Part of having a yard is dealing with all of the critters that will wander over to visit you. Some of these will be cute and furry, and others will be more scaly.
Most of the time, garter snakes don't pose a problem at all. Snakes are elusive creatures, and they disappear like ghostly apparitions because they can feel the vibrations of your steps from very far away. Your neighborhood garter snakes will do everything they can to avoid people.
You might actually have quite a few snakes of various kinds living near your house before you even notice that they're there.
The problem is, of course, when you do notice them, and they become a nuisance. Maybe you were raising some baby chickens or other small animals, and suddenly the snakes appeared out of nowhere to eat them. Maybe you just have a local overpopulation of garter snakes, and they've made a home under your house. Or perhaps you don't like the smell—garter snakes, especially in large groups, kind of stink.
Regardless of your reasons, this territorial conflict doesn't have to become a war! There are ways to get rid of garter snakes without killing them.
Snakes like tall grass and brush to hide in and garter snakes are no exception. Without the protection of random overgrown vegetation, the snake will feel exposed, so it is more likely to avoid the area.
Go around your backyard and put yourself in the garter snake's shoes. What would be a great place to hide? If there are any glaring candidates for an ideal snake home, then trim it up, and the garter snakes might slither off into your neighbor's yard instead.
If there's a lot of junk littering your yard, then these are places that a garter snake might find enticing. Anything that looks too dark and cozy—especially if it's made of organic matter—needs to go. Clean up the pile of leaves that's been sitting there forever or the stack of rotting logs that you never burned.
Now, it may not be possible to get rid of everything that's attractive to a garter snake. If, for example, you don't want to throw out perfectly good firewood or your favorite compost pile, then try moving it further away from the perimeter of your home, so at least the snakes aren't hanging out near your house.
Think about the reasons why a garter snake might be attracted to your home. Again, put yourself in its shoes (or scaly skin).
Outside of mating season, a snake will primarily be looking for food and shelter. If you follow the tips above, you're taking care of the shelter part, but a garter snake might still come by if your backyard is a buffet.
Garter snakes eat all kinds of animals, such as lizards, frogs, insects, slugs, minnows, and small mammals. Do you have an abundance of these creatures in your yard?
While it would be impossible to get rid of them all, you can go a long way in deterring snakes by making your property inhospitable to their prey. Get some pest control that repels insects and rodents.
This will disrupt the little ecosystem you have going on there and will reduce not only the number of bugs but the number of frogs and lizards and other creatures that garter snakes feed on.
Garter snakes are rarely a threat to chickens unless the chicks are days old. In fact, after a few weeks, the chickens are a threat to the garter snakes!
Though chicken eggs can attract snakes, the chickens themselves act as a natural pest control and tend to chase them away. Just make sure to collect any eggs daily.
Note, however, that this method can result in some casualties for the snakes. Occasionally, your chickens may catch and devour them, so this isn't exactly the most non-violent way.
There are different kinds of commercial synthetic snake repellent that you can use to get rid of garter snakes and other animals. They can work, but sometimes they can be caustic or even smell bad to humans. Keep in mind that most of these repellents are not proven to work, and they will not keep snakes from coming to your yard if you have not taken the other steps I have outlined in this article.
If you don't like the idea of spraying your yard with random synthetic chemicals, then there are also organic chemicals that you can try. You can buy these commercially, but you can also put together some homemade snake repellent to get rid of garter snakes.
Get some clove oil, add about five or six drops to a gallon of water, and spray it in areas where you've seen snakes. Clove oil has been shown to repel at least some kinds of snakes by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Just remember to reapply regularly.
Another way that you can get rid of garter snakes without harming them is to trap them in simple, humane traps. You can build snake traps yourself or buy them, but with a simple funnel trap (or minnow trap), you can collect your unwanted neighbors and relocate them.
You can use all kinds of things as bait. Try some small eggs or even a live lizard or rodent. If you buy a commercial humane snake trap, often the bait is already included.
Hide the traps under foliage that offers good coverage and makes the snake feel comfortable. Make sure that you're laying them close to where you've seen snakes before.
After you've laid the trap, check it often and relocate your new friend somewhere far away from your house. Find a nice park or wooded area a few miles away if you can.
Snake fences are small perimeters that you can build (usually just a few inches or feet high) that keep most snakes off your property.
A snake fence can work based on a variety of principles. Sometimes the angle of the fence will make it hard for snakes to crawl over it. Other times, the fence will be made of a mesh that causes snakes to get stuck if they try to crawl through it.
This can be expensive, but it can keep garter snakes from entering your yard again once you have relocated them or otherwise shooed them away.
