How to Keep Skunks Out of the Garden


Skunks are docile animals but may spray if threatened.

Photo by Thinkstock

Hey—What’s that smell? If you think you’ve got a skunk hanging around your yard, it’s time to act! Here’s how to identify and deter skunks from your yard and garden.

What Are Skunks?

Skunks are nocturnal animals that are naturally mild-mannered and non-aggressive; they prefer small animals and insects for dinner instead of your garden. They occasionally visit gardens and if they do, it may be because corn or other plants are close to the ground.

The skunk claims homesteading rights from coast to coast. Distributed across the country are 4 species of skunks, including the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) and the spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius). The common striped skunk lives mostly in sparse forests and fields.

Skunks can be very nice to have around because they dig up and feed on the larvae of cutworms, Japanese beetles, hornworms, and other crop-destroying insect life. However, skunks are not only partial to insects; they will eat leaves, buds, grasses, grains, garbage, any fruit or berries within reach, and even small game. They also may disturb your plants while digging for these grubs. This is what can make them a bit of a nuisance to gardeners.

Although their nocturnal wanderings around our fields and gardens, lawns, and flower beds cause us occasional inconvenience and uneasiness, these are minor faults which can be readily overlooked by the time the Harvest Moon begins to shine. It is then that the skunk’s appetite for the pests that plague our gardens helps make it possible for that Moon to glow over a cornucopia brimming with plenty.


Why and How Do Skunks Spray?

Skunks are famous for their skunk spray—you can smell an angry skunk from over a mile away. Furthermore, a skunk can “shoot” you from 10 to 12 feet, sideways, up, or down, with little apparent effort. Most gardeners worry more about a skunk spraying in the garden, on the gardener, or on a pet than about a skunk chewing up some veggies.

Under a skunk’s tail are two pouches equipped with a pair of ducts which, in peacetime, remain hidden, but which quickly expose themselves when danger threatens. Their foul ammunition is a golden-yellow liquid whose active ingredient is the sulfide mercaptan. Each of the two pouches contains enough ammunition for six rounds. After the supply is exhausted, a week’s time is required to replenish it. This spray has made skunks creatures feared by nearly all animals, including most of mankind.

A skunk’s warfare is purely defensive. When confronted by a menacing man or clamorous dog, skunks will try to sidestep by ambling off. This means that if you find a skunk, simply turn back and you should be fine. If pursued, skunks will turn, face their aggressor, and stamp their forefeet. This is their first warning. At this point, you should really be running!

The second warning comes when their tails, all but the tips, are hoisted. Then, this ultimatum failing to establish peace, the white tip rises, and spreads out, and the skunk, snapping into a U-position with snout and rear toward the target, delivers a charge of spray. At this point, it is simply too late, and your dog probably smells foul.

People usually get sprayed when they are walking through their yards in the dark (if you can’t see a skunk, you can’t run away), or if they disturb a skunk while eating. Those are good reasons to keep skunks out of your yard in the first place—and to always carry a flashlight!


    How to Identify Skunks in Your Garden

    Often, the best way to identify skunks is—unfortunately—by their odor. Hopefully you don’t have to deal with the skunk spray in your garden, but you’ll know for sure that you have a skunk as soon as they decide to spray.

    The typical striped skunk has prominent white stripes running down its back and black fur on the rest of its body. It is the size of a house cat and is the most abundant species of skunk in the United States. Spotted skunks are smaller and have white spots as well as broken white strikes amid their black fur. Skunks have short legs and proportionately large feet with well-developed claws that are perfect for digging.

    Tracks can be helpful in identifying skunks. Skunks are often mistaken for raccoons because they both have five toes. Sometimes, the fifth toe is hard to see in skunk tracks. Their heels usually are not part of the tracks, and their claw marks are usually somewhat visible. Skunk droppings also often contain undigested insect parts.

    These tracks from a striped skunk could help you identify the skunk in your garden. Photo Credit: Ohio Department of Natural Resources. 

    Signs of Skunk Damage

    If your lawn or flower bed has lots of holes in it, you may have a skunk problem. Skunks dig up the turf looking for grubs. They move around at night and dig in grassy areas, making distinct 3- to 4-inch deep holes. Skunk activity increases in the spring and then lessens naturally, so any problems may stop all on their own. 

    Skunks sometimes feed on corn, but they tend to only eat the lower ears that they can reach. If a corn stalk has been toppled over, the culprit is more likely a raccoon. Planting taller varieties of corn can minimize this damage.

    Of course, skunk spray is a common sign of damage. If your dog smells foul, you probably have a skunk!

