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Raccoons: How to Identify and Get Rid of Raccoons in the Garden | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Raccoons

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Raccoons might be cute, but they’re no good for your garden: here are tips on how to remove them from your yard.

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How to Identify and Get Rid of Raccoons

The Editors
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Learn how to identify raccoons and how to get rid of raccoons in your garden with these helpful tips.

What Are Raccoons?

Raccoons (Procyon lotor) have masks over their eyes because they could rob even a bank vault. These resourceful animals are second in persistence and imagination to no other animal (unless it’s a squirrel at a bird feeder).

Raccoons are great climbers, swimmers, jumpers, and runners. Their five-toed paws make them very dexterous, and their agility can allow them to outsmart every human concoction used to deter them. If they aren’t breaking into your garden, they might try to climb into your chimney to use it as a den.

Raccoons do not hibernate during the winter, but they will live in dens for periods of severe weather, causing them to lose a lot of their body fat in northern areas. They often live in hollow trees during the warm part of the year. Populations of raccoons often include many youngsters, and families will stay together for about a year.

What Do Raccoons Eat?

Raccoons are nocturnal and omnivorous, meaning they eat anything from grubs to crayfish, as well as all the plants and vegetables that you have in your garden, too. Especially in the fall, they develop a taste for fruits like apples, peaches, and pears, but they also enjoy a variety of vegetables, like sweet corn, potatoes, and peas.

Even though wild raccoons prefer areas with trees and a source of water, more and more of them are raiding gardens because gardens are an easy source of food. They’ll be even happier if you have a source of water and some forest near your garden.

Identification

How to Identify Raccoons

Raccoons are small mammals 2 to 3 feet in length and weighing about 10 to 30 pounds. Raccoons have distinct black “masks” on their faces, which often characterizes them as bandits. They have fluffy, ringed tails and their bodies are varying shades of gray, with hints of light brown. The forepaws of raccoons resemble tiny human hands with five toes, which makes raccoons very dexterous.

Raccoons are nocturnal creatures, meaning that they feed at night. This might make it hard for you to identify them, as you might only see the damage they cause. Looking for raccoon tracks near the damage might also help you to identify them. Learn more about identifying animal tracks.

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Photo Credit: M. Sorrentino, University of Vermont. After a rainy night, five-toed tracks might appear in the mud around your garden. These raccoon tracks are easily distinguished from most other four-toed mammals.

Raccoon Damage

If your lawn has a lot of holes in it, or your mulch pile has a lot of holes, you probably have a nightly visitor. Raccoons will dig up lawns and mulch piles looking for insects to eat. They will also empty bird feeders, so keep an eye on your feeders to see if you have a raccoon problem. Additionally, raccoons are known to raid chicken coops, stealing eggs and even killing chickens.

Of course, if you have corn, there’s nothing more infuriating than finding stalks toppled and ears ripped open and half eaten. (Even more frustrating is the idea, offered by animal researchers, that raccoons are wasteful because they don’t really like sweet corn all that much; in fact, they seem to prefer sunflower seeds, dog food, and sardines.)

Control and Prevention

How to Get Rid of Raccoons

The persistence and proliferation of raccoons has inspired many solutions; one of them is bound to work for you. Here are tips from all our readers and staff! See what works for you.

  • If your raccoon problem is persistent, you can set live raccoon traps in your garden and release the animal at least three miles away (check local and state laws first). Raccoons will eat virtually anything; try fish-flavored dry cat food, chicken necks, ears of corn, or whole peanuts for bait.
  • To keep raccoons at a distance, try scattering blood meal around corn plants. Also try sprinkling wood ashes around your plants.
  • Grind up garlic, mix it with an equal portion of chili powder, and spread it around the garden. Frequent applications are needed.
  • One reader says, “Hang shoes and clothes that smell of human perspiration around your garden or corn patch.” Similarly, “You can try to repel raccoons by putting dog hair or human hair around the garden.”
  • Tune a radio to a rock station and set it in the middle of your garden and/or corn patch. Leave it on all night. The noise will scare away the raccoons.
  • Put lights in the garden. A bright lantern will sometimes keep Sun-shy raccoons away.
  • Plant enough corn for man and beast alike.
  • Add some pinwheels and streamers to your garden to scare the creatures.
  • Folk wisdom suggests that you spread newspapers around the perimeter of the garden.

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How to Prevent Raccoons

  • Build a good fence around your garden. Beware though, raccoons are agile and intelligent; make sure your fence will keep them out. You may need to install an electric fence. This is a good measure. A two-wire fence, with one wire four to six inches above the ground and the other at 12 inches, should be effective.
  • If your home is near your garden, remove any possible food sources from the area, including pet food and bird seed. Buy garbage cans with locking lids and keep garbage inside if possible. Keep pet doors sealed shut between dusk and dawn. Cap your chimneys. Seal any holes or gaps in attics and roofs.
  • Grow tall varieties of corn such as ‘Silver Queen’, ‘Kandy Korn’, and ‘Lancelot’. Taller plants bear their ears higher, causing raccoons trouble getting leverage to topple stalks and ravage them. They prefer shorter plants.
  • You can also plant squash around your corn or other plants to deter raccoons; they don’t like walking on the prickly squash vines.

Do you have any more tips for getting rid of a raccoon? Let us know below!

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