How to Keep Skunks Out of the Yard

wireskunkSkunks love to dig up our vegetables in search of grubs. Our late Doberman used to enjoy late night backyard skunk hunting expeditions which never ended well for him. For years I’ve used bird netting to keep them out of my vegetable beds. The problem with bird netting is that it’s a pain to work with–it catches on things, tangles up, and occasionally traps a bird. I hate the stuff. It took me 16 years to realize that I could exclude skunks from the entire backyard.  All it takes is a simple strategy: know thy enemy.

backgate

Our new back gate. Hopefully the skunks will be scared by the Seneca stencil.

Skunks can’t climb
Skunks, unlike raccoons and possums, are poor climbers. I noted that they were able to climb up on my straw bales, but that’s about as high as they can go (18″ or so.) . Our backyard has a six-foot fence all around it. But skunks are also great diggers. Thankfully, there’s a partially buried chain link fence along most of the perimeter of the backyard. Along the back there’s a concrete slab. But there are a few weak spot where skunks can dig under the fence.

I knew of at least two places that were open, critter highways into our backyard. At these two spots I bent some hardware cloth into an L shape, attached the top part to the fence and partially buried the lower part in the ground. I also closed an awkward gap in a fence we share with a neighbor. Finally, I sheathed the chain link gate to the backyard with wood to make it more attractive and skunk proof.

skunkpathTroubleshooting
To see if my skunk defenses held up, I scattered some flour around the gaps in the fence I had fixed. If skunks managed to get in they would leave tracks in the flour. Here’s what I discovered:

My new skunk proofing was not keeping skunks out–it was keeping them in.  I found tracks in the flour on the inside of the fence where they were trying to get out. I also saw the skunk late at night.

Understanding Urban Skunk Habitat
In the wild skunks dig dens or live in hollowed out logs. In urban areas they like to take up residence in crawl spaces and under decks. (Design tip: avoid creating skunk habitat in the first place by making sure these types of spaces are not accessible.)  I suspect that there may be a skunk or two living under our back shed. This shed is as old as the house (almost 100 years) and can’t be skunk proofed on all sides due to its setting. I’m going to have to drive it out. The most common method I’ve found of evicting skunks involves playing a radio all night (finally, a good use for late night radio host George Noory!).

Skunk breeding
I’ve got a deadline. Skunks breed in the spring. Last year we had an entire skunk family that would graze in the backyard every night. Kinda cute, but very annoying. My plan is to have the skunks evicted before they make babies.

Skunks in crawl spaces and basements
In addition to our backyard woes, some critter managed to rip open the crawl space access door on the side of our house. This could mean that I have skunks in the basement as well as under the shed. To evict whatever is living down there, I’m going to rig up a live trap so that it becomes a one-way exit. (I’ll do a separate post on this technique.)t. This allows animals to leave but not come back in. You have to check the trap and reset it every day. I do this to avoid trapping animals in the crawl space–I’d hate to trap a poor cat down there.

I also plan on using the one-way exit trap to evict the skunk or skunks that are now trapped in the backyard. I’ll rig up the trap by the back gate, put on George Noory, and hope for the best.

Trapping or Killing
Trapping and relocating skunks doesn’t work. It’s not really a a humane option because they usually die in their new location. Killing the skunks outright just makes room for another skunk to move in.  The best thing you can do is just make your yard inhospitable.

Working with skunks
Once plants are well established skunks aren’t much of a problem. Where I don’t want to have to take all these preventative measures (such as the front yard) I’ve got fruit trees, native plants and cardoons–things skunks can’t uproot. The two vegetable beds I have in the front yard have to be encased in bird netting since there’s no way to fence in the entire front yard (it’s a steep slope).

I inferred that skunks are an enemy earlier in this post. The fact is that skunks are here to stay and are part of our urban ecosystem. They have found a niche and keep figeater beetles, whose larvae they really like, in check. That said, I still don’t want them in our vegetable beds. But what I’ve suggested in this post is an exclusionary strategy rather than a death based strategy.

Summary

  • Understand skunk behavior, breeding patterns and territory.
  • Reduce habitat.
  • Secure crawl spaces and decks before breeding season begins.
  • Observe and troubleshoot.
  • If all else fails, stop worrying and learn to live with them.

Are skunks a problem for you? How do you deal with them?

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12 Comments

  1. It also helps to cut out any source of water.

    We once lived in a small apt in a concrete jungle not far from the Ford Theater and Hollywood Bowl. We had skunks every summer and it was mind boggling to figure out what was attractive to them. Turns out it was the water that collected on in the concrete car park under our apartment.