    Control and Prevention

    How to Keep Skunks Away

    • Spray a mixture of castor oil and dish-washing detergent diluted in water. Skunks find the smell offensive. Spray the area at night when the skunk is away foraging. 
    • Probably the best skunk repellent is a light. Skunks are nocturnal and their eyes are very light sensitive. A bright light or a motion sensor flood light will scare skunks away.
    • Most animals, including skunks, dislike the smell of citrus fruits. Place orange or lemon peels around the yard as a natural skunk repellent.
    • Predator urine (dogs, coyotes) can be used to repel a skunk. These are commercially sold in garden centers. (Note: Use a responsible source for predator urine to make sure that the animals are treated humanely and the brand complies with state and federal regulations.) 
    • Many readers have found success placing ammonia-soaked rags around the yard, however, these need to be replaced often.
    • If the skunks are in a smaller garden patch, put bars of strong–smelling soap or a room deodorizer near your garden. Ironically, skunks hate strong scents.
    • If nothing works, there are humane ways for professionals to trap raccoons and skunks and transport them elsewhere. Often, skunk removal by trapping is the only answer, and there just isn’t a lot you can do if it is a skunk. However, be aware that many species of wildlife do not survive when placed in a new territory, and it may not even be legal to trap and relocate wild animals in your area.
    Striped skunks. Photo credit: Tom Friedel,

    How to Prevent Skunks 

    • As skunks love to find lots of grubs in your garden, one of the best preventative methods is to treat your lawn so that you get rid of their favorite snacks. Spray your lawn with milky spore disease or beneficial nematodes. This will also help to control Japanese beetle larvae, so it’s a win-win! Contact your local Cooperative Extension Service for suggestions. 
    • Fencing may also be a good idea for small areas, such as a garden patch.
    • If you don’t want skunks living under your deck or shed, seal these areas with chicken wire. Leave at least one foot of additional wire on the ground extending from the structure to prevent skunks from digging under to enter.

    What to Do If You Get Sprayed By a Skunk

    Oh no! We can all smell a skunk from miles away, but it’s truly awful to have that smell on you. If you or your pet gets sprayed by a skunk, try a mixture of 1 quart 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup of baking soda, and 1 to 2 teaspoons of liquid dish soap. Shampoo only the area sprayed by the skunk. Wet the area and work the solution into the skin or fur with your hands (avoid the eyes). Rinse. (This remedy may dry out the skin. If so, use a good-quality crème rinse to replenish moisture once the skunk smell is gone.) 

    Do you have any special remedies that you use for skunk spray? Let us know below!

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    Reader Comments

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    Deterr skunks

    Buy your men folk beer and have them relieve them selves in the garden. Tried everything else to no avail.

    Pet Skunk

    Raised a baby skunk I found almost drowned in a drainage ditch; named her Posey. She never sprayed until she was a year old. My father-in-law wouldn't put her down when she ''thumped'' him, so she squirted up into his armpit. Mom slathered him in bottles of homemade catsup while the boys buried his clothes out in a field. Somehow or other, Posey's cage door was left open and she ''escaped''. A lie. She ran loose during the day and always came back to her ''house'' after exploring so I believe she was carried off and let loose.

    Skunk Deterrent, Cat Deterrent, Wild Turkey Deterrent

    I buy a large bottle of Great Value crushed red hot peppers from WALMART. It's cheap and it works. Then I sprinkle them all over my garden area and around the border of the yard. Keeps them critters out. Lasts for about two months depending on watering and rain etc. Or, dry some hot peppers from your garden or the store, like Jalapeno, or even hotter. Dry them, cut them up, sprinkle all around. Works well too. Been doing this for years.

    being Skunked !

    Petsmart has No Skunk bottle for $14.00 - had to use it last September when our dog got skunked ! Don't see how that happened, because our yard is fenced in !! It was 6 am and he "had to go out" and pee ..but maybe he sensed the animal in the yard was dark we could not see ...then by the back door ! Pee YOU ! that awful smell ! I tried dish detergent and hydrogen peroxide but that didn't work so well .... the No Skunk from Petsmart -- that works . It takes months though before the smell comes out! I had a real patient groomer 3 weeks later bathe him and she really got the smell out from him!


    Tomato juice baths work for skunked dogs :-)


    I have often read to use mothballs to deter uninvited critters in backyard/garden. Mothballs used to have naphthalene in them that is very poisonous and I would worry about family pets digging near or around them and then licking paws. Are there new kinds of mothballs that are safe if accidentally injected by man or pet?

