Gardening Harmful animals

The Masked Marauder Strikes Again!

Young raccoon in a lawn.

By Larry Hodgson

The raccoon (Procyon lotor), the nocturnal masked bandit, is not only a problem for gardeners: it generally manages to alienate pretty much everyone by emptying trash cans, making loud noises at night, stealing the contents of traps set for other animals, taking up residence in attics and tool sheds, eating pet fish in water gardens and so much more.

When it comes to creating havoc in gardens, its specialty is sweet corn. A single raccoon can ruin half a row of sweet corn in a single night … and seems to know a lot more than we do as to exactly when the corn is ready. It can also plunder melons and small fruits and, like skunks, dig holes in the grass looking for white grubs.

Add to this the fact that it’s a very aggressive animal when pinned down and is therefore a threat to dogs. It can also carry various diseases and parasites harmful to humans or pets such as rabies, distemper and roundworms. All told, it’s pretty clear why raccoons can be quite acceptable in a wild setting, such as a forest or nature reserve, but when they settle in suburbia and attack your vegetable and flower beds, they’re not so welcome.

Of course, the first time you see a raccoon in your yard, you’ll probably think it’s as cute as a button and quickly pull out your smart phone to capture the encounter on video. But by the third or fourth ear-splitting rendezvous with your trash can at 2 a.m., you’ll probably find it much less amusing. 

Raccoons are very intelligent animals that can get around almost any obstacle. They’ll quickly find ways around most of the deterrents you set up to try to protect your plants. So, what can you do?

Now in Europe Too!

Map showing range of raccoons all over the world.
Raccoon range across the world: Red: regions of origin; blue: regions of introduction. Ill.: Wikimedia Commons

The raccoon is native to North and Central America, but has been introduced to Europe and Asia where its population now expanding rapidly. Currently, it is said to be present in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan and several other countries. In Germany, it’s been estimated that there are over 1 million raccoons! As far as I know, it is not yet present in the UK.

Most animal deterrents (repellent sprays, moving objects, noise makers, predator decoys, etc.), will indeed work at first (read the article Do Animal Repellents Really Work?), but the raccoon is much smarter than the most of the mammals that raid gardens. You’ll have to change your strategy every two or three days to really keep one at bay.

Motion-activated sprinkler.
Motion-activated sprinkler in action. Photo: amazon. com

The only deterrent that seems really effective long term against this animal is the motion-activated sprinkler, also described in Do Animal Repellents Really Work? When it tries to approach the garden, it is sprayed with water. Harmless, but terrifying for the animal! You’ll have never seen a raccoon run so fast!

An Electrifying Experience

Electric raccoon fence.
For a fence to be truly anti-raccoon, you have to add electrify it. Ill.: Claire Tourigny

A raccoon is smart enough to find a way through, over or under almost any fence … unless you electrify it. Here’s a model:

Fix a 4-foot (120 cm) chicken wire, also called poultry netting, a common type of wire mesh, to solid posts rising 4 feet (120 cm) above the ground. Staple the top 3 feet of the wire mesh to the posts, bending the bottom foot (30 cm) outward (away from the area to protect) at a 90-degree angle, covering that part with soil. (This lateral extension will discourage the raccoon from digging its way in.) Now, attach a first wire to the posts 6 inches (15 cm) above the chicken wire and a second wire 6 inches (15 cm) above the first. Connect them to an outlet or a battery. And … bzzzt! It’s not deadly, but it sure stings!

All the materials for an electrified raccoon fence are available at agricultural cooperatives and even most big box hardware stores.

Attack From Above

Raccoons can drop into your garden from above. Photo: David Menke, Wikimedia Commons

Raccoons are excellent climbers and often move from place to place without touching the ground, going from tree branch to tree branch like a rather plump monkey. So, your “impossible-to-climb” electric fence won’t stop it for two seconds if there are branches hanging over it and reaching into your garden. Always shorten any overhanging branches first if you want your fence to be effective!

Can Bird Netting Keep the Masked Bandit Away?

Protective netting around grape vines to protect the crop.
Simple bird netting often seems to keep raccoons off fruit crops. Photo: Iwona Erskine-Kellie, Wikimedia Commons

The same kind of inexpensive netting that is used to protect fruit and berry crops from birds can also protect both as well as vegetables from raccoons … as long as it is firmly anchored on all sides with no openings the animal could push through. You’d have to wonder why, since a raccoon could clearly bite its way through that kind of plastic netting with its razor-sharp teeth, cutting a few links to create a breech (I mean, groundhogs certainly do). Oddly, though, it seems to disdain netting. Raccoon have very sensitive paws and they don’t seem to like touching it, as if it irritated their skin. They won’t even walk on netting if you leave it lying on the ground.

Try it and see!

Trap and Move Them

Trap for live animals with a raccoon inside.
Trap for live animals with a raccoon inside. Photo: home

When a raccoon is displaying truly unacceptable behavior and nothing else seems to work, you can always trap it with a Havahart-type live animal trap (large model) and release it far away. Very far away! At least 13 miles (20 km) from your home.

For bait, try crisp bacon, fish, corn on the cob or cat food. 

Be careful to place the bait away from the outer edge of the trap, otherwise the cunning raccoon will probably manage to snatch it without even entering the cage.

Be forewarned that raccoons are never happy about being caught and will be very aggressive. If you couldn’t see the angry eyes staring out at you from the black mask, you’d swear you’d caught a tiger! Cover the trap with a blanket and they’re eventually calm down.

The raccoon: not an animal you really want in your veggie or fruit garden!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

4 comments on “The Masked Marauder Strikes Again!

  1. Two gangs of them live here, and they really dislike each other. I sometimes trap one from either gang, and relocate it up the road. I leave them close enough to return, but far away enough to annoy them. It does not get rid of them, but somehow seems to repel them for a while, as if the trapped coon returns and tells his friends about the experience. After a month or so, they start to return.

  2. It’s actually considered cruel to relocate them more than a kilometre away. They have trouble settling in to a new location, have no territory, can’t find dens, can’t find food…:

    Speaking as someone who lives in Toronto, a city well known for its raccoons, they can be annoying, but they’re generally not that difficult to live with. The city has implemented raccoon-proof garbage and organics bins, which has helped a lot. Also, if you leave them alone, they leave you alone. As humans encroach into and pave over more and more green spaces, we don’t leave wildlife a lot of choice — they’re just trying to survive and we’re the ones making it difficult for them. I don’t think we get to complain when they inconvenience us.

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