If you live in an area where rattlesnakes do, you may be like thousands of people across the country each day who have an unexpected encounter where you least expect it. While the bunnies and birds who are the intended target of baths and feeders are welcome sights, other wildlife will also show up, and this includes rattlesnakes. Even if your yard looks like the surface of Mars and wildlife doesn’t want any part of it, you can still get the occasional wandering rattlesnake show up for a bit of shade against the side of the house, or just passing through.
So what can you do to keep snakes out of your yard?
The first is the reduction of habitat. If you are offering food, water, shelter, or all three, you are inviting wildlife to use it. Get rid of any debris, remove leaf litter and keep landscaping tight, and only water what needs watering. If you’re on the fence about whether or not one of your bushes is pulling its aesthetic weight, get rid of it. If you’ve got an impenetrable jungle of rosemary that you’ve had on the list of stuff to take care of for months, get to it. The more places and spaces that offer shady refuge, the more animals can potentially use them. If not rattlesnakes themselves, their prey may be using them, and attracting rattlesnakes from well outside your property.
If you have a pest control guy that’s selling you snake-a-way or some other stinky stuff to keep snakes out: good news, you can stop the service and save some money each month. These snake repellent products do nothing to deter snakes; the only effect is a yard that smells like a cat box and a bottle of windex had a baby. How do I know? I have personally captured hundreds of rattlesnakes from inside a snake-a-way perimeter. My team here in Phoenix has seen no difference at all in the possibility of rattlesnake encounter at homes that area treated with snake repellents and those that have not.
The most effective method is to build a physical barrier. Rattlesnakes can climb to some extent, but are not able to go up straight and flat surfaces without supporting texture. If you have cinderblock walls or a fence around the property, you’re halfway there. What you really need is something called snake fencing, or a rattlesnake fence. A rattlesnake fence is a series of preventative barriers that are attached to existing structures that seal open areas to an area smaller than the smallest baby rattlesnake, or about ¼”.
It can me made of many materials, but we have found that steel is best. The rattlesnake fence techniques we have worked out here in the brutal Phoenix weather would work anywhere, but each region may differ based on soil type and other factors, like precipitation. In general, stay away from materials that aren’t going to hold up well to the sun and elements. Steel mesh and steel plating will do this the best.
The snake fence needs to be constructed in a way that leaves no area open. A rattlesnake fence goes around the entire property but leaves a 2” gap in one area makes the yard an effective snake trap. While it may seem like just blocking the area nearest to the open wilderness would deter snakes, it can in fact do the opposite. Snakes movements often follow the outer edges of surfaces, as do the rodents that they eat that the snakes may be following. We have many projects that we unfortunately have to turn down because the home owner wants to snake proof the whole yard but leave a gate unprotected. While we are happy to have the opportunity to have the business, ethically we know that we cannot create something that could make the situation even worse.
There is a lot to understanding the little things; the small situations where a gate doesn’t quite match up with the wall, or the back of a fence bends up in a way that prevents a straight line of mesh, etc.. This is where having a group of installers who actually work with rattlesnakes or have some expertise with rattlesnake behavior is a must. Being able to interpret a situation and predict how a rattlesnake may interact with a feature, coming from a place of knowledge and experience of how rattlesnakes actually behave and move, can make the difference. While there are some snake fence projects that are done by handymen and pest control companies, even DYI by the home owner, that rattlesnake experience is often what really separates the effective fences from the ones that we are called to catch one that slipped in. More than half of our rattlesnake fence projects are re-work of existing fence projects that failed to effectively stop rattlesnakes. This is a job that must be done correctly, or not at all in most cases.
Even if you don’t have a home bordering a wild area where a rattlesnake on the patio is a possibility, rattlesnake fencing and the development of a workable standard is an important component to wildlife conservation. Relocation of rattlesnakes, when done properly, is a great way to resolve a rattlesnake situation. However, in order to be a long-term sustainable solution, action must also be taken to prevent future problems. Relocation followed up by rattlesnake fence installation is a newly developing recommendation for long-term success in areas where rattlesnakes and residential areas come into conflict.
Check out Rattlesnake Solutions for more information on rattlesnake fence and prevention services in Arizona and Adaptation Environmental Services snake fencing services in Colorado.
How much do I need to worry about rattlesnakes, really?
Rattlesnakes are certainly something to be cautious about in areas near wild, native habitat. However, even in places where rattlesnakes are very numerous, it’s something that can be managed with some thought and consideration of the big picture - a rattlesnake in the yard is a symptom of a larger problem of wildlife displacement, ongoing development, and ultimately unintentional provision of needed resources by homeowners. Just be mindful of the possibility, and you’ve already handled the hard part.
TLDR; get a rattlesnake fence. Snake repellent doesn’t work. Stop feeding the bunnies.
Bryan Hughes is the owner of Rattlesnake Solutions in Phoenix, Arizona, a business dedicated to the conservation and understanding of rattlesnakes in urban environments, and to the safety of residents who encounter them. More information at https://rattlesnakesolutions.com or on Facebook at https://facebook.com/snakeremoval