  2. We don’t have skunks but we do a fine line in other critters that like to share our harvest. We have a suburban block with a lot of fruit and veg in Melbourne, Australia. Lots of birds like to help us with the fruit-trees including natives like rainbow lorikeets, eastern rosellas and magpies (they seem very keen on figs) and introduced species such as blackbirds and Indian mynahs. Also ringtail and brushtail possums (bit different to US possums but very keen on fruit and some veg), fruit-bats! and various other enthusiastic fauna. We didn’t get one cherry this year. We’ve started doing a lot more netting and we’re seriously considering putting in an anti-aviary over some of the garden next year.

    But perhaps our most unexpected free-range forager is snails in the stone-fruit. Arboreal gastropods! They love getting up in the tree and eating the outside of unripe stone-fruit. Who woulda thunk it!

    David

  3. I had skunks the Spring after I moved into my house. I hadn’t seen one, but on a couple of nights the smell permiated the air and there were no more cats in the neighborhood. Our inside cat alerted us to a mother and her 3 babies near our front porch one evening. The smell was horrible and they hadn’t sprayed. The mother took the babies and moved into our crawl space. I called everyone to come and get them, but to no avail. The mother skunk tore up everything in the crawl space…insulation, wires and the furnace runs. She was pushing the registers up in the house trying to get in. I was told that when they left the next evening to go out and board up all the crawl opening spaces. Which I did. Except one of the babies didn’t go out. The mother went BIZERK! Dug around the house, tore off everything she could. I had to hire a trapper. He set his live trap with canned cat food. Finally after a few days and lots of $$$$ he caught them all. He would take a plastic tarp and easily cover the trap so that they couldn’t spray him when he took them off. He said he had never been sprayed before our skunk…he called her the skunk from hell.

  4. I have had to learn the ways of raccoons. There is a space over the living room where I spend lots of time that can be accessed by a raccoon, but taking the ceiling tiles down is the only way anyone can get to them or the space. Eventually, animals become habituated to light and sound, especially is Mama raised them with it and light and sound are associated with food.

    I barked and growled and they left but came back and ignore me. I beat on the ceiling and they left and came back. Maybe I have it right this time. A cotton ball soaked in ammonia seemed to have chased off the last raccoon. There is a place where a ceiling tile is sagging. I intend to take a cap from a milk jug put ammonia in it and slip it up there. That should do it. They hate ammonia.

    If a person does not want to dig, just attach wire (I used hog/dog wire that has 2″x4″ openings)to the bottom of the fence. Lay the fence on top of the ground and used landscape pins (like huge bobbie pins) to hold it down at the edges so you don’t trip.

    Less than six months later, the wire on the ground does not show. This can be mowed over from Day 1 of installation. Animals cannot reason that they need to back up two or more feet to dig under. They are stopped at the fence.

    For my hens I put the 4′ wide hog wire under the fence since the dog pen can be raised. This saved a lot of digging which I cannot do anyway. Unfortunately, raccoons and possums can both climb. So, the top of the dog pen turned chicken refuge had to have hardware cloth over it.

    It is nice to know about skunks.

  5. Wow! I’m sure thankful that we don’t have skunks. However we are plagued by the rascally Black squirrel. Yup; A pitch black squirrel, that uses the telephone wires as a golden gate right into our yard. This little monster has now had babies and the whole lot are now ambushing are garden viciously ripping off sunflower heads, stealing nibbles off of the giant green tomatoes, smashing melons, and the whole time our 140 pound dog stands by, barely just turning his head to stare.

  6. I had a client last year who had a den of skunks living under her backyard patio slab. I trapped and relocated 6 of them in 2 weeks. After a couple of years of doing animal removals and trying different baits,I found that skunks find sardines irresistible.

  7. Consider the lowly snare as a favored trapping method. Snares, properly set, are safe and effective. Dogs that get caught in a non-lethal design will typically sit and wait to be freed. Cat’s are a different story but there’s no news in that.

    Snares can be set to kill, and they are very effective in that way also, so be sure to understand the dynamics and design implications of your set.

    The thing about snares is that all wild animals are used to old wire and vines in their environment, they step on them and walk under, around and through them all the time. Most live traps require some going into a closed space which wild animals are reluctant to do, especially if they see another trapped in such a fashion.

    many outdoor manuals show snares as a survival tactic, the posited designs are last ditch problematic in general. The design I have used is made from light aircraft cable, and a bent washer (as lock) from the hardware store, about $2 for the whole thing.
    no springs or trees required, just an anchor point.

    Of course, with skunks, spraying is a problem with any method, but with snares it’s usually not seen as an imminent threat until a human or dog comes along.

  8. Pingback: How to Get Skunks Out of Your Basement and Yard | Root Simple

  9. I tried everything to keep skunks out of my garden, mothballs, hot pepper oil, sonic repellers, sprays, etc. Finally I spoke with an exterminator who told me most all mammals cannot tolerate the smell of ammonia (including me), so he suggested putting saucers of ammonia in the places where they were most active, and it worked! I still have to put these in new places when I see activity there, but it alway works to protect an area about 6 feet in every direction from the ammonia.

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