    Skunk Smell Removal

    Last year we had some skunks try to set up a den under our house. The entire place reeked! We had to stay at a motel for a week until we could get their opening covered. The best and quickest way to get skunk smell out of your house is to bring distilled, white vinegar to a boil on the stove using low heat. You have the smell of vinegar which will go away. BUT it takes the skunk smell with it. Freshly ground coffee beans also draw out the smell. I ground some up and put it in the air return. But vinegar works the best.


    First, try hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. If the cat or dog still has that skunk odour lather the cat /dog with toothpaste and coke. Then use water to get off the toothpaste and coke. It works.

    Skunk Removal from Dogs!

    Beer! Yes, Beer! My groomer told me to never use water on a dog once it is skunked. Put your dog in the bathtub (or wherever) dry and shampoo with Beer. Something about the ingredients in beer. Let the beer dry as much and as long as possible after which you can shampoo your animal. It works on my dog! (But my husband warned me - don't use my good beer!)

    Moth balls

    I place mothballs & it really works! I didn't realize that they don't like strong smells. Good to know in case I run out of mothballs

    Tomato soup

    Our dog Rocky, found one under the garden shed when he went to pee a night and got sprayed! We had to go get tomato soup (6 cans) and bath him in that. It worked!

    Skunk smell removal

    I used to buy something at the feed store called "Skunk Off" - worked like a miracle on my dog, just a clear liquid you rub into his fur, smell gone! I haven't seen that brand in a few years (that was in PA) but there's others just like it available, just look - I keep a bottle under my sink always just in case!
    Laura with the feral cats - I also have a colony of cats and though I don't see them with skunks, they do seem to get along fine with possums and raccoons, though my dog doesn't seem too keen on that idea.... :)

    Peroxide must be fresh

    If you think that getting sprayed is a likely happening, make sure that you keep an UN-OPENED bottle of hydrogen peroxide in storage just for that purpose. HP loses it's potency after opening and an open bottle that hasn't been used for a year or more will not do the job as well as fresh.

    Successful deterrent found!

    Skunks kept digging holes in my three sisters garden and tipping over my little embedded cups of oil which were there to catch earwigs. I got some little solar powered devices that strobe two red lights that look like eyes all night. They turn on automatically at dusk and off at dawn. They're small and easy as pie - and THEY WORK! Now I've no more holes to fill, and I breathe a little easier at night letting my puppies out for potty breaks, although I still take a bright flashlight with me. (We've had three stinky encounters in the last three years!)

    Skunks and Raccoons

    While I have seen a few skunks around my yard over the years (and, remarkably, one white skunk just out from my front porch), I am more concerned about raccoons. I'm sure I have one making a nest in my attic. I hired a wildlife control 'expert' who put traps on the ground near where he thought they were climbing (a downspout; and he was right, because I watched one climb it one night). We caught a few; he relocated them (plus one possum). Never any skunks. Now, some years later, I need to get rid of this raccoon. How? Will the repellents recommended for skunks also work for raccoons? An article about raccoons would be useful.

    getting rid of skunk smell

    my mother would wash our cat who got sprayed with tomato soup, it worked!

    We look after an urban cat

    We look after an urban cat colony and we also get skunk visits frequently. Interestingly, everybody gets along. The cats don't seem to mind the skunks finishing their leftovers, and the skunks are not aggressive toward the cats. When we still had kittens running around, before we were able to TNR the whole colony, we actually found a baby skunk cuddled up with a litter of kittens for warmth in our neighbor's garage on a cold Spring day! It was very cute.
    That said, we do try to deter them from the yard just in case the diplomatic relations between the cats and skunks break down. Typically, we'll just bang the ground from a distance with a large pole and the noise will send them on their way!

    Skunk smell

    If you get sprayed, use Hexol. It works.


    I used a super soaker squirt gun, one of the bigger ones, and after a couple nights of squirting it with water I never saw it again. They shoot far enough you don’t have to be very close


    Moth Balls works as a deterrent however you do have to replace them when the scent is gone.
    Skunk Spray Wash Formula
    1 quart of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide
    1/2 cup of Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate)
    1 teaspoon of liquid soap
    Mix together to make a shampoo for your furry pal.
    Rinse well to remove the shampoo from the fur after vigorously shampooing.
    You may need to double or triple this recipe depending on the weight of your dog.
    The wash works great!


    I never try to discourage skunks from my yard because they eat yellow jacket nests during their nightly forages. I've never had a problem with yellow jackets as long as skunks have visited my yard. One year, a neighbor poisoned the local skunks, and the yellow jacket population skyrocketed; I don't believe this was a coincidence. Yellow jackets are notoriously aggressive--skunks are not.

