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!
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.
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
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 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?
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
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!