If snakes are in your house, you will have to take a couple of steps to get rid of them for good. First, you need to figure out how they got into your house in the first place, and seal the point of entry. It does not make sense to spend the time catching them if they are just going to come back inside.
Once you've sealed any entry points in your house, you will have to catch the snakes in your house and put them outside. This can be done with a simple snake trap or some sticky paper to catch the snakes.
Garter snakes like to hide under rocks and other objects in your yard. Garter snakes are naturally afraid of people, so they will try to stay out of your way unless it's unavoidable.
They will tend to hide in the shade unless they are out basking in the sun during the middle of the day.
Getting rid of a snake den requires a bit more work than just getting rid of one or two snakes. You will have to ensure that the snakes do not return to the den after you clear it by clearing and sealing the area.
If the den is in your yard or under your house, you will have to take steps to ensure that the snakes do not return. Sealing the entry points is the best way to keep them from coming back. If the den is in your back yard, you will have to clear it and do some landscaping work to make sure the snakes do not come back.
Garter snakes hibernate during the winter in large dens called hibernacula. These dens tend to be in relatively secluded and warm spaces, such as underneath a house or in an attic. Removing the snakes and placing them outside in the cold will most likely kill them, so you have to be careful with what you do. If you live in a warmer climate, there will be less of a chance of the snakes forming a hibernaculum.
If you have determined it is safe for you to remove a snake den, you will have to remove each snake one at a time and place them somewhere far away from your home or yard. Garter snakes emit a strong odor when threatened so be sure to wear some type of disposable glove when removing them.
Why are you trying to get rid of the garter snakes in the first place? Think about this for a while. If it's just that you find snakes personally unpleasant, you may want to simply avoid them and let them be.
Garter snakes are harmless and can be beneficial to your yard. They can act as natural pest control, and unless the snake population is booming, chances are that you will hardly notice them.
Still, if you are determined to run the garter snakes off your property, consider doing it as humanely as possible using the tips above.
Question: If I step on a garter snake, will it bite me?
Answer: All snakes can bite, especially if you step on them. However, garter snakes are not really venomous to humans (though they do technically produce venom, as an astute and nitpicky reader pointed out below), and besides that, they are tiny little snakes with tiny little teeth. They usually wouldn't bite unless you provoke them; they're more likely to run away.
Question: How do I keep snakes out of my house?
Answer: The best strategy is to keep them out of your yard (by following the tips), and then they are unlikely to get into the house. However, if you live in a very snake-prone area, then every once in awhile, they're just going to get in, and there's not a lot you can do to prevent it 100% of the time.
Question: Garter snakes do produce venom, but not the kind that is likely to kill or cause a severe reaction. As far as how big they can get, I recently discovered a two-foot long garter snake in my landscaping. My question is, what resources do you refer to when answering questions?
Answer: My personal experience with snakes informs my answers. I grew up in a very snake-prone area. And you're right, they do technically produce some venom, but they are basically harmless to humans.
This is From Wikipedia:
"Garter snakes were long thought to be nonvenomous, but discoveries in the early 2000s revealed they do, in fact, produce a neurotoxic venom. Despite this, garter snakes cannot kill humans with the small amounts of comparatively mild venom they produce, and they also lack an effective means of delivering it."
They don't have fangs. Again, this was just from personal experience and looking into a garter snake's mouth, not from any hardcore Google research. Some snakes are still highly venomous even without fangs (such as the coral snake, which one should NEVER handle), but most snakes without them cannot effectively inject venom. I assumed garter snakes were not venomous because of this, and when I read up on them last (when I was younger), they were not known to be venomous at all at the time. I stand corrected.
As for their size, I suppose it depends on what you consider to be "big." I personally don't think a two-foot snake is particularly huge, perhaps medium-sized. Most garter snakes I have ever seen were rather small.
© 2017 Jorge Vamos
Honer68 on March 21, 2018:
I like Garter Snakes because they do eat some pests like slugs and bugs etc. However I caught a large garter snake exiting my Koi pond with a nice size fish in its mouth. I actually have a picture of it as it was leaving the pond. Every year I have a fair number of Koi hatch in my pond, but by the end of summer most of them have been devoured.
I tried to paste the picture of the snake with the fish into this post but I could not get it to work.
I need to get rid of the snakes...
Jorge Vamos (author) on August 08, 2017:
I mention a few reasons why someone would want to get rid of them in the article.
Personally, I like garter snakes and I don't have a problem with them being around.
However, some people have small pets in their backyard, or have an irrational fear of snakes, or don't want to host an annual mating ball underneath their house, etc.
DogfordStudios on August 08, 2017:
Garter snakes eat all kinds of pests around the house. Why would anyone want to get rid of them?