    Repelling Skunks

    My dog was a pup and sprayed last year...she quickly found out not to investigate that animal. I washed her in Dawn dishwashing soap which removed the scent entirely from her body. Unfortunately there was a faint odor still in her nostrils and took a few weeks to dissipate. Following the use of Dawn, I then used her doggie shampoo which is vet purchased, soap free and rehydrating to get her skin and coat back to the right pH.

    Repelling skunks from your yard

    Skunks used to come in the back yard through the iron fence. A store clerk told me I might want to try putting out moth balls along the back fence. (All woods behind the the fence) I threw moth balls all along the length of the fence (into the wooded area). Have a large back yard so it took two boxes. No more skunks. I did that every two month from spring to fall, no more skunks, well that is until the next spring...dogs were sprayed again the next I do it all year round. I smell them every now and then but dogs have not been sprayed again so I figure they get close but not at the fence line. Hope this helps someone.

    Pet or human bath for skunk spray removal

    I have used dial soap, the orange bar, not the liquid one. Soap up dog, avoid their eyes, leave 3 min and rinse. Smell is gone, I keep one bar with my doggie bath supplies at all times. It works.

    Skunks spray on a pet

    I live in Minnesota and we have skunks everywhere throughout our state. I was sprayed back when I was a young gal and it was horrible. There was only the tomato juice myth back then and I am here to tell you all it does is make you smell like a skunk sprayed can of tomato juice!! What sticks that smell to you or your pet is a protein enzyme. You need to break up that enzyme to release it. Around here at our pet stores you can purchase a box of powder called Odormute. It is a fantastic product that does just that. You can mix it as directed and wash the victim as directed or as most of us do we only wet the powder enough to make a paste of sorts. We then slather thevictim in paste from top to bottom avoiding the eyes and such. Then we let that paste dry . once dry we will wash the victim with the directions wash and bingo your pet is as good as it is going to get. *Note no matter the remedy you use all victims when rewetted for a month or so will still have a slight odor as all the protein enzymes are impossible to be removed and will take about a month to wear off. Since being sprayed I have learned so much about skunks and now value their presence in our world and have found that they are amazing in their own right. They will raise anthers young. They are family and peer orientated and quite friendly if just left to dwell alongside almost every other beast on this planet.

    skunk odor removal on dogs

    Both of my long haired dogs were sprayed last fall. I poured hydrogen peroxide directly on sprayed areas. After a bit, washed with dish soap. The scent was gone and I was able to let them back into the house. Side note... when they get wet again, there is a slight odor for a couple of weeks. My sister uses original Listerine mouthwash the same way with great results!

    Skunk Spray Removal

    Two of my Brittanie's were sprayed one night while fishing at the river. This was before we all had computers and mobile phones. The only thing I had ever heard of was a bath in tomato juice. Back then it was .89$ a can. However, it was effective. We had a skunk pass by last night, thus this is a timely article. Thanks to everyone who contributed their homemade remedies. Especially now, with one Brittany, one Yellow Labrador and a Pyrenees.


    My husband and I lived in a mobile home for a while. Well, the local skunk got under the home and met up with either a cat or another skunk. The next day at work his coworker let my husband know how bad he smelled. When I got home my husband was there and he had all the clothes in our closet out so the could air out. When the skunk sprayed the smell got into the closet and all of those clothes stunk. I had chosen clothing from my dresser, those clothes were not affected.
    Another time, my cat caught the tail end of skunk spray and came home stinky. For that I used vinegar and water in equal amounts and washed my cat's face, avoiding his eyes. The vinegar and water worked well but he was only lightly sprayed.

    Tomato juice

    Tomato juice as a skunk deterrent is a myth.

    Skunk chasing dogs

    I have 2 dogs and they LOVE skunk . When they come home smelling like peppy la pew. They get a bath of 1 qt hydrogen peroxide, (buy it cheaper at dollar store) 1/4 c Baking soda and 1 teaspoon Dawn, or other GOOD dish soap. There "scent" is oil based and holds on to the hair follicles. Let this set on the hair for 5-10 min what your nose will hold out for and he dogs tolerance for the bath tub are. But the longer the better.
    This is why the formula works so well, never had to rebath them.
    Apply this mixture in the same way you would the vinegar solution. The quantities listed should make enough deskunking solution for a medium-size dog (30 to 50 pounds), so use less or more as needed for the size of your dog.
    I keep this recipe and qts of hydrogen peroxide in my bathroom medicine cabinet for there next adventure.



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