Skunks

How to Keep Skunks Out of the Garden

Skunks-Thinkstock

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.

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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!

    Identification

    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.

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    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.

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    Striped skunks. Photo credit: Tom Friedel, BirdPhotos.com

    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!

    Plants Affected

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    Reader Comments

    Leave a Comment

    OH! Skunks Just Wanna Have Fu-uhn!!!!

    Like someone else said-- they are God's creatures too -- and they eat mice, vermin, grubs and other things that would otherwise distress us in large numbers. The old timers used to put some skunkspray on cotton and use it to unstuff their noses-- the Native Americans used SKunkies to control mice in their granaries. Want to read a great book? "What's Wrong With being a Skunk?" by MIriam Schlein - cute illustrations, great information and all of it true. Be kind to skunkies -- let them be-- they want peace in their lives too.

    Skunks

    Time tested remedy for a skunked dog, fill the bathtub up with tomato juice and soak your dog :-)

    No to tomato juice.

    Tomato juice does NOT work.

    My Skunks

    I have a house in Rio Vista Ca and I discovered that there were three small skunks living under my cement front porch. I leave food for outdoor birds, so they were probably eating the bird seed and other stuff I leave for birds. Then the three left for some reason, and now I have only one bigger skunk, which I actually leave food for when I have it to give to the skunk. He comes to the food station at night at the exact same time, 5:15am or close to it. He eats what it wants and then the little guy wonders off to sleep during the day. I am not afraid of the skunk, even when I surprise him, he just walks away. Skunks are not like some people who are always looking for a fight. All they want is something to eat. Human take away natures way of living and then humans do not feed the animals. I leave out water everyday for birds and other creatures too, because it is so damn hot in CA during the summer. And I am sure that all of the creatures love my water when they are thirsty. I wonder why more human beings do not leave out water for natures creatures who need water to survive in the hot summer. What is the human species trying to do, kill all of the wildlife on the planet earth? I am kind to the Skunk and I am not worried that it will ever attack me, although I am careful at night and I have a flashlight in my pocket when I do go working at night on my yards. George D Patnoe. Jr!

    Thanks geo

    They consider you THEIR human. Thank you for being part of the small but faithful members of Man"KIND".
    What we do to this earth and its denizens is felt by the whole Universe. We are all connected.

    Please leave food & water

    I live in Tennessee & have only seen 1 skunk here in my 59 years. But I do put food & water out daily & nightly for all Gods creatures. I have several raccoon & a opossum that enjoy the food & cool water especially since the days have been in the mid to upper 90's going on 3 months now. everything deserves a little help!

    Odd techniques

    I've tried throwing some pebble stones..didn't make any difference..as my aim wasn't perfect...made sound with sticks on concrete patio...didn't make any difference..flashing light kind of worked ... and later I tried wolf howling sound from my smartphone.....as soon as sound was heard skunk went away quite a bit distance..albeit but not entirely discouraged...BTW I kept my distance from skunk to about 30-40 ft in case skunk changed its mind and started charging towards me...May not try this technique again because it may prove fruitless..

    Feeding Skunks

    Thank you for being so kind to animals. We leave water out also all year round, and set up shelters in the winter in our back yard by the fence which is out of the wind pattern. We are a part of nature. If we destroy it, we destroy ourselves.

    Throwing pebbles

    Try Georges approach, as he writes above. Don't bother the skunks and they won't bother you. Dogs should be leashed for evening walks or allowed out to run in a fenced yard only during the day time. Love your idea of a wolf howl on your smart phone.

    Skunks do not charge, But......

    They give you a warning -- they 1) stomp their feet 2) then they turn so that their butt AND face are facing you. THAT is their last resort -- don;t antagonize them please!!!

    Tecnu remedy for dogs/people skunked!

    our proven remedy after our dog/owner is skunked is Tecnu lotion, found at Walgreens....we've tried everything and this is THE BEST! You wipe it all over on dry fur with a paper towel which removes the offending oils and then wash fur with your choice of dog shampoo. It truly works better than all other common remedies!!! The best part is that it's safe on skin, used also to remove the oils from poison ivy.

    skunks

    Pray tell, what is the "humane" method of confining a coyote and collecting its urine??

    Coyote Rest Rooms

    Taking it to the coyote rest room, letting it leave afterwards an then NOT flushing

    Collecting Coyote Pee (oh-fish-all information BTW)

    Yes there is a method - Google and thou shalt find. it is also bottled and sold at your local sporting good stores, should you need it.

    Skunks repellant

    I have tried spreading citrus rinds in the areas where the skunk like to hide and feed, and it doesn't work at all.

    My dog was sprayed and after trying numerous concoctions, including tomato juice, I used Dawn dish detergent directly on her coat, lathered her up, rinsed get off and the odor was completely gone. I then used her own doggie shampoo which I purchase from her vet.

    Skunks can carry Rabies folks!!

