Raccoons in Your Garden
They are messy, they are destructive, and, worst of all, they are smart. If raccoons decide that your garden is their new hangout, you’ve got trouble with a capital R.
Is it really raccoons?
The first step to dealing with any kind of garden pest is to make sure you know what pest you’re dealing with. Raccoons are known to dig holes in loose soil looking for grubs, eat berries and grapes off of vines, steal tomatoes and corn (a favorite of theirs), and create “latrines.” Latrines are places that they frequent over and over again to do their business. Unlike a place where a cat will poop, this spot will be used by multiple raccoons for an extended period of time.
The most live-and-let-live way to deal with raccoons is to make your yard, or, at least, specific parts of your yard, less appealing to them.
First off, in case you hadn’t already realized this, make sure that any of your pets’ food is not being left outside. Raccoons love cat and dog food, and will even go for bird food. In the Bay area, birds do not need food to overwinter, so if raccoons are eating your bird food, consider no longer feeding birds in your yard at all.
To keep raccoons away from specific young plants, I have successfully used plastic forks and bird netting on the soil. these make digging hard or even uncomfortable, so it protects specific plants or newly planted areas from their evening grub hunts.
If you are trying to protect fruit on a grapevine, or corn cobs that are about to ripen, you need to do a bit more. Bird netting can work on grapevines and other fruiting plants, but raccoons have tiny little hands that can reach through, so you will still lose some to their tricksy ways.
To make a plant downright impossible for them to steal from, I recommend intertwining cut blackberry brambles with the plant. I use them on grape vines, and even weave them into corn stalks as they grow. Raccoons are very particular about their hands, which are very sensitive and human-like. They will avoid anything that can hurt their hands, so some well-placed thorns should do the trick.
Cleaning up their mess
If you have come across the unpleasantness that is a raccoon latrine, you should know that there are diseases specific to raccoons that can be passed to humans (List of Raccoons diseases transmittable to humans). Be sure to wear gloves and to dispose of anything that comes in contact with the raccoon feces.
Removing the poo it’s already there, and then covering up the area in some way, will usually deter future use of an area as a raccoon latrine. I have had success just using a spare piece of plywood, but blackberry brambles laid over the area, or something similarly unpleasant for them to walk on, will help deter them even more.
When deterring is not enough
If you’ve tried the less invasive methods and have had no success keeping raccoons out of your garden, you may need to look into trapping them. Be sure to contact your local animal control before you lay out a trap, as they may have reasons for you to not do so, or may have warnings for you about rabies or other raccoon borne diseases.
In some rural areas you can just relocate a caught raccoon about 5 miles from your home and let it go in an uninhabited area. In more populated areas, you will probably need to hand the raccoon over to animal control authorities once you’ve caught one. Some will tell you to kill the raccoon as well, which is another reason to check before you catch one, if that is a step you don’t wish to take.
What not to do
Do not put out poison traps or poison food for raccoons, because other critters will find it. Rats or mice that ingest poison food, for instance, can then be caught by hawks and other birds of prey, as well as domestic cats and wildcats. In addition, a poisoned animal may find a place to die that is not to your liking, like in a small crawl space below your porch. If you thought a living raccoon was a problem, how about a dead, decaying one?
Do not allow your pets, especially dogs, to interact with raccoons. While some raccoons may avoid your dogs, many will actually attempt to engage with dogs, meaning your dog can end up with scratches and bites that you will have to see a veterinarian about, and, at worst, may be infected with a disease.