Gardening Harmful animals

The Masked Marauder Strikes Again!

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!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

5 comments on “The Masked Marauder Strikes Again!

  1. 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.

    • Thank you!

    • Ron Sykes

      Well, I also live in Toronto and utterly despise them. Raccoons are vermin in the classic old-English sense of the word: mammals that destroy property or grain. They are highly destructive pests and belong in the wild & not in the city or suburbs. They are all kinds of ravines about the city that they are not interested in inhabiting at all. Instead they target backyards and prefer to harrass humans. Most wild animals want nothing to do with humans – but these things go out of their way to create mayhem. Their numbers have exploded in Toronto in the last 15 years as a direct result of un-informed and ignorant people feeding, defending, and harbouring them. Every year they cost me at $1.5 K – $2.0K in damage to my garden and home (shutters etc…) Attach a multiplier to this figure and you can estimate the magnitude of the damage they inflict city-wide. Only in wacky, ridiculous Toronto would the city protect such a highly destructive and dangerous (rabies, round-worm) animal – that is in NO WAY endangered. No, no, no Ms. Aspasia – I am not making life difficult for them – they are making life difficult for me. Here’s why: I don’t use their dens as latrines. I don’t act as a disease vector threatening the health of their young. I don’t invade their space and then act aggressively toward their family members etc… They serve no purpose at all in the city and should not be here. A bumblebee in my garden may sting me, but it also pollinates my flowers – so I don’t mind sharing my space them. The squirrels go about their business with wrecking everything in their path. But with these Toronto raccoons, there is no notion of reciprocity or balance when dealing with them. All they do is take & destroy, and they do not give anything in return. I say Kudos to all those people who trap them and transport them far, far, far away. Only then they will re-learn a natural and proper fear of humans and avoid us. In that way, the raccoons can live their lives peaceably, and we humans can live ours in the same way. Sincerely, Ron

  2. 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.

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