    As cute as they seem, skunks can carry Rabies and should never be handled. A microscopic cut in your skin is all it takes for the virus to find entry into your body...there is no cure for Rabies...you die. The virus can take up to a year to show symptoms after contact....but normally within four months. Wildlife is beautiful to look at but safely from a distance. Other animals that commonly can carry Rabies are skunks, deer, raccoons, bats. The CDC now recommends that any contact with a suspect animal or having a bat inside your home leaves you at substantial risk for Rabies. Even of the bat doesn't bite anyone, it leaves droplets of saliva on surfaces and if you come in contact with the droplets, it could be infected with Rabies. Medical intervention (simple vaccination shots in your arm...not in your stomach) is needed to prevent the possibility of you or your family developing Rabies. My motto: "If it's not your own, leave it alone." This should pertain to all animals because you don't know if even your neighbors dog or cat has been properly vaccinated. Keep your children, family and yourself safe.

    Death from Rabies? Not always!

    Sandy, you are only partially correct. As a nurse practitioner who teaches about infectious diseases in our local university's nursing school every semester, let me say that if caught in time - meaning within several hours after the rabid bite - a vaccine can be given. It is a series of shots (no longer the ultra-painful old fashioned "21 series") and can cure the disease. Waiting more than a few hours for treatment can indeed result in death. Anyone bitten by a strange dog or cat or a wild animal should go at once to the ER and have the bite looked at. If the animal can be identified and quarantined, so much the better. Rabies vaccine will be given if the animal cannot be found and was acting aggressively and bit without provocation, one of the signs of a rabid mammal.

    Rabies

    Respectfully I ask you to read my post again as I clearly mention the vaccination to prevent the rabies virus. As a nurse practitioner you should know that only 8 to 10 people have ever survived rabies but most are left with severe physical challenges. Incubation time can be as little as 9 days. Vaccination known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) should start as soon as possible after exposure and is effective as long as symptoms haven't presented. In the U.S.A, PEP consists of one dose of immune globulin and four doses of rabies vaccine over a 14-day period. When PEP is correctly administered the vaccination is 100% effective. Respectfully, I suggest perhaps you Google the CDC rabies site and educate yourself with the updated protocol required and needed for rabies exposure. Rabies is an extremely painful and deadly disease.....period.

    Rabies

    FYI.... I have consulted with my nephew who is a PhD virologist with his own awarded lab with the United States Army and my niece who is also a PhD virologist who works for the FBI. They say you are partially wrong Samantha.

    Rabies You are DEAD

    Sandy, If you are going to die if infected with Rabies, WHY bother to give the series of shots? You will die regardless?
    I think you are wrong.

    I Smell Skunks...

    I often smell Skunk coming in my window, from the area of my vegetable garden.
    I wonder if it sprays my Kale and other greens. How can I tell if anything has been sprayed...would there be a lingering odor or sticky touch?
    Would love to know.
    Thanks
    Gaia

    RE: I SMELL SKUNK

    Trust me, if a skunk has sprayed your kale, or any other vegetable, you'll know it! The smell will linger long after the attack.

    Skunk spraying gardens

    Nah- you probably have over-ripe garlic growing there

    Skunk smell

    Here's a solution, not for a pet sprayed, but just for the odor waking you up in the middle of the night. You wake up and even if you close the window you know you will have a hard time going back to sleep with that stink Pepe Le Pew left beside your house. I have desperately tried a number of products, and this product works instantly. I spray it behind a fan, and the smell disappears instantly. Leaves a nice thyme scent. Sol-U-Guard by Melaleuca. Google it.

    skunk smell

    my mom washed our cat in tomatoe soup to get rid of the smell

    cat sprayed by skunk

    A cat's fur will lose the skunk in less than 24 hours because cats clean themselves. There's no need to mess the poor thing up with tomato juice. Actually, tomato juice is never necessary because it's the acidic quality that gets rid of the odor, and vinegar works much better and is far less messy.

    Skunk cleaning solution

    I've had really good luck with cheap cans (99 cents) of tomato juice. It cuts the skunk smell almost instantly. Downside is that it stains. Your white dog will be pink but at least it won't smell. I've also put it in spray bottles and doused car tires and the underside of cars after road kill hits. Works great. Just wash/rinse car immediately afterwords.

    Simple solution if dog or you get sprayed

    My dog got sprayed twice. Once I bought 100.00 product from pet store but when she got wet, we could smell the skunk ordour. Next time I used tube of arm & hammer toothpaste , then shampooed her with regular dog shampoo for her coat and never did the smell return.

    Milky spore

    Just be aware that if you go to the expense of using Milky spore on your lawn - it only works on Japanese beetle larvae, not on the grubs of the Oriental Beetle. So if you have both types of grubs (as most people do), you will still have damage on your lawn unless you use something else also.

    Skunk sprayed dog in garden.

    Skunk sprayed dog in garden. tomato plants got sprayed. Is there a way to salvage the tomato or are they garbage now.

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